Deal or No-deal? The US-India Nuclear disagreement “on the rocks”

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What can be written about the US-India nuclear deal that has not already been written? The subject has been given much attention over the past three years, though not always the right kind of attention or focus.

The US is all over India trying to push the deal through, citing Bush’s last term, a ‘last chance’, ‘now or never’ etc.. and even called May 2008 as a firm “deadline” (later saying no we can adjust; not just adjust, but we’re even willing to signoff with a minority government, a further sign of obvious desperation) Some reporter from CNN-IBN (India’s mainstream network!) had the audacity to title his/her news article “Kerry cracks the whip – warns India over N-deal” This is only one amongst many such pressure-pieces that our news networks have used to disseminate and form public opinion.

Within the news circles in India, the slant has almost consistently been:

  • ‘the Deal is good for India’
  • those that are against the deal are therefore anti-India.

There are even factions in the US who feel the US is bending too far over for ‘helping’ India in this deal. Really? But what are the issues at stake?

National security, and Sovereignty top the list.
Clearly these are far more important than conflicts or differences between two opposing political parties. Is it hard to define these two terms?

The truth, in this regard points to no ordinary event, not ‘just another’ political squabble, or vain dramatization..

The emergence of the deal, and the pressure on India to sign it, and commit possibly its biggest strategic failure to date seems to represent a tectonic shift, no less – in the Power-games of the world.

This begs the obvious question – “err… what’s in it for the US, for them to be jumping about so much for a deal that allegedly ‘benefits’ India and ‘gives’ to India ?”

The US with its long history of deception, power-play, and arbitrary interpretations of past records and statements suddenly wants to “help” India ? Why ?

One of the motivators, is of course $. Much $$$$.

Perpetual $, with this kind of agreement.
Being in finance, this much I can vouch – there is nothing more joyous to a capitalist (no disrespect, here) to behold
than a magic-something that keeps creating money for goods/services – at a rate that only you can uniquely determine ! Another motivator is control. Thwarting India’s nuclear program achieves many things for the US. This would be one of their best chess moves to date. An excerpt from one of Shourie’s points –

“This is not the first time that we have had a 123 Agreement with the US. We had one for Tarapur also. The US signed that Agreement with us in 1963. It was to be effective for 30 years, till 1993. That Agreement provided that the US would give fuel for Tarapur as needed by India. It provided that the US would have the first right to spent fuel in excess of India’s needs for peaceful nuclear energy. And even for this part, just the first right. If it did not take back the fuel, we would have the right to reprocess it. There were no conditions. In testimony to the US Congress, US officials have themselves acknowledged that the US is not to this day sure that India violated any term of the 1963 Agreement. Yet, the US terminated all fuel supplies in 1974, saying that India had violated domestic US laws. Pressed about the laws, the US maintained that India had violated the intent of US domestic laws! For decades, it has consistently refused to either take back spent fuel or let us reprocess it. All this happened, even when there was no Hyde Act — no India-specific law — to govern that Agreement.

To qualify – all isn’t bad with this deal. India can and does want to have access to advanced nuclear know-how (in the Uranium area) to aid its energy needs.

Also, India is increasingly isolated in Asia – on the West, we have Pakistan – the local hotbed & Woodstock of terrorism to the modern world, with China supplying nukes to it, on the east we have China operating Tibet, controlling large parts of Nepal, East-India, Burma etc – basically cornering India from all angles. Russia & India still continue their arms ‘co-operation’, but calling them ‘friends’ would be a bit of a stretch, and Putin’s love for America is well known.

This leaves the US with few major collaborators in a future, democratic Asia. So in this sense from India’s perspective a partnership and friendship with the world’s super-power can be very beneficial, and the US diplomatic circles acknowledge the benefits of tying up with India to go far more than just opening up Nuclear trade for US companies. The deal symbolizes a first effort to emphasize an alliance of the world’s biggest democracies, which actually share many similar values.

