Jeffrey LewisBurns Punks Out On the 123 Agreement

Maybe this “talking to other countries” thing isn’t such a good idea after all.

After four days of talks with India over the 123 Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, the White House intervenes.

The result? Bottomsecretary Nick Burns gives the Indians advance right to reprocess spent fuel:

The agreement — also known as the ‘123 agreement’ — grants India “prior consent” to reprocess spent fuel produced by U.S.-supplied equipment and fuel, a key requirement for the Indian side, though the specific arrangements will be worked out subsequently within a finite time period.

The agreement reiterates the fuel-supply assurances provided in the March 2006 separation plan and commits the U.S. to the “continuous operation” of any reactor it sells to India. Officials also say the irksome issue of fallback safeguards and the ‘right of return’ — as mandated by the U.S. Atomic Energy Act — of American-supplied material in the event of cessation of cooperation have also been satisfactorily resolved.

Moreover, 123 includes a specific clause that the purpose of the agreement is not to hinder anything India does with its strategic programme or to affect unsafeguarded or military nuclear facilities.

Let’s hope that Superman wears Congressman Markey underwear.

Comments

  1. abcd (History)

    I thought we weren’t in the business of rewarding bad behavior?

  2. JY

    The US has no right to reward or punish anyone for anything. This 123 agreement conforms to the July 18, 2005 joint statement at the White House. The Hyde Act tried to do an end run by restricting reprocessing and putting in some meaningless clauses.

    The July 18, 2005 statement says that the US would change its laws to give India the same benefits and responsibilities (under US law) that other countries with “advanced” nuclear technology get.

    If Japan, Britain etc. can get prior reprocessing consent, there is no reason for India not to get the same as long as the reprocessing is done in a safeguarded facility and all the spent fuel originating from a designated civilian nuclear reactor is accounted for through the entire system.

    In other words, if x kilograms of Uranium goes into an US-supplied LWR and comes out as x kg of spent fuel and goes to a reprocessing facility where the same x kg of reprocessed Pu is safeguarded – then we should not have any issues.

    Yes, it is a backdoor for India to a quasi-NWS status but that was the basic outcome of the original deal.

  3. Anon

    The U.S.-India nuclear deal is truly a faith-based agreement. It’s not at all clear what Uncle Sam gets in return for bending over, backwards and forwards, to amend U.S. law, and exempt India from NSG guidelines. (Moreover, I remain mystified as to why IAEA director general Mo’ ElBaradei, contrary to some of those below him, so strongly supports this deal.) The Congress certainly has a chance to condition, if not block, this deal. Unfortunately, I fear that the vote on this 123 agreement will end up going the same way the vote over the Hyde Act went—the question driving votes will not be whether or not the agreement merits approval, but more simply whether or not the legislator thinks India is (or should be) our “friend.”

    With friends like these…

  4. Robot Economist (History)

    abcd – Acutally, if you listen to Tom Tancredo’s ‘amnesty’ rhetoric the Bush administration is, supposedly, in the business of rewarding bad behavior.

    You know things are really bad when we offer them F-16s…

  5. kevin (History)

    Agreement with India is good for us Americans. India has a more reliable record of nukes than us. They have every right possess the same arsenal of nukes we have.

  6. john (History)

    Hurrah for the India nuclear deal. India should be rewarded for its excellent nuke record. All Americans should support this deal.

  7. MEC (History)

    Did you hear that? It was the International Nonproliferation Regime cracking.

  8. Lee Dunbar (History)

    Good record with nukes? How does not being in the NPT qualify you? If your measure for a good record is having not used them against an enemy, then North Korea has a better record than the United States. Furthermore, where has India been in pressuring Iran?

  9. san

    It’s glaringly obvious what the US is getting in return—insurance.

    A country like India can’t be bound like a Geisha girl’s ankles. They’re capable of expanding their supply of fissile material through thorium breeding, which is a technology they hold leadership in, given their large thorium supplies. If India continues to advance outside any agreements or understanding with the West, then it would be in a position to totally demolish the NPT in about 15 years time.

    This 123 Agreement will help to avert that. No sense clinging to the sinking NPT ship, because it’s headed inexorably downward. This agreement was achieved while the US still had leverage with the Indians. Waiting even a few years more would have meant drastically lower leverage.

