Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Nuclear Deal - some reservations

The die has been finally cast. The UPA government has decided to approach the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to finalise the India-specific Safeguards Agreement. Although there is a huge amount of support within the country for the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, one wished the government had been a little wary of some of its implications. There are several issues which needed in-depth consideration before the plunge was taken.

Firstly, the extraordinary interest shown by the US in the Deal raises suspicions about its intentions. In whatever the US does its national interest is always paramount, in pursuit of which it tends to become overbearing and brash. Its Administration is not really one which is known for altruism – without any motives. There is, surely something more to the Deal than what meets the eye – something vital which is at stake for the US and which, seemingly, hinges on it. Nobody knows what it is. If it’s only commercial, and not political, we could consider ourselves somewhat blessed.

Secondly, the government should have been mindful of various intimidating clauses of the Hyde Act. Touted as a domestic legislation that enabled the Administration to negotiate the 123 Agreement for the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, it contains tell-tale signs of the US intentions to bring India within its fold – a veritable close embrace, seemingly, of more sinister nature than the “Soviet bear-hug”. The very Preamble of the Act has the unseemly provision that India could be a “fit partner” if it, inter alia, had a foreign policy that is “congruent” to that of the United States and that it works “with it in key foreign policy initiatives related to non-proliferation.” Section 105 of the Act demands certification by the US President that “India is fully and actively participating” in the efforts of the US to “contain” Iran’s nuclear programme. More importantly, it requires US Administration to scrap the 123 Agreement if India conducted a nuclear test. The government’s claim that the 123 Agreement overrides the Hyde Act seems a false belief. In a crunch situation the latter can be used to force scrapping of the Deal. One wished the government had been more transparent about the matter.

Then, US ratification of the Deal will surely bring the two countries much closer than they have ever been before. This, at once, is likely to make AlQuaida see India as a collaborator of the US and, consequently, a major target for its foot soldiers for devastating terrorist attacks. AlQuaida surrogates are already operating against the country from Pakistan and Bangladesh where they happen to be well-entrenched with official and unofficial support. For them, our borders virtually do not exist; they have a free run of the country and are able to launch at will terror attacks on our sensitive locations. Unless, like the US, we take strict and uncompromising security measures, empowering, strengthening, upgrading and modernising the entire internal security apparatus, proxy AlQaida warriors could do the same with our atomic power facilities. Hopefully, steps in these directions have been initiated.

Another issue that has remained unaddressed concerns the vital question of disposal of the radioactive nuclear wastes that will be generated by nuclear power plants. Classified into three categories – low level, intermediate level and high level wastes (HLW) – disposal of the nuclear wastes has to be managed with great care for protecting people and the environment from lethal effects of radiation. Atomic power plants mostly generate HLW, some of which take thousands of years to decay to half of their potency. Hence after being stored for around 40-odd years in leak-proof sealed casks, these have to be permanently buried in deep underground geologically suitable repositories. The US is still to find a suitable site for its HLW which are now due for burial, having been around in sealed containers for some 40 years. One feels a little uneasy about our capabilities, as we have made heavy weather of disposal of the dangerous chemical wastes of the now-defunct Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. Twenty years on, the wastes are still lying at the site, polluting the surroundings and damaging the health of the people of the area.

It is not yet too late to seriously consider some of these vital issues that cast a shadow over the Deal. They need to be brought out into public discourse for clarity and comprehension even as the Deal cruises along on its pre-determined trajectory towards fruition.
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DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...