One good thing is that those in power in India are doing a commendable job of retaining the diplomacy and conversation at all levels, even if they have made some poor decisions regarding the deal itself.

The upshot is that the deal does promise to bring some goodies, but these are insignificant compared to the costs of signing on.

The part that is worrisome & almost painful is that there are so many well-intentioned folks [from India, or NRIs] who want to see this deal go through.

As if to make it still harder to penetrate, there’s now no dearth of awful ‘summaries’ and ‘point-by-point’ analysis on the web regarding what the deal means to India. Surely there are ways to get around this.

India’s achievements in the Nuclear space are note-worthy, and are not ordinary milestons by *any* standard.

So where does India stand in a ‘Nuclear’ sense? what has she achieved so far ?

The two page pdf extract from Ravi Grover (Founding Director,Homi Bhabha National Institute) gives a brief overview of this.

Independently, Charles Barton, a US nuclear scientist & a strong advocate for Thorium-based Nuclear fuel production has a piece on what India has been upto.

Where the Civilian program has reached so far

India’s civilian nuclear program was conceived and orchestrated by Homi Bhabha soon after 1947. Charles Barton provides an excellent overview of “Thorium Fuel Cycle Development in India“. (Barton worked for 28 years at one of the largest energy labs in the DoE in USA).

The Indian nuclear program is remarkable in several respects. First, is the depth of Homi Bhabha’s understanding of Indian nuclear resources and the sort of nuclear program that would achieve the maximum benefit from his country. The second, was the reliance on the relatively simple CANDU technology, during the first development stage and its continued development through all three stages. Reactors were kept small, 220 MW’s, limiting capitol commitment for each reactor….the Indians have set about to build prototypes of commercial reactors that are intended to go into serial production. They have been faithful to Bhabha’s vision. They have found a way to highly efficient technology, a technology that is far more efficient in its use of nuclear fuel, than the French/American nuclear system by ingeniously mastering and organizing relatively old nuclear technologies, and leveraging them into a fuel efficient system. By doing so they will achieve EROIE’s many times that achieved by Western fuel/reactor systems. The Indian Thorium fuel cycle system will provide electricity to an enormous country for at least 350 years, from 500,000 tons of fuel. Indian scientists and engineers are on the brink of a significant human accomplishment, the realization of Bhabha vision of bringing nuclear generated electricity to India’s vast population.”


This civilian nuclear deal should not be acceptable to India as it compromises India’s independence and sovereignty. It is governed by a law – a US law, the Hyde act which basically prevents India from taking its own strategic decisions; all our decision-making will be subject to scrutiny & approval by the US president & US congress. We will be completely dependent on foreign supplies – which are not guaranteed anywhere for any length of time.

The slightest deviation from India or mood-swing of the US can cause this plug to be pulled. This cannot be in our wildest dreams be an ‘agreement’ that India should possibly sign up for.

Shourie comments, (from the 2006 article)

“But energy is just a minor instrument. The much more consequential instrument is to have India become dependent for its security – vis a vis China, for instance – on the US nuclear umbrella. An India with a deterrent of its own thwarts this aim. Hence, the US has been pursuing a clear, fourfold strategy:
• As India has not signed the NPT, make it accept the provisions of the NPT: and we have the testimony of one of the principal architects of this nuclear deal that, through it, the US has got India to accept conditions that go beyond the NPT.
• Get India to submit itself to IAEA inspections as a Non-Nuclear Weapons State.
• Get India to adhere to the CTBT even though it hasn’t been signed, and without an exit clause.
• Get India to halt, roll-back and then eliminate all fissile production.
Once India is ensnared into these four pits, faced with an overbearing China, it will have no alternative but to seek shelter under the American nuclear umbrella.
Every Section of the Bills explicitly aims to realise this goal – of an India drained of its strategic nuclear programme, and thus a dependent India. Step by step, our Government was getting drawn into furthering the US design. Public pressure has at last led the Prime Minister to draw the line”.
It doesn’t stop there; the devil is in the details.

