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Nuclear Suppliers Group

How NSG States Can Help Avert a Nonproliferation Disaster



Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

Presentation to the HBF-ACA Seminar on

“The Proposal for Nuclear Trade with India,” Berlin, May 13, 2008

Forty years ago, the world’s states joined together to create the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT and subsequent review conferences have established a set of standards and norms that the vast majority of states have agreed to follow in order to reduce the spread and the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapon states agreed to pursue nuclear disarmament, while the non-nuclear weapon states agreed to foreswear nuclear weapons so long as they retain access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy under strict and verifiable control.

These and other nonproliferation mechanisms have worked remarkably well when properly executed and when the international community has responded with unity to cases of noncompliance. For instance, in response to India’s 1974 nuclear test explosion, which used plutonium derived from Canadian and U.S. supplied equipment and material in violation of India’s peace nuclear use agreements, nuclear supplier states joined together to reinforce the NPT by forming the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Through national laws and the NSG, leading states severely constrained India’s access to the nuclear fuel and technology market and successfully helped constrain the growth of India’s nuclear arsenal.

In 1992, the NSG formally agreed to restrict nuclear trade with states, such as India, that are not members of the NPT and do not allow comprehensive, full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. In 1995, the NPT Review Conference endorsed the principle of full-scope safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply.

But now, the global system for controlling and eliminating nuclear weapons is under increasing stress. The troubles facing the NPT and the NSG derive in large part from:

  • The failure of a few states to fulfill their nonproliferation, safeguards, and disarmament obligations;
  • The failure of a handful of states to join the treaty; and
  • The failure of leading states, including the United States and others to consistently enforce their own nonproliferation and disarmament standards and laws. In the case of India and Pakistan, nonproliferation has too often lost out to competing economic and security considerations with negative results.

The latest example is the July 2005 U.S.-Indian proposal to exempt India from U.S. national laws barring nuclear trade with states that have tested nuclear weapons and do not allow comprehensive safeguards and to carve-out a country-specific loophole in NSG rules to allow a handful of nuclear supplier states to engage in nuclear cooperation with NPT hold-out India.

For its part India pledged to put an additional 8 of its electricity producing nuclear reactors under facility-specific IAEA safeguards by 2014. Six reactors are already under such safeguards. However, it did not commit to any binding restrictions on its ability to increase its nuclear arsenal or test nuclear weapons.

In 2006, the U.S. Congress adopted legislation, known as the Henry Hyde Act, that provides the U.S. president limited and conditional authority to exempt India from the law that bars trade with states that don’t allow full-scope safeguards. In 2007, the United States and India concluded negotiations on a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, also referred to as a “123” agreement after the section of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act governing bilateral nuclear cooperation.

To implement the deal, further steps must be undertaken. The 35-member International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board has to approve a new and unprecedented safeguards agreement that would cover a limited number of additional Indian “civilian” reactors. Then, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) would have to agree by consensus to exempt India from longstanding NSG guidelines that require full-scope IAEA safeguards as a condition of supply. If those steps are taken, the U.S. Congress could then consider whether to approve, reject, or add conditions on the proposed U.S.-Indian “123” agreement. Given the numerous discrepancies between the Hyde Act and the “123” agreement, [1] many members of Congress will want to closely examine and possibly place conditions on the resolution of approval.  If the NSG exempts India from the full-scope safeguards requirement, other states including France and Russia could also go forward with their own bilateral nuclear trade deals.

But now, two and a half years after President Bush and Prime Minister Singh proposed the nuclear deal, the arrangement is being buffeted by crosswinds of criticism at home and abroad. Since the Indian government and the IAEA concluded their talks on the new safeguards agreement in March of this year, several leftist parties – which help provide the United Progressive Alliance government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh its governing majority – have threatened to withdraw from the government and force an early election if the ruling Congress party takes the safeguards agreement to the IAEA Board of Governors.

Consequently, it is highly unlikely that the NSG meeting that begins May 19 here in Berlin will do anything more than discuss the proposal to exempt India from the full-scope safeguards condition of nuclear supply. In fact, I believe it is unlikely that the NSG will take a formal decision before the end of 2008.

India’s Unreasonable Demands

If the initiative doesn’t crumble as a result of domestic Indian opposition in the next few months, I believe it will become indefinitely stalled or significantly modified because a growing number of NSG states are unwilling to compromise longstanding nonproliferation and disarmament policies.

Why? While many NSG member states support India’s legitimate nuclear energy goals, the terms proposed by India and the United States go far beyond what many of them are willing—or should be asked--to accept.

The Singh government is seeking unprecedented “India-specific” safeguards that it has asserted shall apply only so long as foreign supplies continue.  Although P.M. Singh reiterated India’s support for a nuclear test moratorium, the U.S.-Indian “123” agreement and draft NSG proposal both fail to explicitly state that renewed Indian testing would lead to a termination of nuclear trade. To improve its fuel production and spent fuel reprocessing capabilities, the Singh government has fought tooth and nail to secure access to enrichment and reprocessing technologies from the United States and other nuclear suppliers for its long-planned fast-breeder reactor program, but which could also be used to improve its military nuclear program.

For those in India who believe it is essential to protect the option to increase the size of India’s arsenal, perfect new warhead designs through renewed nuclear testing, and to obtain more advanced plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment technology, such terms may seem logical, if not vital.

It is for India to decide what is best for India, but other states are under no obligation to agree to India’s terms. In fact, the 188 states that are party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have taken on solemn legal and political responsibilities that bar any form of assistance to another state that might support a military nuclear program and to support nuclear disarmament initiatives—responsibilities that make it difficult for them to agree to India’s preferred terms of nuclear trade.

Under Articles II and III of the NPT, member states are legally bound to support effective and permanent safeguards against the diversion of technology that might also help in the making of nuclear bombs or bomb material. Under Article VI, they are all legally bound to support measures that would help end the arms race and lead to disarmament. These include the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which 177 states, including the original five nuclear weapon states, have signed. India refuses to sign. Under Article VI, NPT states are bound to pursue a halt to the production of fissile material for weapons purposes.

While Prime Minister Singh restatement India's support for the negotiation of a global fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) is a positive statement, it is not a new or meaningful pledge. India has for several years stated its support for the negotiation of a global, verifiable FMCT. Yet negotiations toward such a treaty have been deadlocked at the Conference on Disarmament since the late 1990s due to differences over negotiating priorities.

NPT member states must also consider the very real possibility that the supply of nuclear fuel to India could free-up its existing (and limited) stockpile and capacity to produce highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons. This could allow for the rapid expansion of India's nuclear arsenal from the current rate of some 6-10 bombs annually to several dozen annually. As a result, the United States and other nuclear fuel suppliers could be indirectly assisting India’s nuclear bomb program in violation of their obligation under Article I of the NPT not to assist in any way other states’ nuclear weapons programs.

Furthermore, India’s failure to agree to halt its production of fissile material for weapons (as four of the five original nuclear-weapon states claim to have done and as China is believed to have done) strikes many states as inconsistent with it policy of maintaining a “minimal credible deterrent.” There is no strategic rationale for India amass more than 100 bombs worth of nuclear weapon material when other potential strategic rivals do not possess significantly larger weapons arsenals.

These are real and legitimate concerns that should not be dismissed as unreasonable demands issued by states that would deny what many nuclear nationalists in India believe is a “right” join the few nuclear weapons “haves.” Rather, these are concerns based on the concept that all states should comply with a common set of nuclear weapons restraint measures and that no single state, or group of states, should have a “most favored” nuclear weapons status.

India Would Still Be Outside the Nonproliferation Mainstream

Advocates of the deal in the United States and the other states that might profit from nuclear reactor and fuel sales to India claim that the deal is, on balance, worthwhile because it would bring India into the nuclear nonproliferation mainstream.  Even IAEA Director-General Mohammed El Baradei, who oversees an agency that is mandated to help promote nuclear energy everywhere, has made vague but unsubstantiated claims in support of the deal.

But a sober and careful analysis make it abundantly clear that El Baradei and others who claim  the nuclear deal will strengthen the nonproliferation regime are dead wrong. The nuclear deal fails to bring India into conformity with the nonproliferation behavior expected of responsible nuclear states.

As I and a group of other nonproliferation experts wrote the Director-General in July 2006, the nuclear deal would provide India nuclear trade benefits reserved for countries that have forsworn nuclear weapons or those legally bound to give them up; neither of which is true of India.  The U.S.-Indian deal is not an effective way to restructure the NPT system and would lead to the further unraveling of the basic security bargain established between the nuclear haves and have-nots.

Making any exemption to the nonproliferation rules might only be justified if the nonproliferation and disarmament commitments outlined in the Bush-Singh statement of July 2005 significantly strengthened the global nonproliferation and disarmament system. As of now, they do not.

What Should Be Done?

Nevertheless, unless key members of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group are prepared to exert the necessary leadership, decisions that may taken within weeks or months at the IAEA Board of Governors and the Nuclear Suppliers Group on the India nuclear deal could further undermine the NPT.

Thankfully, most NSG states appear reluctant to make far-reaching exceptions to existing international nuclear nonproliferation practices and many rightly believe that India should in the very least abide by the same nuclear restraint measures that are expected of other major nuclear states.

First of all, NSG members should not be in any rush to exempt India from NSG rules or commit to support such an exemption, especially given the uncertain degree of support for the arrangement inside India.

If the proposal is advanced later this year or next, at an absolute minimum, the NSG should reject India’s demand for a “clean” exemption from NSG guidelines and insist upon the minimal but still vital requirements established by the U.S. Congress in the Henry Hyde Act of 2006.

Among other things, the Hyde Act requires:   

  • The immediate termination of all nuclear trade with India if New Delhi resumes nuclear testing or violates its safeguard commitments. India, which has not signed the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, is seeking terms would allow continued nuclear trade even if it resumes testing.  
  • An IAEA-India safeguards agreement that applies in perpetuity to all nuclear materials, equipment, and technology and all civilian nuclear facilities in India. New Delhi is seeking an unprecedented “Indian-specific” safeguards agreement that would allow it to remove certain reactors from safeguards if fuel supplies are interrupted, even if that is because it resumes testing.  
  • A clear prohibition on the transfer of enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water production technology for Indian national facilities. IAEA safeguards cannot prevent India from using knowledge gained from the importation of these sensitive technologies in its nuclear weapons program.

If the NSG fails to establish these restrictions and conditions, NSG guidelines would be less stringent than U.S. law and policy. As a result, other less constrained suppliers such as Russia and France would gain a commercial advantage and undermine longstanding U.S. nonproliferation objectives.

However, if NSG states take their nonproliferation obligations seriously, they should apply further conditions and restrictions than were adopted by the U.S. Congress and take responsible action in six key areas:

First, with respect to the new safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which are almost purely symbolic and hardly worth their ten million dollar or more annual costs, the IAEA Board could and should reject any Indian statement or interpretation that makes the safeguards contingent on the continuation of foreign fuel supplies, which runs counter to the principle of permanent safeguards.