  10. manoj joshi (History)

    great blog, but you all are what we in India call “nuclear ayatollahs.” The regime is not cracking because of India, it is because of China, A.Q.Khan, the Norks, and the real ayatollahs.

  11. Manne (History)

    I think it is cute when wonks put out Indian newspaper links as references while overlooking more authoritative op-eds explaining India’s position put out by the same set of newspapers.

    Lagey raho! (Keep at it)

  12. Raja (History)

    Oh get off your high horses. USA is not rewarding anything – it is all about give and take. USA is doing this because it feels that it is in its economic and strategic interest. You can agree with that or not but only time will tell how it plays out.

  13. SD

    The NPT is discriminatory. What is the logic behind prohibiting India from possessing nukes, when China is free to threaten it, (and proliferate to a dangerous Pakistan)?

    Also, I am dying to hear from abcd what exactly is “bad behavior”? We conducted a sub kiloton test with Britain less than a year ago, and we are the biggest NWS ourselves.

    We didn’t exactly bend over backwards either. The NSG was specifically set up to make India a pariah nation after it tested in 1974. Hence we are simply undoing our own laws. What we get in return is an Indian committment to open up 67% of its facilities to IAEA inspection, a strategic partner, and access to a whopping $150 billion nuclear reactor business.

  14. Engineer Mike (History)

    So we (the U.S.) are going to give them the “right” to do chemistry that was figured out over 65 years ago? Hully Gee boss! I sure hope the White Man’s burden don’t get you down.

    Does the fact that India can (and is) implement a thorium cycle on their own and remain completely outside international oversight if they want to not register with anyone?

    An agreement with various Western powers makes like easier for them to ramp up their various nuclear programs, but they have a very bright and capable group of folks in their nuke establishment. Any agreement allowing for sharing and closer ties with them is definitely in the U.S. best interest. Keep ‘em close. We’ll probably need to buy back the U.S. technology that they will implement and that we just let moulder in DOE files some day to keep the lights on.

    And Markey. Ah yes, Markey. He of the kindergardener’s grasp of nuclear energy, he of the mindless sophistry and rabble-rousing, what a savior.

    As for the Nonproliferation Regime cracking – here’s a tip to the Baby Boomer elites out there – the old world system has been “cracking” for over two decades. Ever thought it might be time for a complete rethink of the process?

  15. MEC (History)

    Engineer Mikey: Sure, we can “rethink” the process. You just figure out how to get another accord enabling such a double standard.

  16. miles (History)

    Those of you who think India can or is on the verge of implementing a thorium program. Think again. It’s been on the verge for several decades and still not successful. It’s one of many swindles the true nuclear ayatollahs (India’s atomic energy czars) havve sold to the Indian public and gulllible foreigners. We are helping to bail India out of a uranium crisis brought about by its own mismanagement.

  17. Pradeep Elamanchili (History)

    It doesnt behoove anyone to refer to Mr. Burns as “bottomsecretary”. His intellect surpasses the collective one of all the wonks out here. And yes, what exactly is this “bad behavior”? Being out of the discriminatory NPT, under NO obligations, but still maintaining the highest standard for non-proliferation. Would the kind soul list what “good behavior” entails…Being like the Chinese?

  18. JY

    Can we please stay away from puerile phrases like “ayatollahs” or “white man club”?

    As an Indian, I’m happy that India got a great deal but I’m not going to gloat because nuclear proliferation IS a serious threat.

    Yes, the NPT is discriminatory but most advocates of the NPT realize that but believe that the treaty is the best vehicle to check rampant proloiferation in an imperfect world.

    I hope Indian leaders have the sagacity to realize that their new status comes with responsibilities. Let’s think about stopping fissile material production – even if its not announced officially – and working within the system to safeguard the world from nuclear madness.

  19. Engineer Mike (History)

    “Those of you who think India can or is on the verge of implementing a thorium program. Think again. It’s been on the verge for several decades and still not successful.”

    They’ve been running a research reactor on U-233 via the Thorium cycle for over 10 years. A 300 ME(e) HWR is scheduled to begin construction this year and the 500 MW fast breeder at Kalpakkam (to provide the neutrons for the Th blanket) is under construction.

