Fast Breeder: Civil or Military or Both
The Indian government said Feb. 22 that it refuses to categorize its fast breeder reactors (FBRs) as civilian power plants, but that it will move ahead and separate its civilian nuclear facilities from its military ones -- one of the key U.S. demands for the deal to go through. India's insistence that its FBRs not be considered purely civilian, however, will seriously complicate the negotiations.
For all Washington cares, the FBRs can produce as much plutonium for weapons, or as much power for Bollywood's cinema screens, as India wants -- but not both. Under the Indian-U.S. nuclear deal, only civilian institutions will receive nuclear assistance. If there is a gray area, then the United States would be giving technological aid directly to India's warhead production. This would be bad, from the U.S. perspective, to say the least.
Barring a verifiable Indian promise that its FBR reactors will be cut off from the civilian power grid, it would seem unlikely that Washington would accept the terms as they stand and agree to the nuclear deal with India.
Well, we've gotta a double standards issue here. The Tritium
needed for U.S. weapons program comes
from what used to be the civilian facility of Watts Bar Nuclear Plant
in the Tennessee Valley Authority
. The plan
to classify this reactor as 'strategic' under the guise of 'national security' was approved in 1999 by the Clinton administration and the plant has been producing Tritium gas since 2003. If the United States has joint civil+military reactors, then under the reciprocity
clause of the July 18th deal, the FBR too should be able to connected to the power grid while generating adequate Pu
for maintaining a credible deterrant. Indian negotiators should make this clear.
India has already
offered much more reactors to be classified as 'civil' than any of the existing weapons states. This double standards have to end there. Just say 'no' to declaring the FBR, even if it costs the deal.