IAEA member states must also consider the fact that partial safeguards in a state with a known nuclear weapons program are purely symbolic and hardly worth their cost, which will be ten million U.S, dollars or more a year. These costs will be paid by individual IAEA member states through the IAEA general fund.

Second, India pledged in July 2005 to conclude an Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement. NSG states will likely insist that India and the IAEA conclude a meaningful Additional Protocol safeguards regime before any India-specific NSG exemption takes effect. So far, neither the Indian nor the U.S. governments have explained how the Additional Protocol will apply to Indian nuclear facilities or when.

Third, the current U.S. proposal to exempt India from NSG guidelines India would, in the case of a resumption of nuclear testing by India, make the suspension of nuclear trade optional for NSG members. This elastic approach to NSG guidelines should be rejected because it  would undercut the international norm against nuclear testing and make a mockery of NSG guidelines. Instead, NSG members should insist that an exemption from the full-scope safeguards requirement would be automatically revoked in the event of a nuclear test explosion.

Fourth, India is seeking an exemption from NSG guidelines that would open the way for other nuclear suppliers to transfer sensitive plutonium reprocessing, uranium enrichment, or heavy water production technology to India.

This should be a red flag to NSG states because IAEA safeguards cannot prevent such technology from being replicated and used in India’s weapons program. At the moment, the vast majority of NSG members support a proposal for a new NSG guideline that would bar transfers of these sensitive nuclear technologies to non-NPT members, states that have not concluded an Additional Protocol agreement with the IAEA, or states that are not in full compliance with their safeguards agreements. This would exclude India from NSG supplies of enrichment and reprocessing items.

This so-called criteria based proposal to tighten enrichment and reprocessing transfers will be the top items at this month’s NSG meeting in Berlin. Whether it is adopted or not, it is highly unlikely that NSG members will consent to nuclear transfers to India involving reprocessing, enrichment, or even heavy water production items.

Fifth, NSG states should flatly reject India’s attempts to secure nuclear fuel supply guarantees for the lifetime of their reactors to overcome the possibility that foreign suppliers might cut off nuclear trade if India decides to resume nuclear testing or violates its safeguards agreement. Instead, as the Hyde Act suggest, NSG states should stipulate that if NSG states provide nuclear fuel supplies to India, they should only be “commensurate with reasonable reactor requirements,” and not constitute a multi-year strategic fuel reserve.

Finally, NSG states must also take their NPT and UN Security Council commitments seriously. In keeping with the Article VI requirement on all NPT states to support measures that would help end the arms race and lead to disarmament, they should reiterate the call in UNSC 1172 of 1998 that calls upon India to reconsider and sign the CTBT and, along with Pakistan, halt fissile material production for weapons.


Now is the time for Germany (the incoming chair of the NSG) to work with responsible members of the NSG to insist upon guidelines for trade with India that, at the very least, incorporate the minimal requirements mandated by U.S. law, and ideally, go further to minimize the damage to the already beleaguered global nonproliferation system.

For several months, the Arms Control Association and dozens of other nonproliferation experts and nongovernmental organizations have been working to draw attention to the flaws in the nuclear deal and propose fixes. For instance, we organized a letter to NSG member states and several IAEA Board of Governors states in January of this year that was endorsed by more than 130 NGOs and experts from 23 countries.[2]

Based on my conversations with NSG diplomats in recent weeks, I am fairly confident that many of many of our recommendations have broad support within the NSG, and as a result, the proposal will have to be substantially modified and conditioned if it is to gain approval.

If India’s leaders cannot even abide by these minimal standards and decide to reject the deal, that is their choice. However, before they do, they should consider whether continued fissile material production, the option to test again, access to reprocessing and enrichment technology, and special safeguards are worth the cost of losing access to international fuel supplies and power reactors. A careful and sober examination of these questions suggest that the purported security benefits of expanding and modernizing India’s nuclear weapons arsenal and the economic benefits of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel are illusory and their cost are high.

Given India’s laudable past efforts and calls for a nuclear weapons free world, it is also unfortunate that the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation proposal has not prompted deeper thinking and discussion within India about the role of its nuclear weapons and why it needs any greater capability.

To this day, Indian politicians cite former P.M. Rajiv Gandhi’s visionary 1988 proposal for nuclear disarmament as a blueprint for action. Realizing its goals will take more than just talk on the part of India’s leaders. It requires leadership by example. While the U.S. and Russia have undertaken several of the “phase I” steps in the Gandhi plan, India now resists two key elements of the plan: the CTBT and a “cessation of the production of nuclear weapons by all nuclear weapon states.” If India were to offer its support for these initiatives, its reentry into the international civil nuclear energy market would be wholeheartedly welcomed and not so vigorously resisted.

1. “U.S.-Indian Nuclear Agreement: A Bad Nuclear Deal Gets Worse,” Background Memo by Fred McGoldrick and Daryl Kimball, August 3, 2007. See <http://www.armscontrol.org/pressroom/2007/20070803_IndiaUS >

2. “Fix the Proposal for Renewed Nuclear Cooperation with India,” Letter from Nongovernmental Organizations, January 7, 2008. See <http://www.armscontrol.org/pressroom/2008/NSGappeal >

Presentation to the HBF-ACA Seminar, Berlin

Subject Resources:

U.S. Joins Others Seeking Nuclear Export Criteria

Wade Boese

The United States recently gave up its campaign to convince other nuclear suppliers to prohibit certain sensitive nuclear exports. It has now joined an alternative effort to adopt criteria to strictly limit such transactions, although Canada and a few other countries have objected to some aspects of the initiative.

A week after the Feb. 4, 2004, revelation of the Abdul Qadeer Khan nuclear black-market network, President George W. Bush proposed several initiatives to curb the spread of nuclear material and technology. (See ACT, March 2004 .) One of those proposals urged suppliers not to transfer uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies to states without existing facilities for those purposes. Both capabilities can be used to produce nuclear fuel as well as nuclear weapons, but Bush argued that "enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

Although not all of them are currently operating, enrichment and/or reprocessing facilities exist in 15 countries: Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Of those states, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands have not developed nuclear weapons or are not under suspicion of covertly pursuing such arms.

U.S. officials took Bush's 2004 proposal to the voluntary Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) where it has languished for four years without winning the necessary consensus for adoption. The group's 44 other members have gravitated toward a less restrictive initiative to establish eligibility criteria for potential importers seeking enrichment and reprocessing technologies. France first introduced a criteria concept in 2004, and then months later, Canada offered an alternative that has served as the basic model ever since. (See ACT, September 2005 .)

The United States recently offered its first version of the criteria, which was discussed at an April 21-22 NSG meeting in Vienna. Until its latest proposal, the United States had doggedly pursued its sales ban and criticized previous draft criteria as insufficient.

Earlier criteria included a requirement that eligible enrichment and reprocessing importers be party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which would rule out India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan. Another criterion mandated that potential recipients abide by an additional protocol negotiated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Such protocols give the agency enhanced powers to investigate allegations of unlawful use of nuclear technologies to develop weapons.

The United States retained those criteria in its proposal but burnished them with additional factors for exporters to consider as well as stronger conditions on actual exports. For example, the U.S. proposal would limit exporters to a "black box" approach in which they would supply "only complete, turnkey systems and facilities, and participate with the recipient's consent directly in the operation of the facility." The intent is to lessen an importer's access to the underlying technologies and, thereby, the possibility that the technology might be replicated or reverse engineered for other purposes.

Canada, as well as South Africa reportedly to a lesser extent, have objected to the black box approach, arguing that it conflicts with an NPT provision allowing countries to acquire and develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Both countries have significant uranium deposits and are eyeing the option of trying to profit more from developing the capacity to enrich the uranium for sale as nuclear fuel rather than simply exporting uranium.

Meanwhile, Argentina and Brazil maintain their long-standing opposition to the proposed criterion regarding an additional protocol. Neither country has negotiated such an instrument with the IAEA.

Officials of some governments in the NSG told Arms Control Today in April interviews that it was unclear whether these objections might be overcome in time for the group to adopt the criteria approach at the next NSG meeting May 19-22 in Berlin. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because NSG discussions are supposed to be confidential.

Also uncertain is how the NSG debate could affect the July 7-9 Group of Eight summit in Toyako on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Every year since 2004, the leaders of the eight participants (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have endorsed a one-year moratorium on new transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology.

But Canada's well-known opposition to the U.S. black box approach casts doubt on whether it will again support extending the moratorium, which generally has been perceived as a temporary measure until the NSG takes action to more specifically address growing concerns about enrichment and reprocessing technologies. Current NSG guidelines vaguely state that "suppliers should exercise restraint in the transfer of sensitive facilities, technology, and material usable for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

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Reshaping the U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal to Lessen the Nonproliferation Losses

Charles D. Ferguson

For decades, India’s nuclear programs have been defined by two contradictory forces: the country’s vast ambitions and its limited uranium reserves. Its ambitions have led New Delhi to establish a significant civilian nuclear enterprise, to refuse to sign the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and to develop and test nuclear weapons. Its limited uranium reserves, on the other hand, have clearly slowed India’s nuclear energy development, most likely hampered its nuclear weapons program, and intertwined the two efforts to a high degree.

The tension between India’s goals and resources has grown much stronger in the past decade. By bringing India’s nuclear weapons programs into the open, the country’s 1998 nuclear tests fueled calls to develop the full panoply of nuclear capabilities, including a nuclear triad. India’s recent impressive economic growth has strained the country’s energy system, increasing interest in nuclear energy. In particular, India would like to quintuple the production of electricity through nuclear energy by 2020.

To the Indian government, the civil nuclear cooperation agreement it signed with the United States last year looks like a way for New Delhi to escape this dilemma, giving it access to global uranium reserves without imposing limits on its nuclear weapons program. India’s right and left wings may claim the Congress-led government has somehow shortchanged their country. The truth is that, without the deal, New Delhi will be forced to confront painful trade-offs between its energy and national security goals, as a series of January interviews I conducted in India of nuclear scientists, policy experts, and energy and defense analysts made clear.

For the deal to go forward, the 45 members of the voluntary Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) must first agree to carve out an exception for India to its guidelines. These currently require a non-nuclear-weapon state, as India is legally defined under the NPT, to have comprehensive safeguards on all nuclear facilities before receiving civilian nuclear assistance from NSG countries.

The U.S. Congress too must sign off on the final nuclear cooperation agreement, meaning that it and the NSG will retain considerable leverage over India. They should use this power to condition the agreement in a way that does less damage to the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

The NSG has an opportunity to condition this exception on India’s behaviors, including continuing to refrain from testing nuclear explosives and placing permanent safeguards on any foreign technologies and fuel, as well as designated indigenous facilities. Moreover, the NSG should hold back on transferring enrichment and reprocessing technologies, which could further enhance India’s weapons production capabilities, and only supply as much reserve fuel as needed for reasonable power plant requirements. U.S. leadership could also influence India to become a more responsible nuclear-armed state through signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and committing to a cutoff of weapons-usable fissile material in addition to adhering to conditions on civilian nuclear commerce.

