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India’s Nuclear Politics

July 25, 2008

This week, the world’s largest democracy embraced nuclear energy as a component of its economic development strategy. With cobbled coalitions, funding pledges and intense politicking, the government of Dr Manmohan Singh was able to gain parliament’s support for a nuclear trade deal with the United States struck in August 2007.

Although an emerging economic giant, many parts of India are without access to electricity. Parts of the Delhi, the capital, have frequent black-outs or rolling brown-outs due to unreliable and inefficient energy systems. Although India has had a long-standing nuclear energy program, it has operated under international sanctions since the escalation of the country’s nuclear weapons program and refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The new agreement would see an opening of India’s civilian reactors (whoever it would determine which sites are classified as “civilian”) to international inspectors, in exchange for nuclear fuel and technology.

Prime Minister Singh has declared his government’s intentions as peaceful, and in the spirit of economic development and environmentalism. He says that the deal will help raise millions out of poverty:

“It is all about widening our development options, promoting energy security in a manner which will not hurt our precious environment and which will not contribute to pollution and global warming.”

Prior to India’s testing of atomic weapons in the late 1990s, Canada and India had a strong nuclear relationship. Canada’s CANDU reactors had been sold to India and are often accused of providing the means for atomic weapons testing – this is an unfortunate misconception as CANDU’s safeguards make the plutonium involved impossible for weapons-grade. With a new deal in place, we could see a return to strong collaborative nuclear energy projects with India – building a clean electricity option for an emerging power and a new revenue stream for an energy power.

However, the deal is not final. India must coordinate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (of which Canada is a key member) separate agreements, to be followed by a vote by the United States Congress.

Nuclear is an attractive option for India, where a highly-educated and highly-skilled workforce may be put to use in providing stable electricity for national economic output. Do you think this is good for Canada? Should we trade nuclear materials and technology with an emerging economy? Should nuclear be a major component of our global energy diplomacy?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Joel permalink
    July 28, 2008 9:46 pm

    There are a lot of difficult questions for Canada to face regarding the Indo-US nuclear deal, not the least of which is our commitment to disarmament and/or non-proliferation. As a member of the NSG we hold an effective veto over the deal. Whether or not we have the gumption to exercise it is another question altogether.

    Upon closer inspection of the actual deal, we might find our memories of 1974 coming flooding back. It is not simply that this agreement lacks safeguards and security measures – these are a part of the deal, however weak – it is that by dealing in nuclear technology with India we are effectively accepting them as a de facto nuclear weapons state. Moreover, we are (or at least, are contemplating) condoning their defiance of the NPT by rewarding them with new technology, uranium, and reactors.

    We are faced, then, with a number of significant questions:
    1. Do we have the political will to insist on stronger safeguards at the NSG (including removal of all fuel and materials upon further nuclear weapons testing)?
    2. Does Canada (still) have the political clout to take a principled stand in an international arena more favourable to economics and realpolitik?
    3. Are we prepared to face the Iranian and majority-world criticisms of hypocrisy and double-standards vis-a-vis the NPT and “favoured” countries (ie:India)? (this is especially pertinent since Canada sits comfortable under the nuclear umbrella of the USA and NATO).

    The IAEA and NSG will meet to decide these issues in the next couple months. Can Canada make up its (our) mind before then?

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