Jeffrey LewisIndia Safeguards Agreement Stinks

I have a copy of the India-specific safeguards agreement, IAEA/2008/30. Here is the full-text.

The word “perpetuity” appears not once.

The section on termination of safeguards states that termination “shall be implemented taking into account the provisions of GOV/1621 (20 August 1973).”

That is a worrisome clause — it appears to offer a loophole that I wrote about in October 2006 after Mark Hibbs published a pair of articles on the agreement:

GOV/1621 is restricted, so I don’t actually know what it says. Sources, however, told Hibbs that GOV/1621 has to do specifically with safeguarding items which are transferred to a state from third parties—a loophole those experts told Hibbs would allow India to interpret the agreement as excluding the 8 indigenous Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors New Delhi offered to place under safeguards pursuant to the US-India agreement …

That would mean that India’s safeguards obligations on the reactors are voluntary, allowing India to terminate or suspend safeguards on these 8 reactors after removing any imported fuel.

I am interested in whether other people share my reading of the agreement.

It appears to me that a reactor becomes subjects to safeguards if (1) it is listed in the Annex (which I don’t have) or (2) uses imported fuel. According to the text of the agreement, India may suspend safeguards on a facility listed in the Annex (case 1) if India and the IAEA “jointly determine that the facility is no longer usable for any nuclear activity relevant from the point of view of safeguards”. As far as I can tell, the agreement is silent on what happens to safeguards on facilities not in the annex (case 2) after India removes all safeguarded fuel.

That leaves the very distressing possibility that Hibbs was correct — that once India removes any imported fuel leaves from any of the 8 indigenous pressurized heavy water reactors, which are unlikely to be listed in the Annex, India can unilaterally terminate the safeguards on the facility.

The remedy would quite straightforward: The IAEA BOG should insist that the reactors themselves are put under safeguards “in perpetuity”—not just the material or other items supplied under the safeguards agreement.

There are other aspects of the agreement that I find worrisome — the co-mingling of military and civilian plutonium (separation is an accounting device, rather than a physical separation) and the suspension of existing safeguards agreements in favor of the new agreement.


  1. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Is there an alternative beside renegotiating the NPT?

  2. krepon (History)

    the preambular language repeating the GoI position re fuel bank and disruption is very unfortunate…. it makes the IAEA an accomplice in the event of a resumption of Indian N testing.

  3. akshay (History)

    i cant get the whole point with neighbor like china, India has full right to resort to nuclear weapon testing in future.

    As long as India does not uses material supplied through IAEA agreement nothing hampers basic right of Indian government to conduct nuclear tests.

  4. Mike F (History)

    To reiterate Lao Tao Ren’s question above – what is the better alternative to this agreement?

    It certainly looks to be, as RT phrased it above, “half man and half beast.” Isn’t that better than all “beast” in the sense that zero safeguards are in place and zero confidence-building measures are being implemented?

  5. AG (History)

    I see no loopholes in the agreement which will allow a safeguarded material to be used for any weapon program. It certainly will disappoint people who want to use this agreement to implement NPT via backdoor. It is consistent with Indian government position (and US government’s statement) that this has nothing to do with India’s nuclear weapon program.

  6. KS (History)

    India wont go for nuclear as we are in 21 century where anything and everthing can be simulated.
    As RT pointed out India wants to be dhypenated from India-Pak and much needed Uranium for the nuclear based power which is not available locally.

    Anyway new friend Uncle SAM is there to protect its new ally in case of external threat which is the only factor if any if there is nuclear testing in future.


  7. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    The NPT was negotiated in a different era.

    Since that time, other nuclear powers have emerged, some responsible, many not.

    India, among them, rank as one of the most responsible ones.

    At the same time, it is undeniable that nuclear energy will be a critical piece to solving the global energy and climate change crisis.

    It is time for the NWS to come to a new consensus on an amendment to the NPT for responsible nations like India.

    Depriving India of the benefits of nuclear energy is no longer an appropriate “stick” in the era of peak petroleum, increasingly scarce coal and natural gas, and global needs to shift to forms of energy that emit lower amounts of greenhouse gases.

