terror in delhi 10/29
Friday, February 10, 2006
  N-deal: Deconstructing The ‘Cheerleaders’

After writing on the overall status of the N-deal and the isolation of the Prime Minister and his advisors, we now analyze the cheerleader brigade in the Indian media who are hurriedly trying to push this deal starring the venerable Indian “Journalism of Courage” Express and its foreign policy experts viz C. Raja Mohan and K. Subrahmanyam.

In an article dated February 2nd, C. Raja Mohan wrote:

there is little debate on India’s potential gains from the new Bush initiative, tentatively called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, that could engineer a revolution in the way the world thinks about atomic power.

With the benefit of hindsight we now know that President Bush’s GNEP program was briefed to Indian negotiators only on February 8th. So why is this cheerleader is going berserk a full week before. Raja Mohan continues his tirade against the DAE:
the DAE is having problems coming up with a serious plan to separate its civilian and military facilities. It appears particularly reluctant to put its breeder programme on the civilian list citing the problems with conducting research under international safeguards.

Since it does not want to put the fast breeder reactor on the civilian list, it cannot, by the same logic, put those civilian power reactors that feed it with plutonium under safeguards. As a consequence the civilian list that India offered to the US last month had become embarrassingly short.

Embarassingly short, my foot. Former AEC Chief P.K. Iyengar asserts that top U.S. research centers like Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) serves both as civil and military facility. This is also the case with France’s elite Comissariat a l’Energie Atomique (CEA). Why expect the contrary from India? And then Indian Express throws this bombshell:
It is important to note here that the prototype fast breeder reactor was still in the making then and has now reached an advanced stage. The sense always was that this would be used for producing energy and for this purpose, India would not lose out by putting it on the civilian list.
IE is flatly wrong on this. The Fast Breeder always had a civil + military part. Under Dr. Homo Bhabhas pioneering “three-stage programme”, small amounts of Uranium (U.) from heavy water reactors are used to breed Plutonium (Pu) in fast breeder reactors which will eventually burn India’s vast Thorium (Th) resources in a thorium breeder reactor. Eventually they will be commercialized, but at this point they are still in experimental stage. There is no reason in “hurrying-up” and prematurely declare it as civil.

Raja Mohan still persists with maligning the DAE with his fallacious arguments:

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) says it does not need too much of international cooperation to expand nuclear power generation in this country. It wants the nation to wait two or more decades for a large nuclear power programme. Because the DAE wants to plough the lonely furrow of technological isolation.

The DAE’s leadership is clearly affected by something akin to the Stockholm Syndrome. Like the hostage who begins to love the captors after prolonged incarceration, the DAE, having been cut off from international cooperation for decades, is relishing its isolation.

The current divisive debate within the government is polarised around two broad views. One is a grand strategic vision that underlines the importance of fully implementing the nuclear deal with the US that offers India long awaited political recognition as a nuclear weapon state and facilitates expansive international nuclear energy cooperation with India.

The other is a narrow approach focused on securing the limited objective of fuel supplies to the Tarapur reactors and an option to import a handful of reactors that would be fuelled by enriched uranium from external sources. Thank you very much, we are not interesting in anything else from the world.

Heh, nice psyops attempt with ‘grand strategic’ vs ‘narrow’. India is a nuclear weapons state no matter what others think. Also note that President Bush announced his GNEP proposal to American citizens during the annual State Of The Union address as late as January 26th - hence Indian negotiators/scientists are not likely to have known this. Raja Mohan here seems eager to push this new offer down India’s throat without giving sufficient breathing space.

Then the IE editorializes :

If India wants to build a large scale nuclear programme to meet the nation’s growing power needs, it needs to quickly implement the nuclear pact. Notwithstanding the allegations that Washington has moved the goal posts, India should have separated DAE’s civilian and military activities long ago, in its own interest. No other country with a serious nuclear weapons programme has embedded it in a civilian venture as the DAE has done. It is much simpler to run the weapons programme with dedicated plutonium production reactors and military reprocessing plants.

Nice batting for the US. We had convincingly demonstrated that the goal posts are indeed being shifted. And why the hurry? And where exactly is this ‘dedicated’ military Pu reactor. You need U. to run PHWR. Take the spent fuel and reprocess into Pu either for weapons program or breeder reactor. Since we are not allowed to buy U. from international market, we have to manage with the available resources - i.e., the CIRRUS and DHRUVA at the BARC. Plus, there is this burn-up issue.

To make the DAE more accountable, the government must withdraw the monopoly rights given to it under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. In the mid-’50s, nuclear research was in its nascence. Most advanced nations have since privatised large components of their civilian nuclear programmes.

Ah the panacea of privatization - sounds tres Friedmanesque. But then if the DAE is accused of not generating enough power, the reason is it has been been starved of funding by none other than Prime Minister Singh when he was the Finance Minister:

Though R&D funding for the DAE has been substantive over the years, capital investment (at Rs.4 crore/MWe then) for new plants was never forthcoming. This was very comprehensively brought out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in 2000. Indeed, it is this lack of government commitment to nuclear power that led to the closure of two operational mines at Jaduguda leading in part to the current shortage of natural uranium, the fuel for the indigenous pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs). The government in power during the period was that of P. V. Narasimha Rao and the Finance Minister was none other than Manmohan Singh. Is there a newfound commitment to nuclear power that is driving the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal or are there other considerations?