Two Intertwined Visions

The roots of the current controversy over the nuclear deal go back to India’s emergence as an independent nation in the late 1940s. At that time, Dr. Homi Bhabha, widely viewed as a father of India’s nuclear programs, sought to develop these efforts in a way that exploited indigenous resources. He was well aware that India’s uranium resources were only sufficient to power a modest nuclear energy program of about 10,000 megawatts per year and even less would be available if some were used for weapons. To compensate, Bhabha laid out a three-stage plan for India to hoard these limited indigenous uranium deposits and to leverage its abundant thorium deposits to bootstrap itself to a massive production of electricity through nuclear energy and to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

This vision of self-sufficiency, which arose in part from India’s desire to escape its colonial heritage, has remained a guiding vision for India’s nuclear establishment even as its practical fulfillment has receded further into the future. India’s positions in the discussions on a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States in many ways reflect a compromise between those who want to be self-reliant and stick almost exclusively with Bhabha’s three-stage plan, which one interviewee called “a sacred cow,” and those who are willing to bring in outside foreign suppliers. India’s preference for autarky was reinforced by its isolation from international nuclear trade after a 1974 nuclear test, which relied on U.S. and Canadian technology and nuclear materials. This is also reflected in India’s current negotiating posture, which seeks to ensure that foreign suppliers cannot shut off access to fuel and reactors if New Delhi tests nuclear explosives or commits some other proliferation transgression, such as transferring nuclear technologies to states of concern.

Moreover, while Bhabha sought to ensure that fissile materials would be available for a nuclear weapons program, India in recent years has fleshed out what it means when it says that it seeks a “credible minimal deterrent.” In its draft nuclear doctrine published soon after the 1998 tests, New Delhi explicitly stated its objective was to deploy a triad of nuclear forces. The triad would consist of land-based ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable aircraft, and nuclear-armed submarines. As with the U.S.-Soviet experience during the Cold War, such a triad is designed to provide India with survivable nuclear forces and a second-strike capability. It would also mean that India’s arsenal would increase from an estimated few dozen operational warheads today to as many as 200 or more, a level akin to China and the United Kingdom. The nuclear deal would not prevent India from building up to these projected operational and reserve capacities within several years.[1]

The Deal and India’s Fissile Material

To produce enough weapons-usable fissile material (highly enriched uranium or plutonium), India needs sufficient uranium. This uranium would have to come from the country’s limited indigenous sources because foreign suppliers would not give permission to have their uranium used to make weapons. Currently, the military has to share these scarce uranium resources with the civilian sector as nearly all of India’s thermal reactors, are fueled with indigenous uranium. All told, the current total annual uranium demand is about 475 tons. The military reactors require about 45 metric tons of uranium annually:  The CIRUS and Dhruva weapons-grade plutonium-production reactors require about 35 metric tons and another military program to make fuel for nuclear-powered submarines, the uranium-enrichment facility at Mysore, uses an estimated 10 metric tons of uranium annually. By contrast,  the civilian thermal reactor fleet currently requires about 430 metric tons of uranium per year to be fully fueled.[2] The uranium demands of the civilian sector have grown since the late 1990s more reactors came online in the late 1990s and the India was able to operate its reactors at a higher pitch.

Indigenous supplies have not kept up with this rising demand. Estimated uranium mining has fallen to around 300 tons per year because of poor planning in the uranium mining and milling sectors and opposition from an emerging environmental movement. Notably, New Delhi has kept its two weapons-grade plutonium-production reactors fully fueled during the last several years while curtailing electricity production.

This energy crunch could not have come at a worse time. Indian electricity demand is soaring to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding economy. According to the Indian government and the International Energy Agency, India’s electricity demand will increase at a rate of 6 to 8 percent annually at least through 2020.

India’s nuclear energy boosters, such as Subhinder Thakur, the head strategist for the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), an enterprise of the government of India, claim “the mismatch is temporary.” Thakur said the Uranium Corporation of India, the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research, and the Nuclear Fuel Complex are working together to resolve the uranium shortage within the next few years.

Despite this optimistic assessment from the NPCIL, India confronts continued resistance from environmentalists about opening new mines or expanding old ones, especially in the northeastern part of the country. Also, India’s plans to increase its thermal reactor power production within the next five to six years would drive up the demand for domestically mined uranium in the near term. In particular, to keep the newest indigenous reactors fully fueled would require about 140 tons of uranium per year. Adding this to the current uranium demands means that if the plants were run at full capacity, India annually would consume an estimated 600 tons of uranium.

Therefore, if the political conflicts surrounding mining were not resolved by the time these plants were built and if the nuclear deal were to fall through, India would be forced to stop running about half of its indigenously fueled reactors or only operate this fleet at approximately 50 percent capacity. With the deal, India has plans to place enough reactors under safeguards to reduce the demand for domestically mined uranium to just more than 300 tons for the unsafeguarded power production reactors by 2014—the amount that it is mining today. Assuming that India could import the uranium for the safeguarded reactors, the deal could reduce pressure on India to open up new or expand existing uranium mines. From the perspectives of the NSG and the United States, this significant difference between the deal and no deal scenarios offers tremendous leverage.

Still, the United States and the other NSG countries have not yet taken advantage of this opportunity to extract crucial concessions that would reduce the deal’s damage to the nonproliferation system. Instead, the deal would permit India to reach its goal of 20,000 megawatts of nuclear-generated electricity by 2020, if foreign suppliers could build enough reactors, and to fulfill its nuclear weapons aspirations. If the deal goes through, about one-half of India’s nuclear-generated electricity would come from indigenously produced and currently operating foreign-supplied reactors and the other half would come from additional foreign-supplied reactors, including the two 1,000-megawatt reactors Russia is completing at Kudankulam. Therefore, the Indian government has asked foreign suppliers to bid on building up to eight large reactors by 2020.[3] Current and former government officials, however, admitted to me that this planning scenario is ambitious and faces significant financial and construction hurdles.

Plutonium Production

To be sure, Indian officials I interviewed, as well as some deal supporters in the United States, contend that whether or not the deal goes through will not significantly affect India’s weapons-grade plutonium production.[4] Given New Delhi’s dedication to maintaining such production at full capacity, the deal’s potential impact in this regard is indeed murky.

New Delhi has neither published its weapons-usable fissile material holdings nor indicated how large a nuclear arsenal it intends to make. Unofficial estimates by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) indicate that India may have amassed 575 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium as of the end of 2004.[5] ISIS has also estimated that India may have consumed about 131 kilograms of this plutonium in nuclear weapons tests, as reactor fuel, and in processing losses. The CIRUS reactor could produce about 9 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium annually, and Dhruva could make about 23 kilograms annually. If these estimates are accurate, India may have had available 540 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium as of the end of 2007. Using the conservative International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that 8 kilograms of plutonium are needed to make a nuclear bomb, the stockpiled Indian plutonium could fuel a minimum of 67 first-generation fission bombs. Some analysts have argued that more advanced designs could use as little as a few kilograms of plutonium.[6] Therefore, the upper bound estimate for India’s current warhead capacity is somewhat more than 100 nuclear weapons.

It does appear that, in at least one respect, the deal could stimulate near-term growth in weapons-grade plutonium production. Under the deal, India has pledged to shut down the aging CIRUS reactor by 2010. CIRUS is contentious because India obtained it from Canada in the late 1950s and gave assurances “that the reactor would be used only for peaceful uses.” The United States had provided the heavy water for the reactor. This reactor, however, produced plutonium for India’s 1974 “peaceful” nuclear test, which spurred the United States and other countries to form the NSG. India has considered replacing this 40-megawatt thermal (MWth) reactor with a larger capacity 100 MWth reactor.[7] This replacement reactor could produce about two-and-a-half times the amount of plutonium produced annually by CIRUS, or about 23 kilograms compared to 9 kilograms.

In addition to its weapons-grade plutonium stockpile, with or without the deal, India can make hundreds of nuclear weapons from several tons of unsafeguarded reactor-grade plutonium in spent nuclear fuel it has already accumulated, although the deal could somewhat affect future production. It is unknown how much reactor-grade plutonium India has separated from spent fuel, but the unsafeguarded reactors have produced more than 20 times the amount of plutonium that India has obtained from the two weapons-plutonium-production reactors. The deal did not place any of this past production under safeguards.

The most direct and immediate means of using this material would be as fissile material in nuclear weapons. Although weapons-grade plutonium is ideal for weapons use, reactor-grade plutonium can also serve this purpose.[8] Reportedly, India may have used reactor-grade plutonium in one of its May 1998 tests.[9]

Moreover, this feedstock of unsafeguarded plutonium could fuel India’s planned breeder reactor program (the second stage of Bhabha’s three-stage plan), which will remain outside of safeguards. The five planned breeder reactors by 2020 would require two initial cores of plutonium before recycling of plutonium would make the breeders more than self-sufficient. If only the first 500-megawatt electric Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor were dedicated to weapons production, it could produce up to 140 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium each year, more than four times the current rate of production from CIRUS and Dhruva.[10]

It should be noted that, in a few years, the deal might lower the future rate of production of reactor-grade plutonium. Without the deal, India would have only six reactors under safeguards: the U.S.-built Tarapur 1 and 2, the Canadian-built Rajasthan 1 and 2, and the two Russian reactors under construction at Kudankulam. With the deal, India has agreed to place eight additional indigenously made reactors under safeguards, meaning that eight pressurized heavy-water reactors and their produced plutonium would remain outside of safeguards. Over the course of the next seven years, the net result would be that the annual production rate of unsafeguarded plutonium would be set to peak at about 2,000 kilograms per year in the next two years and fall to about 1,250 kilograms per year by 2015, when safeguards would be applied to all of the reactors subject to the deal.

Therefore, the deal would serve to lower India’s future unsafeguarded plutonium production rate by about one-third.[11] In that respect, the deal is arguably positive for nonproliferation as long as permanent safeguards are applied. Nonetheless, existing and future stocks of spent fuel would be more than sufficient to fuel the breeder program or to provide direct fissile material for nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the deal as structured has given implicit U.S. approval to India’s nuclear weapons program under the guise of bringing India into “the nonproliferation mainstream.”

Directing India Onto a More Responsible Path

To truly bring India into the nonproliferation mainstream, the NSG and Congress must insist on certain conditions. These conditions are minimal in the sense that they would not roll back India’s nuclear weapons program and would not significantly curtail India’s weapons-usable fissile material production capabilities. In that sense, India will have won what it has most sought, recognition of its nuclear weapons program. Even if the deal dies, the United States in effect has already bestowed that recognition. Nonetheless, as a price for that acknowledgement, India should be willing to accept more responsible behavior that would lessen the damage to the nonproliferation regime.

