India: Atomic Sense

2005

Jayanthi Iyengar

There are many views on President Bush's decision to share with India nuclear technology for civilian purposes. Within the US, many have seen it as one concession too many, while gaining little in return. Some argue that Pakistan will now seek a similar status, while Iran and North Korea will push for more.

Within India, too, there are many critics. Many see this as the Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, unnecessarily throwing open the doors to the dreaded nuclear weapons inspectors. This faction believes that India is unnecessarily asking for trouble since weapon's inspectors would find India's secret bomb program, because the nuclear weapons and nuclear power establishments are the same. Others argue this is bunkum: the country's nuclear weapons and fuel generation programs were developed independently and hence there is no question of an overlap between the two.

Irrespective of the validity of these positions, one thing is clear. Whatever was the case in the past, India has no choice but to separate her nuclear weapons program from her nuclear fuel program in the future in order to import nuclear technology, equipment and supplies.

As of now, Britain has made it clear that she will not be following the American example though experts in India are certain that nothing will now stop France, Germany and Russia from queuing up outside the country's gates to offer, technology, equipment and supplies.

These countries have long been willing to sell India nuclear technology but have been kept at bay by US opposition. This should now change and suppliers from these countries are bound to come forward to sell their products to India.

Within India, too, the move could spell many changes. Till now, nuclear power generation has been a public sector activity, but with the need to separate defense from civil activities, there is the strong possibility of the civilian manufacturing sector being thrown open to private participation. Such participation is already allowed in defense production, excluding nuclear weapons, and nuclear power may just be the next link in this long chain of opening up. If this happens, it will indeed be a business opportunity for foreign as well as domestic companies, which wish to enter this field.

Another possible fallout could be the impact on power generation. India's power generation is currently pegged at 120,000 megawatt (MW). This is expected to double in 15 years, but will be way short of demand. India's nuclear power generation is only 2.8 per cent of its total electricity generation as against France's 78 per cent, Sweden's 50 per cent, Korea's 40 per cent and even Lithuania's 80 per cent. Thus, the Bush-Manmohan Singh accord could well provide the answer to India's power shortage dilemma.

WATCHPOINT: The Bush-Manmohan Singh agreement giving India full access to nuclear fuel, equipment and technology could offer as many business opportunities as it has already raised political points of debate. However, as of now, the economic fallout seems to outweigh the political ramifications and represents a win-win situation for everyone.

 

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