Tuesday, March 07, 2006

brahma on the CIRUS shutdown and the message it sends

mar 7

brahma is right: india is saying 'mea culpa'.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Brahma
Date: Mar 7, 2006 11:12 AM
Subject: Asian Age, March 8, 2006, Front-Page

PM drops bombshell, concedes 1974 test born in sin
By Brahma Chellaney

By agreeing to shut down the Cirus research reactor by 2010, India has implicitly acknowledged that it was in breach of its international obligations in carrying out the 1974 "peaceful nuclear explosion" (PNE).

The Prime Minister's statement on the Indo-US nuclear deal brings out the heavy costs India is paying for a dubious benefit — getting the right to import high-priced, uneconomical reactors for generating electricity. The planned shutdown of Cirus confirms that India has agreed to effect a 30 per cent cut in its weapons-grade plutonium production capability. This is on top of the 65 per cent cut that India will have to bear in the present production of reactor-grade plutonium and tritium once a total of 14 Indian power reactors come under IAEA inspection in phases.

The Cirus decision hands nonproliferation zealots in the United States and elsewhere a cause to celebrate: not only is India tacitly conceding that its 1974 test was born in sin, but that it is willing to atone for it more than three decades later by shutting down the reactor rather than subject it to international inspections. The US had demanded in recent negotiations that India either close it down or open it to outside monitoring.

The surprise decision to shut down Cirus and relocate Apsara, Asia's first research reactor, negates India's consistent stand for decades that it breached no obligation of any kind in drawing plutonium from Cirus for the 1974 PNE. Indira Gandhi must be turning in her grave.

Cirus was built with Canadian technical assistance and received American heavy water under two separate 1956 contracts that predated the 1957 establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 1968 NPT text finalisation. Because the concept of "safeguards" (international inspections) had not yet been devised, India gave no explicit undertaking to abjure nuclear-explosive uses. Indeed, just after Cirus came on line in 1960, Jawaharlal Nehru had declared: "We are approaching a stage when it is possible for us... to make atomic weapons."

The shutdown decision not only resurrects a ghost from the past but also mocks various international legal opinions clearing India of any wrongdoing. The US state department, in a June 2, 1974 assessment to the US Congress, itself concluded that because heavy water degrades at about 10 per cent a year and India's Nangal plant had been producing heavy water since 1962, "it is believed that US-origin heavy water was replaced (in Cirus) from this source."

Equally intriguing is the decision on Apsara, a tiny, pool-type research reactor built indigenously in the mid-1950s, with only its enriched-uranium element imported. Its relocation outside the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre complex will involve expense, although opening it to outside inspectors will have no strategic significance.

More broadly, the nearly one-third cut in weapons-grade plutonium manufacture capability, along with the two-thirds cut in the availability of tritium and reactor-grade plutonium, will effectively cap the size of India's nuclear deterrent. These major capability restrictions have been agreed upon even before anybody can claim that India has even a minimal deterrent against its main rival, China.

There are contradictions galore in Dr Manmohan Singh's latest statement.

He announced the Cirus shutdown and in the same breath claimed that "such steps will not hinder ongoing research and development." He averred that his "separation plan" will not "adversely" affect national security, yet is silent on the effects that may not be adverse in his perception.

He announced that "India will place its civilian nuclear facilities under India-specific safeguards in perpetuity", and then admits that since "such a safeguards agreement is yet to be negotiated, it will be difficult to predict its content." In other words, India is being taken on a treacherous route.

Dr Singh stated: "We do not wish to place any encumbrances on our fast-breeder programme, and this has been fully ensured in the separation plan." Then, a few paragraphs later, he admitted: "We have agreed, however, that future civilian thermal power reactors and civilian fast-breeder reactors would be placed under safeguards, but the determination of what is civilian is solely an Indian decision."

Only non-nuclear states accept the kind of international inspections India has agreed to — invasive, eternal and irrevocable. Yet Dr Singh offered no explanation as to how he could his break his word to the nation on July 29 last year that he would acquire for India the "same rights and benefits" as the other nuclear powers and "never accept discrimination".

It is also significant that India's goal of a "credible minimal deterrent" has now officially become "minimum credible deterrent". Dr Singh's use of the phrase "minimum credible nuclear deterrent" implies that credibility will be kept at a minimum in the deterrent, in keeping with his actions.


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