Paul KerrDepartment of Dead Horse Flogging

Treaties can help establish rules for state behavior which, in turn, can foster some degree of transparency and predictability in international relations.

But when people just start making stuff up on the fly, it’s more difficult to predict and understand other states’ intentions.

Exhibit A: US-India nuclear deal.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, 14 March:

A second contention is that by allowing the IAEA to come in and putting these reactors under safeguards, India is going to have an opportunity to use its domestic uranium supplies to build more bombs, which will fuel an arms race between India and Pakistan in South Asia. We don’t think that argument stands to reason, either.

What are India’s motivations here?

India is a country that desperately needs power. It needs electricity. And as I understand …Indian politics and Indian plans for the future, India’s plans are to build up the civilian nuclear power structure. We believe that India will have—will seek, after laws are changed, to purchase eight 1,000-megawatt reactors, all of which would come under safeguards.

And so our belief is—and the Indian government’s figures show—that eventually within 10 or 15 years, up to 90 percent of India’s nuclear capacity shall come under safeguards because the great majority of growth is going to be in civilian nuclear power.

…we believe that the whole motivation of the Indian government is to grow its economy, to increase power production, and that’s where they’re going to put the great percentage of their funds.

The agreement does, of course, allow India to do whatever it feels like with its future nuclear reactors.

Mark Hibbs reported 8 May that India may build another military reactor in short order:

A project to construct a new dual-use research and plutonium production reactor at the Bhabba Atomic Research Center, or BARC, has been formally proposed for consideration under India’s next economic plan, according to well-placed sources close to India’s Department of Atomic Energy, or DAE. According to these sources, Indian central planners will make a decision early next year whether to go ahead with the project.

Currently, BARC operates at its Trombay complex north of Mumbai two heavy water-cooled and moderated reactors for conducting nuclear research and producing weapons-grade plutonium for India’s defense needs. One is Cirus, a 40-MW (thermal) unit supplied by Canada in 1956. The other is Dhruva, a 100-MW (th) reactor of Indian design which began operating in 1985. Neither unit is subject to IAEA safeguards.

Jeffrey, BTW, wrote an extensive post about this matter a little while back.

My understanding, which is consistent with Hibbs’ reporting, is that the US wanted India to put the Cirus reactor under IAEA safeguards. India resisted this idea, but said it would shut the reactor down in 2010.

This might seem like an example of successful compromise, but it may well be a lesson in how to have your cake and eat it too.

Hibbs continues:

According to diplomatic sources, however, the Indian decision was in fact a tactical master stroke, allowing India to obviate a potentially troublesome negotiation with the US and Canada over the safeguards status of the reactor under the cooperation arrangement, while leaving open the possibility of replacing Cirus with a new reactor and putting additional pressure on Canada to accept the result of US-Indian negotiations on nuclear trade without addressing Canada’s objection that Cirus was operated in violation of an Indian-Canadian agreement.

India’s plan would increase New Delhi’s plutonium production capability, according to Hibbs. The new reactor will, when operated with the old Dhruva reactor, enable India to produce around 40-50 kg of plutonium per year—15 kg more than India could have produced with its two existing reactors.

Perhaps this belongs in the “Department of Dolphin Flogging”…

Comments

  1. Manne (History)

    Paul,

    It is not very clear how Burns’ comments connect with the rest of the post.

    Any demand on having IAEA inside a non-civilian complex belongs to Department of Kite Flying (DKF). So, what other alternative remains other than shutting down CIRUS? Now, if the contention is that CIRUS should not be replaced, DKF like I said before.

  2. Max Postman (History)

    Phew, I was worried Harvard was gonna make you stop saying things like “Department of Dolphin Flogging.”

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