Ouch! Now, onto the other cheerleader K. Subrahmanyam who wrote about President Bush’s GNEP proposal:

The United States is initiating — in cooperation with Russia, UK, France, China and Japan — a new era of nuclear energy. The rising price of oil, its rapid depletion, environmental concerns and the growing demand for energy, have compelled the US and other nuclear states to rethink the role of nuclear energy and also the advisability of the reprocessing and use of plutonium in fast breeder reactors. The US will restart its research on nuclear reactors on a massive scale in collaboration with other nuclear countries. As happened with rocket and missile programmes, in which Russia was ahead of the US (it sent the Sputnik up first) but was soon overtaken by the latter, the US is likely to emerge on top in fast breeder reactors too.

Such a situation had not been anticipated when India and the US signed the July 18 joint statement.

Bingo - the situation is now changed hence requires a careful, patient analysis. Under this rapidly evolving scenario, DAE’s scientists worries were very well justified. Also K. Subrahmanyam is overly enthusiastic of President Bush’s proposal. Here is what Dr. Ivan Oelrich of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has to say about the GNEP:

The reactor waste containing the plutonium is lethally radioactive. All work with it must be done by remote control or by robots under the strictest possible environmental controls. Necessary equipment is expensive to buy and maintain. The resulting plutonium can be mixed with fresh uranium to create a mixed oxide or “MOX” fuel that can be passed back into the reactor. While this is physically possible, indeed has been done, all experience in all countries that have tried it has demonstrated conclusively that it is always easier and cheaper to simply mine fresh uranium and enrich it.

The United States has attempted reprocessing and recycling in the past. The one commercial plant, in West Valley, New York, took six years to reprocess one year’s worth of reactor waste and was shut down as uneconomic, leaving behind a multi-billion dollar environmental cleanup bill. Japan is about to open a new reprocessing facility that, at $20 billion is about three times more expensive than originally budgeted. The British THORP plant was recently closed after a broken pipe leaked twenty tons of reactor fuel waste. The plant will most likely never reopen. A study requested by the French government estimated that their program cost approximately $25 billion more than a simple, once-through fuel cycle. Yet, the highly subsidized French program continues to produce separated plutonium faster than commercial reactor operators are willing to accept it, resulting in ever-increasing stockpiles of plutonium.

Not a very bright picture as K. Subrahmanyam wants us to believe. Nevertheless, GNEP’s merits requires a more detailed analysis which we intend to do in the near future.

Coming back to KS:

In India those who are still living in the Cold War era are worried that the US is attempting to cap the Indian arsenal and thwart research on fast breeders based on the large scale utilisation of thorium. Now with the new initiative on the use of plutonium and the encouragement of fast breeders, there is an urgent need for a complete rethink on India’s part. It should now make a bid to become a member of a new club of fast breeder developers and plutonium users. The US should enable India with its ongoing breeder reactor research. The breeder reactor, instead of being a matter of concern for India on the ground that it may be thwarted, should become a down payment to join the new club.
And what we wrote in our last post:
The American position has been that a majority of the research reactors as well as the FBR be placed in the civil list. It also intriguing as to why the Americans are interested in India’s nascent FBR program.
We too were incorrect. It turns out that India’s FBR program is not so nascent after all ;-)
India’s invitation is premised on the advances it has already made in breeder reactor technology. Currently, Japan and Canada are among a handful of countries that dabble in such technology.

US interest in India, say sources, has increased after the numerous tours US nuclear experts have made of Indian nuclear facilities, specifically, by Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials.

In January, a tour of the Tarapur plant impressed US experts. In fact, there is also interest in using some of the technologies that have been indigenously developed by Indian scientists.

Heh, the chickens are coming come to roost. When Dr. Homi Bhaba unveiled India’s three-stage program, Western nations pooh-poohed it as third-world fantasy. Now 50 years later, at the time of high Uranium prices and India’s spectacular progress in this field, they want to collaborate with us. Fine, but on our terms. The fact that global nuclear heavy weights want to collaborate with India speaks volume of her scientist’s credibilities and capabilities. But sadly, pro-US cheerleaders such as Raja Mohan and Shekar Gupta were hell bent on creating a strawman out of the DAE scientists to suit their own agenda. It is now clear that the focus has now shifted from a ‘credible’ separation plan to ‘collaborating’ with India on the fast breeder program under GNEP. With only a selection of few other countries (France and Japan being notables) having any experience in the design, construction and operation of FBRs, India has all the time to think about it and come up with its own plan without the need to compromise on its strategic program. The time has come for India to brush aside these cheerleaders and confidently articulate its position in the negotiating table without apprehensions to obtain what it wants.

 
Comments:
Good piece. But I would hesitate to lump K Subrahmanyam in the same league as Raja Mohan and Shekhar Gupta.
 
Thanks. Well, I did'nt want to link KS with RM. But he said something like India should sign up with US since 'our cousins and nieces are there'. Pretty froivolous logic.

best,
 
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