Nuclear trade should be contingent on India refraining from nuclear testing. Also, such commerce should depend on maintenance of permanent safeguards on all designated nuclear facilities. Moreover, the NSG should hold back on transferring enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy-water technologies that could further enhance India’s weapons production capabilities. In addition, the United States should press for India to sign the CTBT and adhere to a weapons-usable fissile material cap. Fully implementing these measures, however, will depend on Chinese and Pakistani actions.

Although most Indian policymakers and analysts have supported the country’s unilateral testing moratorium since 1998, all interviewees agreed that India’s accession to the CTBT has become increasingly tied to the U.S. position on the treaty. India will not ratify the treaty unless the United States does so. Although there is no direct nuclear threat between India and the United States, Indian analysts have made a direct connection between U.S. nuclear actions and India’s place in the world. Summing up this view, Professor Pratap Mehta, the executive director of the Center for Policy Research, based in New Delhi, said India “cannot support a world order that gives into the U.S. maintaining its nuclear primacy.” Moreover, he said that “as long as the U.S. holds out on modernizing its arsenal, India will not sign the FMCT [fissile material cutoff treaty] or the CTBT.”

Acknowledging U.S. influence, top defense expert K. Santhanam, who had a leadership role during the 1998 tests, drew a more direct connection to China and Pakistan. He expressed willingness for India to continue indefinitely the testing moratorium as long as China and Pakistan refrain from testing.

All of the five original nuclear-weapon states, including China, have signed the CTBT. Even if ratification by the United States remains out of reach for the time being, India should be encouraged in tandem with Pakistan to take a step beyond the moratorium and sign the treaty.

Similarly, fissile material production depends crucially on Chinese and Pakistani production. All of the five legally recognized nuclear-weapon states but China have committed to stop making fissile material for weapons. China is believed to have stopped weapons-usable fissile material production, but Beijing has never officially said so. If China would make a public pledge not to make fissile material for weapons, it would put added pressure on India to specify when it would stop stockpiling nuclear weapons material. To bring Pakistan into this arrangement, India could offer a series of alternating unilateral moves. For example, India could verifiably shut down one of its plutonium-production reactors for a period of time. Pakistan could take a similar step with one of its production reactors. Verification could be achieved through third-party commercial satellite monitoring of the status of the reactors.

Although turning back the growth in India’s nuclear arsenal appears unlikely for the foreseeable future, the NSG and the United States have opportunities to shape the future direction of India’s strategic weapons program. They should take it.

India’s Nuclear Energy Program: Ambitious Dreams, Sober Realities

Charles D. Ferguson

New Delhi’s nuclear planners can never be accused of thinking small. Even at the very beginning of India’s nuclear efforts, Homi Bhabha proposed an ambitious three-stage plan for Indian nuclear development that sought to develop original technology that would allow the country to compensate for its insufficient uranium reserves.

Thermal reactors—today’s typical power reactors—represented the first part of Bhabha’s vision. Thermal reactors use slow or thermal energy neutrons to fission uranium-235, a naturally occurring fissile isotope of uranium.

Bhabha envisioned that, in a second stage, spent fuel from these thermal reactors would be reprocessed to separate plutonium for fueling breeder reactors, which would “breed” more plutonium.

In the third and final stage, this plutonium would fuel reactors that would irradiate thorium to make uranium-233. India has about one-third of the world’s known supply of thorium, which is not useful by itself but can transform into the fissile material U-233. U-233 can power nuclear reactors and provide the fissile material for nuclear weapons. This material could therefore provide additional fuel for India’s electrical power production reactors and additional material for nuclear weapons.

If India were able to develop the thorium fuel cycle, it could have available as much as 155,502 gigawatt-years of electrical energy (GWe-yr), in comparison to the potential for 328 GWe-yr from indigenously fueled thermal reactors; 10,660 GWe-yr from indigenous coal (which now provides 69 percent of Indian electricity); and 42,231 GWe-yr from plutonium breeder reactors.[1] Currently, India has an installed electrical generating capacity of about 140 GWe, and the rate of electricity demand is expected to increase by 6 to 8 percent per year through 2020 during this period of projected ambitious economic growth.[2] Thus, the thorium cycle holds out the potential to provide a huge portion of India’s projected electricity needs for several hundred years.

Indian engineers have recognized, however, that significant hurdles block the way toward commercializing the thorium fuel cycle. High costs and major technical problems are likely to delay full commercialization of the thorium cycle until at least 2050, according to Indian energy experts.

To fully realize the thorium cycle, Indian engineers first face the mainly financial challenge of proving the commercial viability of the plutonium breeder program. India has operated a small 40-megawatt pilot-scale breeder reactor since 1985.Although India is building a commercial-scale breeder reactor, which is projected to be completed in 2011, and is planning to build four more of these reactors by 2020, ramping up to a fleet of breeder reactors will likely take decades, and it is uncertain if this program will succeed commercially. Thus, full realization of India’s civilian nuclear energy vision appears blurry, and this program could remain stuck at a low level for the next few decades.

Indeed, after nearly half a century of investment, nuclear energy provides only about 4,000 megawatts of electricity, or 3 percent of India’s electricity needs. That compares to about 20 percent in the United States. Even if the nuclear deal were to go through and India were to meet all of its goals for nuclear power generation, nuclear-generated electricity would only account for about 5 percent of India’s projected electricity demands in 2020. —CHARLES D. FERGUSON


1. Subhinder Thakur, Interview with author, Mumbai, January 4, 2008. Similar estimates appear in R. B. Grover and Subhash Chandra, “Scenario for Growth of Electricity in India,” Energy Policy, November 2006, pp. 2834-2847. For data on coal use, see World Coal Institute, www.worldcoal.org/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=402.

2. John Stephenson and Peter Tynan, “Will the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative Light India?” in Gauging U.S. Indian Strategic Cooperation, Henry Sokolski, editor (Strategic Studies Institute, 2007), p. 24.

India’s Planned Nuclear Triad: Seeking a “Credible Deterrent”

Charles D. Ferguson

If the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal were to move forward without any conditions, it would allow India to achieve its goal of deploying a triad of land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear weapons without hampering its nuclear energy ambitions.

India’s desire for a nuclear triad arises out of its stated need for a “credible minimal deterrent.” Exactly what that means is still being debated within the country, although the emphasis is clearly on “credibility” not minimalism. “Minimal” has been dropped at times from government pronouncements, but Indian analysts have consistently underscored the notion of credibility.[1] Even those who are strong supporters of eventual nuclear disarmament generally agree that credibility requires a second-strike capability.

Second-strike capability demands survivable nuclear forces. To achieve this, Indian analysts have borrowed from the U.S.-Soviet experience during the Cold War and have sought to acquire nuclear-armed submarines. In late February, India took a decisive step toward a sea-based nuclear capability by conducting a test of the K-15 ballistic missile from a submerged pontoon. The K-15 has a reported top range of 700 kilometers, allowing it to strike many targets in Pakistan. Deployed K-15 missiles on submarines could also target high-value sites in China.

The Indian military has been less successful in building nuclear submarines from which to launch such missiles. India’s nuclear-powered submarine program has limped along since 1985, although the Indian navy is trying to ready its first nuclear submarine for sea trials next year. India also received some experience in nuclear submarine operations from 1988 to 1991 when it leased a nuclear-powered attack submarine from the Soviet Union. A Russian crew manned this submarine while training Indian sailors. Presently, Russia is building an Akula-class nuclear submarine for lease to India.

Despite the substantial delays in deploying nuclear-powered submarines, these types of warships are not essential for deploying nuclear-armed forces at sea. India could use conventionally powered submarines as missile carriers, surface ships carrying nuclear-armed cruise missiles, or aircraft carriers with nuclear-capable bombers. Russia is refitting an aircraft carrier for India. Having fallen behind schedule, Moscow will likely complete the refit by late 2010. India has renamed the Admiral Gorshkov carrier as the Vikramaditya, which would be capable of helping protect India’s submarine fleet as well as launching fighter-bomber aircraft.[2] Of these platforms, Indian defense planners prefer the submarine force, whether nuclear or conventionally powered, to optimize survivability of this leg of the envisioned triad.

At this stage, India has not indicated how large its nuclear-armed submarine force could become. Submarines are least vulnerable to a pre-emptive attack when deployed; in port, a submarine is more exposed to attack. Even when deployed, a small submarine force could be vulnerable to anti-submarine warfare. If Pakistan develops effective anti-submarine capabilities, Indian defense planners would feel pressure to build a larger fleet of submarines, thereby increasing the perceived need for more weapons-usable fissile material and more nuclear weapons.

The other two legs of the triad would also require ready-to-deploy nuclear weapons. In the absence of clarifying information from the Indian government, there has been considerable debate about the deployment status of India’s nuclear weapons. Estimates of weapons that are fully assembled or can be fully assembled within days to weeks vary from a few to up to 100 with many analysts settling on about 30 to 50.[3]

There is even more certainty about the numbers of aircraft India has. India has more than 300 nuclear-capable planes, but it is uncertain how many are devoted to the nuclear mission. The most likely nuclear delivery systems are the Jaguar IS and Mirage 2000H fighter-bombers. Russian-acquired older MiG-27 and newer Su-30MKI fighter-bombers might also have a nuclear role.[4] India plans to upgrade its military aircraft within the next few years by purchasing 126 multipurpose planes for up to $12 billion. During a late February 2008 official visit to India, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reportedly promoted sales of U.S.-made aircraft.[5] It is uncertain how many aircraft India has armed or would consider arming with nuclear weapons.

Although the number of nuclear-armed land-based missiles is also uncertain, tests of these missiles are easier to track. The Prithvi I, with a range of 150 kilometers and a payload of 1,000 kilograms, has been approved for the Indian army. The Dhanush is the naval version of the Prithvi II, which is under development and has a range of approximately 350 kilometers. In addition, India has been developing longer-range Agni missiles. Although the Agni I with a 700-kilometer range and the Agni II with a range greater than 2,000 kilometers have reportedly been “inducted” into the army’s missile groups, their operational status is uncertain. In addition, the Agni III with a range greater than 3,000 kilometers is still under development and was test-launched on April 12, 2007. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the Agni I and II will become fully operational in the next two years. Both can be deployed on road or rail launchers.[6] Once operational, these missile systems would significantly enhance India’s nuclear strike capabilities and could strike parts of China. India is estimated to have up to 100 ballistic missiles with more than half of those in the longer-range Agni class, but it is uncertain how many of these could be armed with nuclear warheads.[7]

Perceived pressures to deter China as well as Pakistan could increase the numbers of deployed and reserve Indian nuclear weapons. Although the actual size of the Indian arsenal is unknown, accounting for even modestly sized bomber, land-based missile, and submarine legs in a triad can give a rough estimate of the potential future size. For aircraft, India may choose to have a few dozen nuclear bombs. Presently, for example, India has about 48 Mirage 2000H planes and about 70 Jaguar ISs, but probably only a portion would have nuclear bombs devoted to them. In the missile leg, a few dozen Prithvi and Agni missiles could be devoted to nuclear missions. In the submarine leg, to ensure survivable forces, India would likely plan at a minimum for one submarine in the shipyard, one in port readying for deployment, and one or two at sea. Assuming up to a dozen missiles per submarine, India may have at least a few dozen warheads for the submarine force. If multiple warheads are placed on the missiles, the warhead numbers could expand by three or more times.