    “Engineer Mikey: Sure, we can “rethink” the process. You just figure out how to get another accord enabling such a double standard.”

    I apologize, but I am not sure what you mean here – if you mean enabling a standard whereby the US, Russia, et al are recognized as NWS while excluding Israel, India, Pakistan, etc. – then I would say that is where the rethink needs to come in.

    We are talking about 60 year old technology. There are numerous ways to skirt existing oversight through creative technologies (which we won’t discuss here in a public forum) that, while very inefficient, can still allow a state to get into the game via the plutonium cycle.

    Maybe we have to redefine what “success” means. And yes, that might mean recognizing more NWS. Heresy, admittedly, but we are not in the reality-creation business like our friends in the big white building on Pennsylvania Avenue think they are. We have to work towards true accountability.

    Continuing towards a path of stringent accounting and control is a part of the system that seems to work very well. Let’s build on success.

    We have a potential agreement with India here that would advance accounting and control on some sites. Take it as progress, build trust, etc. If recognizing more NWS is a step back, then get a plan in place to take a few steps forward afterwards – which means addressing root causes of the desire to hold these weapons, which have their own tracks. By facing reality, by bringing it to the light of day, perhaps we can invigorate those processes involving Kashmir, the Korean Peninsula, etc. A new US Administration could play a huge role in that process through a new round of warhead reductions – just a thought.

    Or not. Sit back, rail against the Indians, feel righteous, send a bunch of highly paid SES and NGO folks to meetings all over the world to continue this same path and leave a chance to advance the cause of trust-building behind us.

    Perhaps my initial reply to Dr. Lewis’ posting was a bit too snarky, but this sheer idea that a country with the brains, talent and increasing bankroll such as India possesses will be constrained by agreements forged under the old post-WWII/Cold War mindset strikes me as wishful thinking. But again, I could certainly be wrong here.

  20. Akash (History)

    Engineer Mike, Well said.

    Miles, it actually serves to be aware of the topic. Those “czars” you are heaping contempt upon made India a NWS, have developed a fairly self sufficient Nuke program, and on a budget that would be a joke in the developed west. The difference between now and “then” is that a resurgent Indian economy is allowing for dedicated spending directed towards technology.If you wish to cozen yourself with thoughts that the incompetent dastardly Indians wont be able to get ahead- thats your prerogative.

    JY, I have no qualms in using the term Ayatollahs to refer to the NPA club. They have turned a blind eye to the wink nod nudge proliferation by the PRC whilst they get self righteous about Indias nuke program. If India had done what the PRC and Pak did, then I wonder how happy the NPA types would be!

  21. san

    Engineer mike, I agree with you. miles on the other hand, is out in left field.

    Nobody’s even recognized how NPT has decayed over the years, with Article6 being effectively neutered. It’s not the same old NPT anymore, it’s become a vehicle AGAINST disarmament and not a vehicle for promoting it. The NPT fatcats are now free to lord it over the world, which is NOT a tenable situation in the long run, no matter what miles may fantasize.

  22. abcd (History)

    If I would have known what “rewarding bad behavior” would have unleashed, I would have left my musings to myself.

    In any case, there seems to be a common theme connecting the deal’s supporters: the NPT is a flawed document as it is, so we might as well deal additional blows to it.

    Hey, I bet if India could have detonated before Jan 1, 1967, it wouldn’t be so unfair!

  23. Miles Pomper (History)

    Mike, Akash, and San.I am aware of the topic. More than you I should think.Let me quote from the Congressional Research Service’s 2006 report on India’s separation plan…“India planned 40 years ago to develop a three-stage cycle to reduce its reliance on uranium and use thorium… Yet, it says India has not advanced past the first stage of this cycle.. Yes, it’s run a small researach reactor on U-233 using a French design (but not through Thorium) and a fast breeder test reactor.

    I’ll believe the Indian nuclear establishmen can run a real program based on thorium when I see it.

    To quote Zia Mian and M.V. Ramana in the January/February 2006 Arms Control Today.

