Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nuclear Energy: Why should India be left behind?

India must broaden nuclear freedom

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Last week Russia and the US signed an unprecedented civilian nuclear power deal under which companies in both countries would have access to nuclear technology through joint ventures. The pact opens Russia’s massive uranium reserves to US companies and gives Russian firms access to the multi-billion dollar US nuclear energy industry.

The agreement happened in spite of US app-rehensions about Iran’s growing nuclear ambitions, about which Russia does not seem to be overly concerned. “The US and Russia were once nuclear rivals; we are today nuclear partners. What this agreement allows us to do is to implement some very creative ideas that both Russia and the US have put forward to deal with the growing challenge of proliferation of nuclear weapons,” says Mr William Burns, US ambassador to Russia. The head of Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Mr Sergei Kiriyenko, who signed the agreement, was equally rosy in his outlook. “The signing of this agreement opens a gigantic field of opportunities for economic cooperation in the large and growing businesses linked to the civilian use of nuclear energy,” he says.

The US has a similar deal with China. To meet its increasing energy needs, China plans to build 32 nuclear power plants by 2020 at a cost of about $50 billion, Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post wrote last year. It’s an undertaking that can be accomplished only by acc-essing nuclear technology and markets in the US, Europe, Japan and Russia. China has signed uranium deals with Australia and the Niger.

India too must complete the nuclear deal with the US agreed upon by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush in 2005. It would give the growing economy reliable and uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel, in spite of the fact that India is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nuclear freedom comes from collaboration, not isolation. The completion of the civilian nuclear deal will open to India the world of sophisticated technology developed by the glo-bal nuclear powers ~ the US, Japan, Europe and Russia, with whom India has growing commercial relations. Access to high-end technology is imperative to keep India globally competitive.

Indian diplomacy has succeeded in muting and overcoming strong anti-India prejudice and opposition in the US. By making India an exception to the rule it has created opportunities for the country. The agreement will let India grow and play its rightful role in global affairs ~ it is not about containing anyone, it is about having faith in India to develop rapidly without compromising fundamental freedoms.

Rapid economic growth of the Indian economy, 9-10 per cent a year for the next few decades, primarily through the efforts of its rising entrepreneurial class, will lift millions of Indians out of poverty. Without plentiful and reliable energy sources, however, poverty cannot be eliminated. Besides, an economically dynamic India on a perpetual growth curve will make Asia more economically dynamic.

Apart from removing hurdles in India’s search for an alternative energy source to fuel its growing economy, the deal will give India a strategic platform in the knowledge industry and en-courage research and development in clean-energy technology.

Becoming a great knowledge power is everyone’s dream in India. India must go beyond information technology outsourcing and capture other chances, as it has begun to do. After successful negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, India will be able to buy nuclear fuel for its nuclear power plants and shop for building scores of new ones.In the course of time when trust in the partnership increases and diplomatic relations deepen, a whole new world of sophisticated global technology will be opened to India, en-abling it to spur its economic growth further. In return, India has agreed to do what other nu-clear powers have been doing under the Non-proliferation Treaty ~ open some of its civilian nuclear power plants to inspection and continue to observe abstinence on nuclear testing. Its nuclear deterrent will remain off limits. India’s sovereignty can’t be compromised, if the country is economically and politically strong.

The Indian opposition to the nuclear deal, especially the Left, fears the deal will create subservient relations with the US. But it is im-portant to consider how China has benefited from strong economic relations with the US, without in any way compromising its sovereignty. Of course there is no such thing as ab-solute sovereignty in an interdependent world. China had greater sovereignty in the days of Mao Zedong when it fought the US in Korea than today when it has more than a trillion dollar in foreign exchange reserves. A country’s currency is a symbol of its sovereignty but China has tied up its currency to the dollar. Chi-na has no place to park its massive foreign exchange reserves except in US and European treasuries. Sovereignty is not isolation.Iran-Pakistan-India and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India oil pipelines will not be able to meet India’s gargantuan needs for energy. Clean-coal technology, nuclear energy and solar power are alternatives, for which the US has opened its doors to India. France, for example, gets 80 per cent of its energy from nuclear plants and is ready to collaborate with India in nuclear power development. Nuclear energy will cut excessive dependence on oil from West Asia, a most unstable region.

India needs hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in building power plants and infrastructure to increase its manufacturing base and create employment opportunities for its growing young population.

Today the Left might have a stranglehold on Indian politics, but it certainly cannot be the end of the civilian nuclear deal. The next government will have to pick up the threads and consummate the deal. Why should India be left behind?

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

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