In sum, India’s triad including a single-warhead missile force based on land and underwater and a bomber fleet could exceed more than 100 operational weapons in the coming years. In addition, this warhead amount could increase by a factor of two or more depending on the size of a reserve fissile material stockpile. —CHARLES D. FERGUSON


1. For an extensive, recent Indian report on this issue, see “India’s Credible Minimum Deterrence: A Report,” IPCS Special Report, No. 13, February 2006.

2. Viktor Litovkin, “India to Get Renamed Aircraft Carrier From Russia,” RIA Novosti, June 11, 2007.

3. Arms Control Association, “Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: India,” Fact Sheet, November 2007; Sharon Squassoni, “Indian and Pakistani Nuclear Weapons,” CRS Report for Congress, RS21237, February 17, 2005.

4. Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2007,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2007, pp. 74-78.

5. Ken Fireman, “Gates Says U.S.-India Ties to Expand Regardless of Nuclear Deal,” Bloomberg, February 26, 2008.

6. Norris and Kristensen, “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2007,” p. 76.

7. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Nuclear Forces: India 2005,” www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=19273&prog=zgp&proj=znpp; Natural Resources Defense Council, “Nuclear Notebook,” July/August 2007.

Charles D. Ferguson is a fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations. He co-authored The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2004).


1. For a different analysis that reaches similar conclusions, see Raja Menon, “Nuclear Stability, Deterrence and Separation of India’s Civil and Weapon Facilities,” Strategic Analysis, Vol. 29, No. 4 (October-December 2005).

2. Zia Mian et al.,“Plutonium Production in India and the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” in Gauging U.S.-Indian Strategic Cooperation, ed. Henry Sokolski (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2007), p. 109.

3. Note that there is a discrepancy between NPCIL and Government of India Planning Commission estimates of the number of foreign-supplied reactors by 2020. The NPCIL cites up to eight 1,000-megawatt reactors from foreign suppliers while the commission cites six of these reactors. The difference is accounted for by the NPCIL’s more ambitious projections of 23,180 megawatts of electricity (including contributions from a few breeder reactors); the commission calls for 20,000 megawatts, which it characterizes as “optimistic.” Government of India Planning Commission, “Integrated Energy Policy: Report of the Expert Committee,” August 2006, p. 47.

4. Ashley J. Tellis, “Atoms for War?: U.S.-Indian Civilian Nuclear Cooperation and India’s Nuclear Arsenal,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006.

5. David Albright, “India’s Military Plutonium Inventory, End-2004,” Institute for Science and International Security, May 7, 2005.

6. Thomas B. Cochran and Christopher E. Paine, “The Amount of Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium Needed for Pure Fission Nuclear Weapons,” Natural Resources Defense Council, April 13, 1995.

7. The thermal power rating (MWth) specifies the power that is produced by the reactor core. Knowing this number, one can estimate the plutonium production capacity. By contrast, the electric power rating (MWe) tells the electrical power production capacity. Because of energy conversion loses, MWe is always less than MWth.

8. U.S. Department of Energy, “Nonproliferation and Arms Control Assessment of Weapons-Usable Fissile Material Storage and Excess Plutonium Disposition Alternatives,” 1997.

9. George Perkovich, India’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 428-430.

10. Alexander Glaser and M. V. Ramana, “Weapon-Grade Plutonium Production Potential in the Indian Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2007), pp. 85-105.

11. Mian et al., “Plutonium Production in India and the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” p. 115.

Revived U.S.-Indian Deal Heads to IAEA

Wade Boese

After appearing close to expiration, the U.S.-Indian civil nuclear cooperation deal was recently resuscitated when some Indian lawmakers relaxed their opposition to government talks with the world’s nuclear monitoring agency. The deal’s recovery, however, could be short lived if the consultations falter or fail to satisfy the lawmakers.

Almost exactly one month after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh informed President George W. Bush that their two-year-old initiative had run into “difficulties,” Singh’s coalition government Nov. 16 announced that the deal had won clearance to move ahead. That approval came when India’s Communist parties and their allies, whose votes help keep the coalition in power, consented to the government holding talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which promotes and monitors civilian nuclear activities worldwide.

Indian officials traveled Nov. 21 to the agency’s Vienna headquarters to begin their discussions on a safeguards arrangement for the nuclear facilities that New Delhi designates as serving civilian rather than military purposes. Safeguards are mechanisms, such as inspections and remote monitoring, that are intended to ensure that civilian nuclear programs are not contributing to the development of nuclear bombs.

India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 using a device derived in part from U.S. and Canadian exports designated for “peaceful” purposes. Now estimated to have a stockpile of up to 100 warheads, New Delhi has resisted foreign pressure to forswear future nuclear testing and stop producing nuclear material for bombs.

Only Indian facilities with IAEA safeguards would be eligible for any new nuclear commerce opportunities created through the Bush administration’s drive to peel back nearly three decades of various U.S. and multilateral nuclear trade prohibitions on India that grew out of its 1974 blast. To take advantage of Washington’s work, which is the heart of the July 2005 U.S.-Indian deal, New Delhi announced in March 2006 that eight more nuclear power reactors would join six others already under IAEA safeguards. Another eight reactors would be off-limits to international oversight and ineligible for foreign nuclear supplies.

India has said that it wants “India-specific” safeguards to apply to the reactors and other facilities it is classifying as civilian. Indian officials have not publicly explained how these safeguards might differ from India’s existing safeguards, but reports exist that New Delhi, among other things, wants flexibility to withdraw facilities from safeguards in the event that foreign nuclear supplies are cut off, even if it is the result of renewed Indian nuclear testing.

India-specific safeguards that depart dramatically from existing arrangements could face more difficulty winning the approval of the agency’s 35 member-state Board of Governors, which currently includes India’s neighbor and rival, Pakistan. The board, which next meets March 3-7, 2008, typically approves safeguards by consensus.

The Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition also pledged that a committee that includes the leftist parties would review any completed IAEA agreement. Whether that panel has the power to reject the agreement is unclear.

Still, if they are dissatisfied, the leftist parties could again threaten to withdraw their support for the coalition government. The earlier use of this threat helped stall the effort previously and led to creation of the committee because Singh’s Congress Party feared that a leftist withdrawal could trigger early elections that would unseat the government. The leftist parties have condemned the overall U.S.-Indian initiative, charging that Singh is cozying up too much to Washington and compromising Indian sovereignty.

The main Indian opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has vehemently criticized the deal as a covert U.S. attempt to constrain India’s nuclear weapons complex. In a Nov. 7 statement, the party blasted Singh as making a “significant strategic blunder” and called for the deal to be “renegotiated and not hustled through as the UPA government is attempting.”

If Singh can navigate the deal through India’s turbulent politics and the IAEA, future nuclear cooperation will still depend on the Bush administration winning final approval for expanding nuclear trade with India from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and Congress, which gave its preliminary and qualified approval last December. (See ACT, January/February 2007. ) Before Congress reconsiders the proposed U.S.-Indian bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, U.S. law requires that the NSG, which operates by consensus, adjust current guidelines that restrict trade with states, such as India, that do not subject their entire nuclear enterprise to IAEA safeguards. The next plenary meeting of the NSG is scheduled for May 2008, but a special session could be convened if the IAEA Board of Governors approves a new safeguards agreement with India.

The Bush administration has indicated it wants the deal finalized in 2008, but with U.S. elections scheduled for next November, the time for congressional action could be short.

Clues Emerge Surrounding Airstrike in Syria

Peter Crail

In the wake of a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike in Syria, members of Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have pressed for more information regarding the attack and any undeclared Syrian nuclear facilities that may have been hit. Since the airstrike, press reports have continued to speculate regarding the target and purpose of the attack. The most detailed reports have recently suggested that the target was a construction site for a nuclear reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor.

After nearly a month of denials or silence regarding the Israeli incursion into Syrian airspace, officials in Syria and Israel have acknowledged that Israel struck a target in northern Syria.

Syrian officials originally denied that Israel successfully bombed any targets during the raid. (See ACT, October 2007.) On Oct. 1, however, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the BBC that Israel attacked a building “related to the military” that was still under construction. A day later, Israel provided its first official admission that an attack was conducted in Syrian territory. Israel Army Radio reported Oct. 2, “Israeli air force planes attacked a military target deep inside Syria on Sept. 6, the military censor allowed for publication today.” Israel has not provided any further details regarding the target of the attack.

The New York Times reported Oct. 14 that U.S. and Israeli intelligence analysts assessed that the suspected site of the attack was a nuclear reactor in the early phases of construction. Citing unnamed sources, the Times reported that the site resembles North Korea’s five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon, which was used to produce the plutonium for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

A subsequent assessment of commercial satellite images by the nongovernmental Institute for Science and International Security also suggested that the structure could house a reactor similar to the Yongbyon reactor. However, the early level of construction prevented any definitive comparisons. Satellite photography taken since the attack has shown that Syria rapidly dismantled the remains of the facility and covered its foundations. Satellite images released from Sept. 2003 also demonstrate that the structure is at least four years old.

If Syria was constructing a reactor, it would still need to develop a plutonium reprocessing capability to separate the plutonium for weapons from the reactor’s spent fuel.

Requests for Briefings to Congress

In an Oct. 20 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Representatives Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), ranking members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively, criticized the Bush administration for its secrecy regarding the strike. Noting that they were among the few members of Congress that were briefed on this issue, they argued that all members of Congress should receive information on the incident.

The lawmakers discussed the airstrike and reports of suspected Syrian nuclear cooperation from North Korea, Iran, or other rogue states in the context of current efforts in the six-party talks to address North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see page 26). Noting that Congress will be asked to provide funds for energy assistance to North Korea as part of the agreements brokered in the six-party talks, Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen assert that “until Congress is fully briefed, it would be imprudent for the administration to move forward with agreements with state proliferators.”

On Sept. 25, Ros-Lehtinen introduced the North Korean Counterterrorism and Nonproliferation Act, which would apply conditions to the provision of nonhumanitarian assistance to North Korea or to Pyongyang’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. One such condition would require the president to certify that North Korea is not engaged in the proliferation of nuclear or missile technology.

The administration has maintained that concerns regarding North Korean proliferation must be addressed within the six-party talks. (See ACT, October 2007.)