    “On the Indian side, a primary motivation for the deal has been the history of failure of its Department of Atomic Energy to produce large quantities of nuclear electricity. In 1962, Homi Bhabha, the founder of India’s nuclear program, predicted that by 1987 nuclear energy would constitute 20,000-25,000 megawatts of installed electricity-generation capacity.[11] His successor as head of the Department of Atomic Energy, Vikram Sarabhai, predicted that by 2000 there would be 43,500 megawatts of nuclear power. [12] Neither of these predictions came true. Despite more than 50 years of generous funding, nuclear power currently amounts to only 3,300 megawatts, barely 3 percent of India’s installed electricity capacity. Indian nuclear capacity is expected to rise by more than 50 percent over the next few years, largely because of two 1,000-megawatt reactors purchased from the Soviet Union in a 1988 deal and now being built by Russia. Even if more such deals were to be made in the future, it is by no means clear that India’s nuclear establishment will be able to keep its promises, let alone contribute a significant fraction of projected electricity demand.”

    This idea that because India has a few call centers and software companies that a government run program will achieve unprecedented goals is an an example of foolish and misguided technological determinism. It may be comforting to those who want to sacrifice the NPT regime anyway, but it just ‘taint so.

  24. Miles Pomper (History)

    One slight correction to the previous post—the U-233 for Kamini was obtained by irradiating thorium—but not through the three stage process with thorium blankets as planned.And it’s interesting to note that Kalpakkam plant was originally supposed to open in 1985…

  25. Akash (History)

    Dear Miles,

    You state that you are “aware”, then you promptly take a blunderbuss to your own foot, with this inordinately silly remark which shows where you are coming from in terms of lack of knowledge about Indian industrial state as it is today.

    “This idea that because India has a few call centers and software companies that a government run program will achieve unprecedented goals is an an example of foolish and misguided technological determinism. It may be comforting to those who want to sacrifice the NPT regime anyway, but it just ‘taint so.”

    I daresay you havent ever been to India, let alone been aware of its technological facilities. FYI, Indian industry is far more than just a few call centers and software industries. Its precision manufacture ability is well documented as well and amongst developing nations, only the PRC can claim something similar/ superior. Furthermore, its Govt run programs have achieved marked success when given political (read resource) support. So please – put that misguided patronizing “big bwana knows it all” attitude where it deservedly belongs. On a shelf along with other hoky theories of “y’all cant do engineering, y’aint like us”.

    Look around, and you’ll see some of the worlds most diverse and capable engineering consortiums are Indian, and based out of India.

    Then lets see:

    “To quote Zia Mian and M.V. Ramana in the January/February 2006 Arms Control Today.”

    Wonderful. You quote a Non proliferation activist who is not regarded with the slightness seriousness by the Indian establishment (which regards serious academics with interest and engages them for instance, the owner of this very blog), and a Pakistani academic (of all people- are you aware of the Indo-Pak dynamic?), as credible sources.

    The sheer pointlessness of relying on activist non serious sources becomes quickly apparent here:

    “Despite more than 50 years of generous funding, ”

    Generous funding! What a hoot- Indias spending on its scicom is widely regarded as being in fits and spurts and chaotic, thanks to its foreign exchange concerns and local “spend on butter and subsidies” syndrome, not to mention its socialist economic path for much of its existence.

    Let us see the manner in which they “spin” the fact that Indias economic growth has allowed for more resource allocation:

    “Indian nuclear capacity is expected to rise by more than 50 percent over the next few years, largely because of two 1,000-megawatt reactors purchased from the Soviet Union in a 1988 deal and now being built by Russia. ”

    And this is not something significant in the authors opinion. Not to mention what the presently cleared funding for the DAE is, which will allow for far more industrial cooperation and the ability to put their more ambituious plans into fruition.

    “Even if more such deals were to be made in the future, it is by no means clear that India’s nuclear establishment will be able to keep its promises, let alone contribute a significant fraction of projected electricity demand.”

    Sure and WWIII could break out tomorrow, and we could all end up toast. Spin apart, all the authors are demonstrating is some tenuous reasoning to justify their own arguements.

    Given this level of “expertise” in this journal which has a clear agenda and is not too accurate with the facts, it bears remarking that you need to keep an open mind and actually research the topic in depth before insisting otherwise, and resorting to the jaded pointlessness and stereotypes about call centers and the like.

  26. Manne (History)

    Miles,

    Mate, if you are going to quote MVR & ZM then we know exactly what and how much you know about the Indian nuclear programme.

    Best of luck.

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