March 7, 2006

India says to complete nuclear separation by 2014

By Y.P. Rajesh

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India will open 14 of its 22 nuclear
plants for international inspections by 2014 as part of a
landmark civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the United
States, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday.

Under the deal, India, which first tested nuclear weapons
in 1974, has agreed to separate its civilian and military
nuclear programs, allowing international scrutiny for the bulk
of its power stations to ensure non-proliferation.

However, the pact has to be approved by the U.S. Congress
and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an informal club of
nations that controls global atomic trade, before New Delhi can
access foreign nuclear reactors and fuel.

"We are preparing a list of 14 reactors that would be
offered for (international) safeguards between 2006-14," Singh
told parliament. "The choice of specific nuclear reactors ...
is an Indian decision," he said.

Singh's statement to parliament came less than a week after
he and visiting U.S. President George W. Bush sealed the
controversial agreement which aims to help India boost its
nuclear power capacity to meet its soaring energy needs.

Singh said New Delhi had also agreed to international
inspections for all its future civilian atomic plants.

But he stressed that the agreement did not cover the
experimental fast breeder reactor program nor would it cap the
nuclear weapons program.

"I had given a solemn assurance ... that the separation
plan will not adversely affect our country's national
security," Singh said referring to his previous statements in
parliament on the deal.

"I am in a position to assure the members that this is
indeed the case," he said.


India wants to guard the fast breeder program from
international scrutiny as scientists were using it for research
in new areas of nuclear technology, Singh said.

Fast breeder reactors use spent fuel from heavy water
reactors to produce larger amounts of plutonium which can be
used both for power generation and making bombs.

American critics have said keeping the fast breeder
reactors out of the purview of international inspections would
allow India to build more nuclear bombs.

They have also accused Bush of selling out three decades of
weapons non-proliferation goals in favor of the accord, which
India considers crucial to a new relationship with Washington.

Both governments reject the charges and say India has a
very good non-proliferation record.

Singh said India would negotiate a unique safeguards plan
for its reactors with the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) and they would apply in "perpetuity" but only as long as
foreign fuel supplies remain uninterrupted, Singh said.

He said New Delhi would also shut down by 2010 a
Canadian-built research reactor called CIRUS, which was
provided for civilian use but diverted to produce weapons-grade
plutonium in the 1970s, sparking outrage in the West.

"As far as the U.S. Congress is concerned, there is largely
a broadbased support for a Indo-U.S. strategic alliance and
despite some of the critical comments that have come out, it
seems to me that this would pass muster," said Harsh V. Pant,
who teaches defense studies at King's College, London.

"But they (the U.S. administration) will have to answer
some very specific questions about the fast breeder program and
where India's weapons program is going," he said.