IAEA Inquiries Into the Nuclear Angle

The IAEA issued a press release Oct. 15 indicating that the agency did not have any information regarding an undeclared Syrian nuclear facility and that the IAEA is in contact with Syrian authorities to verify the veracity of reports regarding such a facility. The release also stated that “the IAEA Secretariat expects any country having information about nuclear-related activities in another country to provide that information to the IAEA.”

In an Oct. 22 interview with Le Monde newspaper, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reiterated the agency’s request for information states might have regarding nuclear activities in Syria. He also expressed hope that states would attempt to address any such nuclear concerns through the IAEA prior to taking military action, stating, “Frankly, I venture to hope that before people decide to bombard and use force, they will come and see us to convey their concerns.”

On Oct. 18, the agency also began to examine commercial satellite images of the suspected site of the Israeli airstrike. The IAEA has not yet been able to determine whether the building in question was a nuclear facility, although it is continuing this examination.

Syria has a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA and, according to a February 1992 decision of the IAEA Board of Governors, Syria is required to provide the agency with design information on any nuclear facilities “well before construction actually begins.”

Syria is prohibited from receiving nearly any nuclear technology from North Korea due to the obligations imposed by Security Council Resolution 1718. Adopted Oct. 14, 2006, in response to North Korea’s nuclear test, Resolution 1718 requires that all states prevent North Korean nationals from exporting or providing technical training, advice, services, or assistance related to items on the trigger list of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG is a group of 45 states that comprise the world’s primary suppliers of nuclear technology and that are required to provide notification prior to transferring any of the items on a list of nuclear-related technologies. North Korea is also obligated not to transfer or provide any assistance regarding items on the trigger list.

In the wake of a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike in Syria, members of Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have pressed for more information regarding the attack and any undeclared Syrian nuclear facilities that may have been hit. Since the airstrike, press reports have continued to speculate regarding the target and purpose of the attack. The most detailed reports have recently suggested that the target was a construction site for a nuclear reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor. (Continue)

Indian Politics Stall U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal

Wade Boese

Domestic political opposition has compelled India’s government to put off required negotiations with the world’s nuclear monitoring agency, miring in doubt a U.S.-Indian initiative to peel back U.S. and multilateral civil nuclear trade restrictions on India. The two governments maintain they remain committed to the effort.

The U.S.-Indian initiative has fueled impassioned debate in India, but the ruling government has stood by the July 2005 deal it struck and had confidently maintained it would see the agreement through to completion. On Oct. 15, however, a government press release stated that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had informed President George W. Bush in a telephone conversation that “certain difficulties have arisen with respect to the operationalisation of the India-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreement.”

Those difficulties stem from rigid opposition to the initiative by India’s Communist parties and its leftist allies, whose support Singh’s Congress Party relies on to help preserve its ruling coalition. Fervently anti-American, the Communist parties and their allies charge the initiative will render India subservient to the United States, particularly in foreign policy. They imply their support for the coalition government will end if it moves any further to bring the deal into effect. Such a revolt would risk national elections that might unseat the coalition.

The Congress Party has convened several meetings, the latest on Oct. 22, to sway the Communists and other leftists to modify their position, but to no avail. Another meeting is scheduled for Nov. 16.

After blasting the dissenters as foes to India’s development, the Congress Party recently softened its tone and appears increasingly resigned to the possibility that the initiative may whither away. Indian media reports widely quoted Singh as saying Oct. 12 that the initiative’s failure “would be a disappointment, but in life one has to live with certain disappointments.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party that is the main opposition party, also has kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism against the initiative. The BJP claims the agreement will impinge on India’s nuclear weapons program.

In an Oct. 13 BJP statement, L.K. Advani argued that, under the initiative, “there would be no Pokhrans,” referring to the test site of India’s nuclear blasts in 1974 and 1998. In power at the time, the BJP authorized the 1998 tests, which spurred Pakistan for the first time to demonstrate its nuclear capability by carrying out nuclear explosions. (See ACT, May 1998. )

India is one of three countries, Israel and Pakistan being the other two, never to have signed the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which recognizes only five states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) as possessing nuclear arms. The treaty obligates those five to work toward nuclear disarmament.

All of the NPT’s other states-parties forswear nuclear weapons. In return, they gain access to civil nuclear trade. The U.S.-Indian initiative would grant nuclear-armed India similar trade opportunities, which New Delhi claims are necessary to bolster India’s energy production and sustain its economic growth.

The BJP insinuates that the initiative is intended to pressure India toward nuclear abolition. Advani charged that Singh’s government is “jeopardizing India’s national security in the name of illusory energy security” and “assisting the United States to bring India into the NPT regime through the backdoor.”

The United States had led the world in erecting and upholding barriers to India’s participation in the global nuclear fuel and technology market because the device used in India’s 1974 explosion originated in part from Canadian and U.S. exports designated for peaceful purposes. Aiming to draw India closer to the United States, however, the Bush administration turned to ending India’s nuclear isolation.

U.S. lawmakers gave their preliminary approval, albeit with some conditions, to the administration’s new approach last December. (See ACT, January/February 2007. ) In July, the United States and India concluded an agreement specifying the terms of their potential future nuclear trade. The pact is known as a 123 agreement, after the section of the 1954 U.S. Atomic Energy Act requiring such instruments. (See ACT, September 2007. )

The next step in the process involves India concluding a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to cover nuclear facilities and materials that India declares as civilian. Safeguards are measures, such as inspections and remote monitoring, to ensure that civil nuclear programs are not used to make nuclear weapons.

India intends to maintain a military sector for building nuclear bombs that will not be subject to IAEA safeguards. Of its 22 existing or under-construction power reactors, India says eight will be kept outside of safeguards.

New Delhi has declared it wants “India-specific” safeguards without publicly explaining what that concept entails. Indications are that India wants flexibility to suspend safeguards at certain times. The U.S.-Indian 123 agreement commits India to safeguards “in perpetuity,” but it also allows India to take unspecified “corrective measures” in case of any foreign supply disruptions.

The Communist and other leftist parties have said negotiations with the IAEA would trigger their break with Singh’s government. Without an Indian-IAEA safeguards agreement, the U.S.-Indian initiative cannot move forward. Both the voluntary 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and U.S. legislators have made an Indian-IAEA safeguards agreement a prerequisite for exempting India from current nuclear trade prohibitions.

NSG members are scheduled to meet Nov. 14-16 in Vienna, and reportedly the U.S.-Indian initiative is on the agenda for discussion. The United States has circulated to certain states a draft proposal for exempting India from the group’s rule that bars most nuclear trade with countries without safeguards on their entire nuclear enterprise. Washington only has shared its proposal with those governments solidly supporting the effort. Several NSG members are critical or skeptical of the initiative.

A trio of U.S. House members, including the ranking Republican on the foreign affairs committee, introduced a nonbinding resolution Oct. 4 calling on the administration not to support an India exemption at the NSG that does not conform to U.S. law. For instance, they urged any NSG exemption duplicate a U.S. requirement that all cooperation end if India conducts another nuclear test. The resolution, which has been referred to the committee for consideration, states that an “unqualified [NSG] exemption for India” could undermine U.S. nonproliferation policy and commercial interests because India might seek out nuclear trade partners with “less stringent conditions” than the United States.

With the current political deadlock in India preventing negotiations on IAEA safeguards, no action is expected on the U.S.-Indian initiative at the Vienna meeting. Moreover, NSG decisions, which are supposed to be made by consensus, are typically reserved for an annual plenary meeting, the next of which is to be hosted by Germany in the spring. Group members, however, can hold extraordinary meetings for special purposes.

Meanwhile, U.S. legislators are waiting on the NSG to act and on completion of the safeguards agreement. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs who has served as the administration’s lead on the initiative, said earlier this year that he hoped the 123 agreement would be presented to Congress for a final vote before the end of this year.

In light of the current circumstances in India, the Bush administration has revised its timeline for potentially finalizing the initiative to 2008. Department of State spokesperson Tom Casey acknowledged to reporters Oct. 16 that “obviously, a number of things would have to occur for [the initiative] to be ultimately implemented, but it’s a long time between now and the end of 2008 and we’ll see where we are.”

Israel’s Nuclear Trade Proposal in the Context of the U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal



For Immediate Release: September 27, 2007
Press Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 x107

Documents surfaced this week outlining an Israeli proposal for criteria that nuclear suppliers should use in determining eligible recipients for nuclear commerce. That “criteria-based” approach contrasts sharply with the Bush administration’s pursuit of “India-specific” exemptions to existing U.S. and international nuclear commerce rules. Not only does the Israeli proposal underscore that bending rules for one state will increase pressure from others for similar favours, Israel’s dozen criteria highlights shortcomings in India’s bid for special treatment.

Israel tendered its proposal to the voluntary Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in March 2007. The group’s 45 members, including the United States, aim to coordinate their nuclear export policies in order to prevent the spread of materials and technologies that could aid nuclear weapons programs. In 1992, the group adopted a rule significantly restricting nuclear trade with any non-nuclear-weapon state that does not subject all of its nuclear facilities and activities to international full-scope safeguards, such as inspections. That rule currently constrains India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan from engaging in international civilian nuclear trade because they do not allow such comprehensive safeguards and, despite possessing nuclear arms, they all are classified as non-nuclear-weapon states under the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

In July 2005, the Bush administration committed itself to nullify for India that full-scope safeguards rule, which was originally promoted by the United States. Pakistan has indicated that it wants a similar arrangement and Israel’s March proposal suggests it does not want to be left out. If any one or all three succeed, the result would be that current nuclear-armed NPT outliers would reap benefits previously reserved for countries abjuring nuclear weapons. That could have severe consequences for global efforts to stem the spread of nuclear weapons. Other states might re-evaluate their policies to forswear nuclear weapons or conclude that global norms and treaties have little value.

Israel’s proposed criteria illustrate some of the reasons why India does not deserve preferential treatment. For instance, one criterion notes that non-NPT states should be “in full compliance with any nuclear cooperation agreement previously entered into.” India had a previous agreement with the United States but blatantly broke it by testing a nuclear device in 1974 that was partially derived from U.S. materials supplied solely for peaceful purposes. India’s government still insists that test was a “peaceful” nuclear explosion, and it also maintains that it has a “right” to conduct future nuclear tests. Other criteria also raise questions for India because of its ongoing relations with Iran, which has violated its international safeguards and is charged by the United States and other countries as illicitly pursuing nuclear arms.

The Israeli proposal, however, fails to include as criteria two other essential measures of good nonproliferation behaviour: signature and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which outlaws nuclear explosions, and cessation of the production of fissile material, plutonium and highly enriched uranium, for nuclear weapon purposes.

When pondering changes to existing nuclear rules, governments should proceed with extreme caution to avoid undermining the global nonproliferation regime and maintain common sense conditions on nuclear trade that enshrine standards for and require responsible behaviour by all.

A copy of the Israeli proposal and additional information on the proposed U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement are available at http://www.armscontrol.org/projects/india/.


