Jeffrey LewisNuclear Cooperation with India

A week or so ago, Dave Ruppe at Global Security Newswire reported that …

More than a dozen former senior U.S. nuclear arms control and nonproliferation officials and other experts recently expressed reservations about a potential U.S.-India nuclear energy deal, while a senior Republican legislator this week came out in favor of the agreemen

Arms Control has obtained the full text of the letter, entitled Issues and Questions on July 18 Proposal for Nuclear Cooperation with India.

One of the pertinent questions is the wonkiest, relating to India’s pledge to separate its civilian and military facilities (so US-India cooperation occurred only on the “civilian” side):

What criteria would be used by the U.S. government to determine which nuclear facilities and materials should be subject to safeguards?

Dave Ruppe quoted Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation Andrew Semmel telling the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference that a credible plan for separation would be crucial to gaining support for the plan:

“We expect and have indicated to the government of India’s that India’s separation of its civil and military nuclear infrastructure must be conducted in a credible and transparent manner. It must be defensible from a nonproliferation standpoint,” [Semmel said].

“Many of our international partners have indicated that they view this as a necessary precondition and that they will not be able to support civil nuclear cooperation with India otherwise,” he said. :

India hasn’t presented such a plan yet. Carol Giacomo, Reuter’s Diplomatic Correspondent, reported on 22 November that Undersecretary Burns had presented the Indians with a “blueprint” for separation, but that didn’t go over so well:

Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. negotiator on the nuclear deal, in September presented Indian officials with a blueprint suggesting how the Americans might go about separating the Indian nuclear facilities.

But the Indians gave it back, saying they could do it themselves, a U.S. official and a source close to the administration said.

The United States and India denied that a blueprint had been offered.

The Hindu took an interesting angle, suggesting that India’s nuclear bureaucracy was cut out of the deal.

I also find the coverage by an Indian journalist, Siddharth Varadarajan, interesting. He wrote a long, thoughtful article that included a substantial discussion of the separation issue, some of which is reprinted here:

Apart from sequencing, separation too is likely to be a complicated affair and one in which the U.S. will try and push the envelope as far as it can. Though India insists the identification and separation of military and civilian nuclear facilities is its decision alone, the U.S. is insisting on having a say. The Bush administration is keen to ensure that the separation is “both credible and defensible from a non-proliferation perspective,” Mr. Burns told the Congressional panel last month. “The U.S. government has to be able to see it happen and understand what is happening and agree on what is happening.” (emphasis added)

The issue is not an academic one. Though the Indian atomic establishment believes there is little difficulty in accepting safeguards at many facilities, there are some non-military facilities and activities where it would not like to let the IAEA in. Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, has been quite blunt about this. In an interview to Frontline in August he said, “We are not going to put under safeguards any research and development programme.” Asked explicitly about safeguards for the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam and other FBRs, Dr. Kakodkar replied: “No, the PFBR will not come. The PFBR is a prototype. Why should it go under safeguards? When technology becomes mature, it is a different story.” He added that the IGCAR at Kalpakkam was an R&D centre, implying that it too would remain unsafeguarded. Dr. Kakodkar also emphasised that costs would be another factor in identifying what is civilian.

It is reasonable to infer that the State Department and the DAE have a vastly different view of the civil-military separation. What stand the Ministry of External Affairs takes remains to be seen. Apart from the PFBR, which Washington would ideally like to see on the civilian facilities list, U.S. experts are also believed to be keen to ensure India’s present and future detritiation facilities — where heavy water is processed and tritium gas produced — are safeguarded since tritium is the hydrogen that gives a lethal boost to the explosive force of `hydrogen’ bombs.