Peaceful use of nuclear energy

India and Russia share a long history of cooperation in conventional energy which can be taken further towards non-proliferation

Gennady M. Evstafiev Moscow
Russian-Indian cooperation in the sphere of peaceful use of atomic energy is full of potential. Legally this bilateral relationship is covered by the Russian-Indian inter-governmental memorandum of October 4, 2000 which envisages the expansion of technical and economic cooperation in the field of producing atomic energy for peaceful purposes, building nuclear power stations included, creation of new nuclear-safe technologies from the point of view of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, for improving the
ecological situation and maintaining sustainable growth.

India, which in recent years has shown remarkable economic achievements, suffers from permanent electricity shortages. The amount of electricity produced at 14 Indian nuclear power blocks at present reaches only 3 per cent of total energy supply in the country. To fill the target of 10 per cent, Delhi has started a national programme aimed at vastly expanding its energy complex, with an investment of up to US$170 billion in the next few years. Eyeing this promising energy market are transnational giants such as General Electric, AES, Transpower Generation Corporation (all USA), Siemens (Germany), Rolls Royce and National Power (UK), China Power Generation (China).

The former USSR traditionally played a leading role as a reliable partner in the nuclear field, a relationship that was criticised by those interested in stepping in to fill the demand. India's request to supply nuclear fuel to the Tarapur nuclear power station (built incidentally by US firms) was not accommodated in 2001 by other countries, including the US, who cited the requirements of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Russia decided in the interests of nuclear safety in India to supply Delhi with low enriched uranium worth US$23 million dollars thus saving Indian nuclear sector from a possible collapse. Moscow helped Delhi out, but it should not neglect its obligations under NPT and regulations of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

In 1992 NSG adopted a principle according to which any nuclear export is legitimate only when a receiving country has concluded special agreement with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on full-scale guarantees which means that all its nuclear activities are under monitoring of IAEA. This is not the case with India, which is also not a party to the NPT, a cornerstone of Russian Federation's policy on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The present cooperation of Russia and India in construction of two nuclear power reactors in Kudankulam is based on a bilateral deal, which was reached in 1988 well before the introduction of the above mentioned NSG principal. In this case Russia once again demonstrated that it is true to its agreements with India. There is every reason to believe that first nuclear power block at Kudankulam will enter into operation by the end of 2007. Of course, in exceptional cases connected with the necessity to secure nuclear safety of peaceful nuclear facilities in foreign countries according to the Decree of the President No. 312 (March 27, 2002) the Russian government has some room for manoeuvre in allowing certain nuclear-related material and equipment to be delivered to some countries which have yet to put all their nuclear activities under IAEA guarantees. At the same time with a purpose to create the necessary legal base for advancing the fulfilment of the Joint Memorandum on Understanding and Expansion of Cooperation in the Field of Nuclear Energy signed by Russian Federation, Russia and India in 2000, the Russian delegation to the NSG is working on formulating the proposal of the status of associated membership. If successful this might ease the path of unlimited deliveries to India of nuclear fuel and nuclear energy power blocks. This becomes even more urgent since in July 2005 US president, George Bush, and Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, reached agreement on broad cooperation in nuclear field thus confirming a major shift of US policy in non-proliferation. For example, now US promises that it will work with its allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India "including but not limited to expeditious consideration of fuel supplies for safeguard nuclear reactors at Tarapur". Reference to the same station is indicative of rapidly shifting ground.

The joint statement between president Bush and prime minister M. Singh among other matters calls for "strengthening energy security and promotion of the development of stable and efficient energy markets in India with a view to ensuring adequate, affordable energy supplies and conscious of the need for sustainable development". This understanding will remove the hesitation on the part of the Russian business community and open avenues for Russian-Indian collaboration in all fields of energy production, advanced energy technologies and safeguarding the environment. With US presence commercial competition in the Indian energy market, including nuclear sector will be much stronger, but Russian levels of technology and business history between Russia and India will give Russia confidence in its ability to protect its long-term interests.

India has its reasons for not joining the NPT. Delhi deserves credit for a responsible policy in preventing proliferation of military nuclear technologies to foreign countries which puts it in advantageous position vis-à-vis developed countries and creates conditions for a special relationship in certain areas of nuclear cooperation. On June 6, 2005 Indian parliament confirmed government policy by a special act to prohibit unlawful activities in relation to weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. India "committed not to transfer nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or to transfer control over such weapons or explosive devices, not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any country to manufacture nuclear weapons or other nuclear devices…India is committed to prevent a non-state actor and a terrorist from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems". This formula will open for Delhi serious opportunities in cooperation with the members of NPT and IAEA and make it an acceptable partner in promising joint international projects. Many voices in the US are not satisfied and label the US-India agreement signed in Washington on July 18, 2005 "a bad agreement for the cause of non-proliferation".
The broadening of collaboration between Russia and India in the field of peaceful use of nuclear energy conforms to the strategic interests of Russia. At the highest level India has stated repeatedly its readiness to significantly expand the existing framework of cooperation between the two countries in this highly technological sphere indicating the mutual interest.

There are several directions along which matters in this traditional area of cooperation can proceed. If supported and given financial help by the government, this is a very promising large-scale market for Russian industry. The package of Indian proposals for collaboration with Russian side amounts up to US$10 billion. It suggests Russia's participation in construction in the next 10 years up to seven nuclear power units in Kudankulam, delivery of nuclear fuel and equipment to the Indian nuclear power stations. India is ready to work with Russia in developing new nuclear-safe technologies from the point of view of preventing the spread of atomic weapons. After Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh declared that his country will identify and separate civilian and military nuclear facilities and programmes in a phased manner and file a declaration regarding its civilian facilities with the IAEA, he also promised to take a decision to place voluntarily its civilian nuclear programme under IAEA safeguards. A crucial step is the promise to sign and adhere to the additional protocol with respect to civilian nuclear facilities as well as to continue Indian unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. Since India also hopes to harmonise its export control legislation with guidelines of NSG, all this should give necessary impetus to Russian officials to remove self-imposed limits on mutual cooperation with Delhi and get all above mentioned contracts with India. This move will facilitate big Russian business in India to secure and expand its share in the nuclear sector.

India is also developing new areas of civilian nuclear energy, aimed at the introduction of sophisticated and safe technology without the use of plutonium. Major efforts here are directed at constructing modernised heavy water reactors, which will use thorium (Th-232) together with uranium 233 as nuclear fuel. This project and other activities concentrated on the creation of new generations of nuclear reactors could become a mutually beneficial field of joint research and practical collaboration between Russian and Indian scientific and industrial groups.

One can foresee much greater competition from firms based in the US, France and China, who have already met the necessary conditions for moving ahead. Russia should not miss the opportunity, especially when the legal basis already exists. Russia should streamline internal procedures in customs and currency control spheres and improve conditions for financing those enterprises that operate in the field of producing equipment for foreign customers and participate in the construction of nuclear facilities abroad. Special attention should be given to the training of the personnel, which requires to be seriously improved.

The rapidly growing Indian civilian nuclear sector is in great need of ideas, concepts and equipment for safeguarding and secure use of nuclear material against all kinds of possible encroachments on the part of terrorists and criminal groups. In the last 15-20 years Russia has acquired tremendous experience in this field, which it can share with Indian partners. This type of collaboration would be a great contribution to the cause of preventing nuclear proliferation.
The author is senior adviser, Centre for Policy Studies for RIA Novosti