Here is the statement from 8 former chairmen/directors of our Atomic Energy Commission, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board & Bhabha Atomic Research Centre to the Parliament.

Indo-US nuke deal infringes on our independence

The unfortunate ‘partnership’ without the Strategic in it. In his concluding piece, Shourie writes :

On every other matter—testing; the effects on our strategic programme; ‘India specific safeguards’—the PM has repeated the assertions he has advanced in the past. They remain as misleading. The deal is not the way to energy security—the way to that is to develop our own hydroelectric resources, to redouble our uranium mining, to redouble our work on fast-breeder reactors, on thorium.
To make this deal the fulcrum of closer Indo-American relations too is a blunder. And the reason the Government has blundered is manifest: it has got swept off— should that be ‘flattered off’—its feet by talk of ‘strategic partnership’ without having a strategy. By the time the consequences of its details became evident, the deal had become a matter of ego and prestige. Hence, this uncharacteristic tenacity.

It is baffling to note that without the enormous resistance it has faced, and is facing, the (UPA) Govt would have actually gone ahead and signed this deal. It is not over yet… the deal is still ‘on the rocks’.

The expected bits of horse-trading in our political space have already taken place – some action is expected over the next few days on how the Govt stays in place..

And this isn’t even a Bourne movie or a conspiracy theory…

If you’d like to dig in, a compilation of the full spectrum of implications from the agreement is provided below under References. Credit for the real in-depth study here is to Arun Shourie.


.. is the pressure to have an opinion. Not having one, or refraining from having one, is often not acceptable, or looked at with suspicion, as the matter at hand is deemed obvious to know.. A web search engine, a quick skim over a couple of news pieces forms the core of our fact finding mission. When newspapers do a shabby job, there seems to be no alternative than to actually go in and read the agreement as it stands, to read the Hyde Act (all available online in original), and examine for oneself. At the very least, one would hope that an opinion if stated would come with a disclaimer that the “finding out” was preliminary; But we attach ourselves too early to our views, and then it becomes too late to learn.

India’s commercial production of Stage 2 & 3 FBRs will likely take 10-15 years if not more, but it has taken a long while readying this technology – and if the governments around the world choose to overlook the NPT, India could potentially even share (license?) this technology to the benefit of the other nations’ energy needs, especially the N-11 countries.

There are stark differences in every way – efficiency, environment, cost.

1 GW*yr of electricity from a uranium-fueled light-water reactor


1 GW*yr of electricity from a thorium-fueled liquid-fluoride reactor



Part I : Rescued from the Abyss

In the first of a three-part analysis of the Indo-US nuclear deal, Shourie argues that credibility has passed from the political class to professionals and entrepreneurs. And that the prime minister was wise to engage with the scientists’ misgivings.

Part II : This is about energy, did you say ?

The fine print of the laws Congress is passing shows how every aspect of India’s nuclear programme will exist solely at the pleasure of the US.

Part III: ‘Parity’, did you say ?

Part I : A word dropped, a word inserted and the assurances are fulfilled !
123 Agreement: Mind the gap between the PM’s assurances and the text of the deal.
Part II : Forward looking farce
123 Pact: Deal binds India to Hyde Act whose main objective is to ‘halt, roll back and eventually eliminate’ India’s nuclear capability.
Part III : ‘Strategic partnership’ without a strategy
123 PACT: It is not the way to energy security; the way to that is to develop our own hydroelectric resources, to redouble our uranium mining, to redouble our work on fast-breeder reactors, on thorium.

Part I : Necessity is the mother of fabrication too

Cut through the hype on the Indo-US nuclear deal, and all you have is the possibility of a marginal contribution to our nuclear energy generation. For this, our strategic interest is being mortgaged in perpetuity.

Part II : The Fabrications of Government 

If energy security is what we are after, shifting to power dependency on imported technology, reactors, components, uranium, each of which is controlled by an even tighter cartel than oil, is hardly the answer.

Parts I-II (Dec 2007, PDF, 2 column, 8 pages)





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