Documents surfaced this week outlining an Israeli proposal for criteria that nuclear suppliers should use in determining eligible recipients for nuclear commerce. That “criteria-based” approach contrasts sharply with the Bush administration’s pursuit of “India-specific” exemptions to existing U.S. and international nuclear commerce rules. Not only does the Israeli proposal underscore that bending rules for one state will increase pressure from others for similar favours, Israel’s dozen criteria highlights shortcomings in India’s bid for special treatment. (Continue)

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Israel, Neighbors Mull Nuclear Power Programs

Miles A. Pomper

Soon after the United States and India concluded negotiations on a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, Israeli officials announced in August that they too may be seeking U.S. help in furthering a civilian nuclear power program. The move comes at a time when Israel is pressuring the international community to clamp down on Iran’s nuclear program and as several other Middle Eastern states have declared their interest in civilian nuclear power programs.

Officials at Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission and Ministry of National Infrastructure confirmed Aug. 1 that the government would be conducting a preliminary feasibility study on constructing a nuclear power reactor. If built, the 1,200-1,500-megawatt reactor at Shivta, in the Negev desert near Egypt, would be the first power reactor to be built in the country. It would meet as much as one-tenth of Israel’s electricity demand, according to the Aug. 16 edition of Nucleonics Week. The publication reported that Israel would be looking to a U.S. vendor to supply the reactor.

Israeli officials said they would subject any new reactor to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, which aim to prevent the diversion of fissile material from peaceful uses to military ones. An Israeli research reactor at Soreq is already subject to facility-specific safeguards.

Nonetheless, Israel has a widely acknowledged nuclear weapons program using plutonium from an unsafeguarded reactor at Dimona in the Negev desert but has never publicly confirmed that it possesses a nuclear weapons arsenal. Like India and Pakistan, Israel has not signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which would bar it from possessing nuclear arms as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

If Israel moves forward with its plans, it could pose a dilemma for the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The voluntary group, in which nuclear suppliers seek to coordinate their export controls on nuclear transfers to non-nuclear-weapon states, must give its consent to rule changes to allow the pending U.S.-Indian deal to go forward. The United States has proposed a one-time India-specific exception to NSG rules prohibiting nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states that do not subject all of their nuclear facilities to IAEA safeguards (see page 22 ).

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns reiterated that approach at a July 27 briefing on the U.S.-Indian deal. “I can assure you that the United States is not going to suggest a similar deal with any other country in the world,” Burns said. Current Pakistani and former senior Israeli officials have argued that cooperation with NPT outliers should not be decided on a country-by-country basis but by a set of common criteria.

Israel is not the only Middle Eastern state indicating an interest in advancing a civil nuclear power program. About a dozen nations in the region have declared their interest in such programs in the past year.

“The rules governing the nuclear issue have changed in the entire region,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in January.

Some states have hinted at the need to develop a hedge against Iran’s nuclear program. Officials have also cited environmental and economic reasons, saying they need a source of power other than fossil fuels for peaceful purposes such as electricity generation and desalination.

Among the leaders are Egypt and Turkey. Officials in Egypt, which abandoned a previous nuclear program after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, have proposed building a 1,000-megawatt reactor on its Mediterranean coast in the next decade with plans for more. Turkey wants to build at least a pair of power reactors along its Mediterranean or Black Sea coasts within the next five to six years.

In addition, Libya, which abandoned a fledgling nuclear weapons program in December 2003, has signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with France under which Paris would provide a reactor to power a Libyan desalination plant (see below). Algeria and Russia signed a nuclear development agreement in January 2007 as the North African nation, which has operated two research reactors for well more than a decade, aims to produce nuclear power. More controversially, Iran has also offered to share nuclear expertise with Algeria.

At the end of 2006, Saudi Arabia and the five other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates [UAE]) commissioned a year-long joint study on “the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed nuclear cooperation with Riyadh, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed to help the UAE launch its own nuclear program.

Not to be left out, Jordan’s Abdullah discussed the possibility of purchasing Canadian reactors with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in July. In March, Jordanian Energy Minister Khaled Sharida said Amman wants to build its first reactor by 2015.

Morocco, Tunisia, and Syria have also indicated interest in peaceful nuclear power programs.

It is not clear how many of these proposals will come to fruition. Previous plans to build such plants in the region never went forward due to lack of financing or because of drops in the price of oil.

Soon after the United States and India concluded negotiations on a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, Israeli officials announced in August that they too may be seeking U.S. help in furthering a civilian nuclear power program. The move comes at a time when Israel is pressuring the international community to clamp down on Iran’s nuclear program and as several other Middle Eastern states have declared their interest in civilian nuclear power programs. By Miles A. Pomper (Continue)

U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal Advances

Wade Boese

The United States and India completed negotiations July 27 on a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, edging them closer toward erasing long-standing U.S. and international nuclear trade restrictions on India. But before realizing that goal, the two governments must still win over their own lawmakers and other countries, some of which, most recently Australia, are already angling to do business with India.

President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two years ago launched the initiative to expand U.S. and global nuclear trade with India. In broad terms, the United States pledged to help India shed its roughly three-decade status as a nuclear trade pariah. New Delhi had earned that status for carrying out a 1974 explosion of a nuclear device fashioned partially from U.S. and Canadian nuclear imports intended for peaceful purposes. In return for the promised U.S. effort, India vowed to grant greater foreign oversight to a select portion of its nuclear enterprise.

Bush officials saw overcoming the nuclear trade impediments as a means of forging closer strategic and economic ties with India. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters July 27 that it was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who went to New Delhi in the spring of 2005 “with this big idea to break through three decades of separation.”

Washington released Aug. 3 the text of the pact, known as a 123 agreement after the section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 that requires such instruments. It is supposed to govern future U.S. and Indian nuclear commerce for at least 40 years once it takes effect. Burns, the lead U.S. negotiator in the talks, heralded the agreement as “perhaps the single most important initiative” ever between the two countries.

Not everybody greeted the pact enthusiastically. Some Indian parliamentarians Aug. 13 tried to shout Singh down when he briefed them on the agreement. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition group, contends the pact will impinge on India’s nuclear weapons program, while some members of India’s Communist parties, which support Singh’s coalition government, allege India is kowtowing to the United States. India’s parliament does not have a vote on the pact, but it could engineer procedural hurdles to slow or sink implementation of the agreement.

Meanwhile in Congress, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), an outspoken critic of the deal, derided the agreement Aug. 13 as “nuclear capitulation to India’s every wish.” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) cautiously noted Aug. 3 that he would review the pact to see whether it conformed to legislation that lawmakers passed last December setting the stage for further nuclear cooperation. (See ACT, January/February 2007. ) Congress must approve the 123 agreement for it to enter into force.

That critics in New Delhi and Washington allege that their governments were duped in the negotiations reflects domestic politics in each country as well as the compromise nature of the pact. In response, both governments have interpreted key and controversial aspects of the agreement to their benefit and to stifle detractors. Nevertheless, the agreement tilts more to India’s initial negotiating positions than those argued by the United States.

The 123 Agreement

U.S. and Indian negotiators wrangled for more than a year on several matters in which India was seeking exceptions or privileges that went beyond most other U.S. 123 agreements with foreign governments.

Although India pledged in July 2005 to continue a nuclear testing moratorium, New Delhi opposed any explicit provision in the 123 agreement terminating cooperation if it conducts a future nuclear test. Such termination provisions are standard features of U.S. agreements with non-nuclear-weapon states. India, which has nuclear weapons, is classified as a non-nuclear-weapon state by the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. New Delhi has never signed the accord.

The U.S.-Indian agreement does not contain the word “test,” nor is there an automatic trigger to cease cooperation for any activity or violation by either country. Singh Aug. 13 asserted the pact “does not in any way affect India’s right to undertake future nuclear tests.”

India could choose to test, according to U.S. officials, but that does not mean that there would not be repercussions. In an Aug. 6 interview with Times Now television, Burns noted that India has a sovereign right to test but that, under U.S. law, the president would have “the right to end the agreement.”

Article 2 of the 123 agreement maintains that countries will implement cooperation “in accordance with its… national laws.” The Atomic Energy Act mandates an end to nuclear trade with a non-nuclear-weapon state that conducts a nuclear test. The president could waive such a termination but Congress has the power to nullify that waiver by passing a resolution in opposition.

U.S. law also holds that Washington retains a right of return of its nuclear exports if the recipient conducts a nuclear test, and most 123 agreements explicitly reiterate that right. But India fought against including such a provision.

The agreement does authorize each country to seek a right of return in the event that it chooses to terminate the agreement, which requires one year’s notice in writing and consultations before taking effect. But the agreement also aims to dissuade such a move by stressing that “exercising the right of return would have profound implications” on the two countries’ relations. Other U.S. 123 agreements do not contain similar language.

Another unique feature is the inclusion of “fuel assurances” for India. These provisions commit the United States to “support” New Delhi in establishing a “strategic fuel reserve” in case foreign fuel supplies are ever halted. In such an event, the United States vows to assist India in pursuing a resumption of outside fuel supplies.

Foreign fuel supplies are critical for India because it lacks sufficient domestic resources of uranium to make reactor fuel to continue powering its entire nuclear enterprise at full capacity, let alone support its nuclear energy expansion plans. In his Aug. 13 address, Singh noted that “indigenous supplies of uranium are highly inadequate, and hence we need to source uranium supply from elsewhere.”

Critics contend that foreign fuel supplies will free India from having to decide between using its uranium to make energy or nuclear weapons by enabling it to use foreign fuel for energy and domestic resources for weapons. Although U.S. lawmakers expressed concern that India not ramp up its nuclear weapons activities after it begins to import foreign nuclear fuel, Burns noted July 27, “[W]hat India does on the strategic side is India’s business.”

The 123 agreement specifies that the U.S. fuel assurances apply to “any disruption,” suggesting that were the United States to cut off nuclear fuel supplies or trade with India because it conducted a nuclear test or violated the agreement in some way, Washington still would be required to help other countries fill the void.

The fuel assurances seemingly contradict Congress’s guidance staked out in its December 2006 legislation, known as the Hyde Act after then-chairman of the House International Relations Committee Henry Hyde (R-Ill.). The nonbinding “sense of Congress” portion of the Hyde Act states that the United States “should not seek to facilitate or encourage the continuation of nuclear exports to India by any other party” if the United States ends cooperation under law. In addition, lawmakers in a joint explanation of the Hyde Act noted that any fuel assurances should pertain to disruptions caused by “market failures or similar reasons, and not due to Indian actions” that break its commitments.

Lawmakers also stated in their report that development of any Indian strategic fuel reserve should be “commensurate with reasonable reactor operating requirements” and not so large to install India with confidence that it could act with impunity. On Aug. 13, Markey observed that the agreement’s strategic reserve provision “would render toothless any termination of trade if India breaks the agreement.”