    Amending the NPT is not a short or easy process, with a lead time of at least 5 years.

    Let’s get started.

  8. jayanta mitra (History)

    this agreement is a threat to INDIA’S freedom.

  9. Sampathkumar (History)

    Is there an alternative beside renegotiating the NPT? (Lao Tao Ren) A good number of Indians themselves see one IF the UN and IAEA are sincerely committed to NPT. Answer the counter question: How many NWSs and how many NNWSs exist after the USSR met its pre-destined fate? Isn’t the one NWS left far more manageable than an unwieldy rogue entity?

  10. G.Balachandran (History)

    One is quite aware of Mr. Lewis objections to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Neverthelss the following points are of interest.
    1) the 8 indigenous reactors offered to be placed by India as civil facilities (Art. 41(a)) will be included in the Annex.
    2) Safeguards on a facility listed in the annex will be terminated only after India and the Agency have jointly determined that the facility is no longer usable for anu nuclear activity relevant from the point of view of safeguards. (Art. 32) This is, by the way standard formulation in INFCIRC/66/rev.2)
    3) therefore, the 8 facilities offered by India will continue to be under safeguarsd wheteher or not India uses imported fuel. i.le. the facility will be under perpetual safeguards.
    4) Finally can India use imported fuel in any facility noy listed in the Annex? I presume, the NSG amendment and the subsequent suppliers 123 equivalent agreements with India will require that imported fuel can be used only facilities listed in the Annex.
    therefore, the points raised by Dr.Lewis do not have any merit. With all due respects to Mr. Hibbs, if he said so, he too is wrong.

  11. kme

    If you can now get assistance in nuclear matters without being a part of the NPT, what point is there for a self-interested state to remain a party to it?

  12. br (History)

    I am wondering what precisely could be VALID objections from the Indian side that could jeopardise their strategic interests at some stage.

    Any thoughts?

  13. Yale Simkin (History)

    Lao Tao Ren wrote:
    “At the same time, it is undeniable that nuclear energy will be a critical piece to solving the global energy and climate change crisis.”

    You are stating an ASSUMPTION as if it were an self-evident proven FACT.

    On the contrary, precisely the opposite can be demonstrated. Any number of careful analyses have concluded that nuclear power is the worst choice for solving the energy crisis.

    It is the acceptance of the questionable “necessity” and even more questionable “inevitability” of atomic energy that has resulting in the craziness embodied in the Article IV of the NPT. The NPT forces proliferation around the world. Proliferation is what the IAEA does best and most enthusiastically. Look at the IAEA website

    As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, try as an exercise to assume that nuclear energy is recognized as useless as an effective alternative and assume that the nuclear industry will be phased out.

    Also assume that equivalent resources – financial, technical, and political – of supplier nations now be redirected and be provided for non-violent energy strategies, and all resources – financial, technical, and political – for nuclear technologies will be phases out.

    Finally assume the official position is taken by international and national entities that the possesion of nuclear energy is, by nature, inherently and unavoidably military capable (regardless of whether a nation’s current usage appears to be completely civil and peaceful and level of safeguards).

    All this would remove the main driver of nuclear weapons proliferation and resulting insecurity – the political cover and enabling resources promoted by Article IV rights.

    Yale Simkin

  14. Yossi

    I really don’t understand why India should be rewarded for mocking the NPT. Wouldn’t such differential enforcement make a sad joke of the treaty? The Indians commenting on this post certainly don’t sound peace loving but full of nationalistic pride and aggresiveness.

    If India wants to be recognized as a new Nuclear Weapons State it should at least put all its nuclear weapons under IAEA supervision. It would be better if detonating them was under UN control but this may be too much to ask.

    The way things are going now the NPT should stand for Nuclear Protectionism Trust as preventing proliferation doesn’t seem to be an aim.

  15. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Thank you for stating the “anti” case.

    I am satisfied that Nuclear Energy will be a major piece of the energy puzzle going forward.

    The likelihood of nuclear energy being phased out is relatively small in France, China, and many other countries that have few good choices.

    Under such circumstances, it is best we agree to disagree.