Indian officials trumpeted the assurances. Singh claimed that the measures “ensure that there is no repeat of our unfortunate experience with Tarapur.” The United States cut off fuel supplies to India’s Tarapur reactors after the 1974 test, which forced India to scramble to procure fuel to keep them running.

In addition to fuel assurances, New Delhi secured a U.S. commitment in principle to permit India to reprocess U.S.-origin spent fuel. Reprocessing involves the harvesting of plutonium from nuclear fuel after it is used in a reactor. Because plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons, standard U.S. policy is to deny other countries advance reprocessing rights. India is now set to join the other two exceptions to that policy, Japan and the European consortium EURATOM.

To take advantage of that right, however, India would have to construct a new reprocessing facility under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards to handle U.S.-origin spent fuel, as well as that of other countries. IAEA safeguards are measures to ensure that nuclear material and technologies for peaceful purposes are not diverted to making bombs.

In addition, the U.S. and Indian governments must agree on “arrangements and procedures” under which any Indian reprocessing of U.S.-origin spent fuel could occur. The agreement declares that such talks should begin within six months of a request by either party to start them and should finish within one year.

The agreement also provides the option for the two countries to conclude future arrangements to trade reprocessing and enrichment technologies. Enrichment is the process through which natural uranium is transformed into nuclear fuel and, if carried to a certain point, fuel for nuclear weapons. The Hyde Act limits such transfers to India to the limited scenarios in which the recipient is a multinational facility involved in an IAEA-approved project or a facility involved in a multinational project to develop a “proliferation-resistant fuel cycle.”

The concessions to India on enrichment and reprocessing stand in contrast with the administration’s global effort to dissuade states from acquiring such capabilities. In a February 2004 speech, Bush declared that “enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” (See ACT, March 2004. )

Next Stops: The IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group

Before Congress votes on the 123 agreement to initiate U.S.-Indian nuclear trade, India must first negotiate a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. That agreement will have to be approved by a majority of the agency’s 35-member Board of Governors.

In addition, the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) must agree by consensus to exempt India from a 1992 group rule, adopted at U.S. insistence, that significantly restricts trade with non-nuclear-weapon states that do not subject all of their nuclear facilities and materials to IAEA safeguards. Such comprehensive safeguards are known as full-scope safeguards. The safeguards agreement India intends to negotiate would not cover its full nuclear complex.

New Delhi maintains that it will seek “India-specific” safeguards to its declared civilian nuclear facilities. In March 2006, India announced that 14 of its 22 existing or under-construction power reactors would be declared civilian and that the other eight would be classified as military and off-limits to safeguards. Six of the 14 reactors designated as civilian already were subject to or slated for safeguards.

India exempted from safeguards its test breeder reactor and prototype breeder reactor, which produce more plutonium than power reactors. New Delhi further reserved the right to declare as military all future reactors it builds. (See ACT, April 2006. )

No official definition of “India-specific” safeguards has been made public, but reportedly the notion is that safeguards would only be operational when foreign nuclear materials and technologies are present at a facility. The 123 agreement states that the future safeguards should be in “perpetuity,” but it also notes India’s right to take “corrective measures” if foreign fuel supplies are disrupted. Neither the U.S. nor Indian government has explained what these “corrective measures” might entail.

India was waiting on the conclusion of the 123 agreement before beginning negotiations with the IAEA. Although Burns suggested in an Aug. 6 interview with Aajtak news agency that Washington hoped that an IAEA-Indian agreement could be completed “no later” than Sept. 1, it was unclear in late August whether the two sides had started negotiations. The Indian government did not respond to Arms Control Today’s questions about the status of the process, and the IAEA declined to answer questions on the matter.

Completion of the safeguards agreement is viewed by NSG members as a prerequisite for any group decision on India. Still, Washington reportedly is seeking to prepare group members with a Sept. 30 briefing on the 123 agreement. The NSG generally makes decisions at an annual spring plenary meeting, but extraordinary meetings can be convened to take an action.

Group members reportedly are divided about giving India special treatment. France, Russia, and the United Kingdom support the U.S.-Indian initiative, but several members remain skeptical.

Some members also have suggested that instead of solely granting India a 1992 rule exemption, the group should establish certain criteria that must be met by an interested government in order for the rule to be waived. Such an approach could conceivably open the door for Pakistan and Israel to seek nuclear trade from NSG members (see page 38 ).

Washington and New Delhi strongly oppose this concept. Indian officials have stressed that that they want a “clean” NSG exemption that does not impose any conditions or restraints on future nuclear trade.

If India successfully completes its negotiations with the IAEA and the NSG decides to make India eligible for nuclear trade, the administration will then present the 123 agreement to Congress for a vote. Burns said July 27 that he hoped the agreement would be before lawmakers prior to the end of this year.

An Open Field

When Congress receives the agreement for consideration, it could be confronted with the reality that other governments are already courting India with their nuclear wares. Unless conditioned in some way, the NSG decision that serves as the trigger for the 123 agreement to be sent to Congress would void the international restraints on other suppliers engaging in nuclear commerce with India, possibly under terms less restrictive than those envisioned by the United States.

Since the July 2005 initiative was announced, France and Russia have started to position themselves to pursue nuclear deals with India. Australia recently joined the queue.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Aug. 16 that his government would drop a long-standing prohibition against supplying uranium to India. He conditioned the move on India having appropriate safeguards in place, an NSG decision to relax its restriction against trade with India, and the “conclusion” of the U.S.-Indian 123 agreement, including its approval by Congress. Opposition Labor Party officials have criticized the initiative, and an Australian election will take place sometime this fall that could unseat Howard.

Future Australian shipments of uranium to India would breach Australia’s legal commitments under the 1985 South Pacific Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told the Australian parliament in October 1996 that, in dealings with non-nuclear-weapon states, the 1985 treaty “imposes a legal obligation not to provide nuclear material unless subject to…full-scope safeguards.”

Although some countries might get an early jump on trade with India, Burns said he expects U.S. nuclear companies to have a fair opportunity to compete. “We are confident that American companies will have equal access to this huge market and that they will succeed there,” he stated.

In addition, Burns predicted that the nuclear policy changes might also benefit U.S. arms manufacturers, claiming that he sees “far greater defense cooperation” between the United States and India. Washington is currently offering New Delhi advanced U.S. fighter jets and has pitched anti-missile systems.

Fixing a Flawed Nuclear Deal

By Daryl G. Kimball

After months of contentious negotiations, U.S. and Indian officials recently concluded a formal agreement for nuclear cooperation that contradicts long-standing U.S. nuclear export policies and threatens the global nonproliferation order.

The proposed agreement endorses undefined “India-specific” safeguards and fails to explicitly state that renewed Indian testing would lead to a termination of U.S. nuclear trade. The pact promises India assurances of nuclear fuel supply and advance consent to carry out sensitive nuclear activities that are unprecedented and inconsistent with legislation approved by Congress last year.

The sum of these and other U.S. concessions could give India—a country that has violated past agreements on peaceful nuclear cooperation by testing a nuclear weapon—terms of nuclear trade more favorable than those for states that have assumed all the obligations and responsibilities of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which India has never signed.

Much is at stake. In the coming months, Congress and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) can prevent further damage by using their authority to close the loopholes in the deeply flawed U.S.-Indian agreement.

The pact is based on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s July 2005 pledge to “separate” India’s military and civilian nuclear facilities and put eight additional reactors under international safeguards by 2014. In exchange, President George W. Bush pledged to seek an India-specific exemption from U.S. laws and NSG rules that restrict trade with states that do not allow “full scope” safeguards. Congress approved changes to U.S. nuclear export laws with conditions, but it must still approve the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement. It may do so only if the NSG agrees by consensus to waive its comprehensive safeguards requirement for India.

While many NSG member states support India’s legitimate nuclear energy goals, they are also deeply uncomfortable with the agreement and for good reason. Partial safeguards in India are hardly worth their estimated $10 million annual cost. Yet, the U.S.-Indian agreement cheapens their value by endorsing the concept of India-specific safeguards and allowing India to take unspecified “corrective measures” if fuel supplies are disrupted. Congress and the NSG should reject any proposal for nonstandard safeguards for Indian reactors.

Unlike other nuclear cooperation agreements, the U.S.-Indian deal fails to clearly state that a resumption of nuclear testing would lead to a termination of nuclear transfers and the return of U.S.-supplied equipment and material. To protect its testing options, India sought and got an unprecedented U.S. commitment to help India amass a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any supply disruption. Incredibly, the agreement also commits Washington to help New Delhi secure fuel supplies from other countries even if India resumes testing.

Officials at the Department of State may argue that the fuel supply assurances are political and not legal commitments and are there only to assuage Indian domestic audiences. This is not how the Indian government interprets the agreement. Such ambiguity has no place in international nonproliferation rules. Congress and the NSG should clearly establish that any India-specific exemption from existing nuclear trade rules shall be terminated if India resumes testing.

U.S. negotiators also agreed to allow for possible future trade involving sensitive nuclear technology, including uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing-related goods. Even if such transfers are destined for safeguarded facilities, they could be replicated and used to support India’s weapons program. The NSG should specifically bar such transfers to India.

Even though India has refused to put existing reprocessing plants under safeguards, India also won long-term consent to reprocess U.S.-origin nuclear fuel. To exercise the right, an additional U.S.-Indian agreement governing a new, safeguarded reprocessing facility is required. Still, the reprocessing concession could allow India to negotiate more favorable terms from less scrupulous suppliers, such as Russia.

Unless the NSG also requires that India halts fissile material production for weapons as a condition for nuclear trade, supplying nuclear fuel to India for power production would free up its limited domestic supplies for bomb production. This would not only contradict NPT restrictions barring assistance to other’s nuclear weapons programs, but it would prompt neighboring Pakistan to increase its fissile material production capacity.

The U.S.-Indian agreement may lead usually sensible states to ignore their legal commitments too. Australia has announced it is ready to sell uranium to India even though its current foreign minister said in 1996 that the South Pacific Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty “imposes a legal obligation not to provide nuclear material unless subject to the safeguards required by Article III.1 of the NPT, that is, full scope safeguards.”

Rather than sidestep their own nonproliferation policies and laws, leaders in Congress and other capitals should maintain common sense conditions on nuclear trade that help ensure India meets the same standards expected of other responsible countries. Now is the time to stand up to the White House and the nuclear profiteers and prevent further erosion of the already beleaguered nonproliferation system.

After months of contentious negotiations, U.S. and Indian officials recently concluded a formal agreement for nuclear cooperation that contradicts long-standing U.S. nuclear export policies and threatens the global nonproliferation order.

The proposed agreement endorses undefined “India-specific” safeguards and fails to explicitly state that renewed Indian testing would lead to a termination of U.S. nuclear trade. The pact promises India assurances of nuclear fuel supply and advance consent to carry out sensitive nuclear activities that are unprecedented and inconsistent with legislation approved by Congress last year. (Continue)


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