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NUCLEAR AGREEMENTS: SIGNIFICANCE & ISSUES

To secure the energy needs of India, Dr. Homi Bhabha had conceptualised India's three-stage nuclear power programme by working around India's limited uranium resources in 1950s.

Uranium exploration, production and utilisation are under the control of Central Government. Only public sector companies under Government of India are allowed to explore and mine atomic minerals viz. U, Th, etc.

Jaduguda in Singhbhum Thrust Belt (in the state of Jharkhand, formerly part of Bihar) is the first uranium deposit to be discovered in the country in 1951. The Singhbhum Thrust Belt (also known as Singhbhum Copper belt or Singhbhum shear Zone) is a zone of intense shearing and deep tectonization with less than 1km width and known for a number of copper deposits with associated nickel, molybdenum, bismuth, gold, silver etc. It extends in the shape of an arc for a length of about 160 km.

This discovery of uranium at Jaduguda in this belt paved the way for intensive exploration work and soon a few more deposits were brought to light in this area. Some of these deposits like Bhatin, Narwapahar and Turamdih are well known uranium mines of the country. Other deposits like Bagjata, Banduhurang and Mohuldih are being taken up for commercial mining  operations. Some of the other areas like Garadih, Kanyaluka, Nimdih and Nandup in this belt are also known to contain limited reserves with poor grades.

Apart from discoveries in the Singhbhum Thrust Belt, several uranium occurrences have also been found in Cuddapah basin of Andhra Pradesh. These include Lambapur-Peddagattu, Chitrial, Kuppunuru, Tumallapalle, Rachakuntapalle which have significantly contributed towards the uranium reserve base of India. In the Mahadek basin of Meghalaya in NorthEastern part of the country, sandsyone type uranium deposits like Domiasiat, Wahkhyn, Mawsynram provide near-surface flat orebodies amenable to commercial operations. Other areas in Rajsthan, Karnataka and Chattishgarh hold promise for developing into some major deposits.

Two agencies, viz., Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) and Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) under the Department of Atomic Energy are engaged in the exploration and mining of uranium, respectively for its exclusive use as fuel in the nuclear power stations owned by Government of India.

Although Thorium reserve of India was significant but Thorium itself is not a fissile material, and thus cannot undergo fission to produce energy. Instead, it must be transmuted to uranium-233 in a reactor fuelled by other fissile materials.

Uranium deposits in India are generally small, lean in tenor and complex in nature of mineralization. With the globalization of Indian economy, it has become imperative to develop these deposits in cost effective and eco-friendly manner assimilating the worldwide developments in science and technology. In order to meet the timely requirement of uranium, government has moved for different nuclear agreements for non-obstructive supply of Uranium to meet the energy needs.

History of Nuclear cooperation

USA helped in construction of two boiling water reactor (BWR) units of 210 MWe each at Tarapur Atomic Power Station (T.A.P.S.) is located in Tarapur, Maharashtra. However The United States and Canada terminated their assistance after the detonation of India's first nuclear explosion in 1974.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was anchored to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. India refused to sign the treaty on ground of discriminatory treatment & unfair.

After 1998 nuclear test in Pokharan, USA and allies further imposed sanctions on India. However India continued to play its diplomacy with the west and adhered to non proliferation guidelines voluntarily.

Nuclear agreement with nations

  • Nuclear Agreement with France:

France was the first country to sign a civilian nuclear agreement with India on 30 September 2008 after the complete waiver provided by the NSG. During the December 2010 visit of the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy to India, framework agreements were signed for the setting upto third-generation EPR reactors of 1650 MW each at Jaitapur, Maharashtra by the French company Areva.

  • Nuclear Agreement with USA:

India and USA has signed Agreement 123 for civil nuclear cooperation.

After NSG's waiver to India to commence civilian nuclear trade in 2008, US signed agreement with India on civil nuclear cooperation and even convinced its allies to do so.

The Agreement would end technology denial regimes against India that have been in place for three decades and end India's nuclear isolation. It will open the doors for India to have civil nuclear cooperation as an equal partner with the USA and the rest of the world. It will enable us to meet the twin challenges of energy security and environmental sustainability. It will also have major spin-offs for the development of our industries, both public and private. At the same time, it will bring India the recognition it deserves thanks to the outstanding achievements of our scientists.

Recently, USA and India has agreed to construct six nuclear reactors by US company Westinghouse in India. This will add significant capacity to India's nuclear installations.

  • Nuclear Agreement with Russia:

Russia has an ongoing agreement of 1988 vintage with India regarding establishing of two VVER 1000 MW reactors (water-cooled water-moderated light water power reactors) at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu. A 2008 agreement caters for provision of an additional four third generation VVER-1200 reactors of capacity 1170 MW each. Russia has assisted in India's efforts to design a nuclear plant for its nuclear submarine. Russia has assisted in India's efforts to design a nuclear plant for its nuclear submarine. In 2009, the Russians stated that Russia would not agree to curbs on export of sensitive technology to India. A new accord signed in December 2009 with Russia gives India freedom to proceed with the closed fuel cycle, which includes mining, preparation of the fuel for use in reactors, and reprocessing of spent fuel. On December 22, 2015, during Prime Minister's visit to Russia, a Joint Programme of Action for Localization of Manufacturing in India for Russian-designed Nuclear Power Plants was signed. A minimum of 12 reactor units will be built with Russian collaboration.

  • Nuclear Agreement with other countries:

India and Mongolia signed a crucial civil nuclear agreement on 15 June 2009 for supply of Uranium to India, making it the fifth nation in the world to seal a civil nuclear pact with India. India and Canada signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2010 which when all steps are taken, will provide access for Canada's nuclear industry to India's expanding nuclear market and also fuel for India's reactors. Canada is one of the world's largest exporters of uranium and Canada's heavy water nuclear technology is marketed abroad with CANDU-type units operating in India, Pakistan, Argentina, South Korea, Romania and China.

In 2014, India and Australia signed a civil nuclear agreement which allows the export of uranium to India. Australia is the third largest producer of uranium in the world. The agreement allows supply of uranium for peaceful generation of power for civil use in India.

India and Britain has also signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

Other countries with which India signed agreement on supply of nuclear fuel include Kazakhstan, while South Korea signed an agreement to help built the nuclear reactors in India.

Significance of India's Nuclear Agreements

India is an energy scarce country and most of its energy is derived from the conventional fuels like coal and crude oil. In field of crude oil India imports nearly 72% of its demand which is not only a drain on the foreign reserves but also posing significant environmental challenges. In power generation near 60% of power supply is thermal generated. The study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) claimed the average efficiency of the plants, it assessed, was 32.8 per cent, one of the lowest among major coal-based power producing countries. It claimed that average CO2 emission was 1.08 kg per kWh, 14 per cent higher than that of China. Also reserves of conventional fuel are limited and not sustainable in long run. Thus India looked for the new sources for the power generation and nuclear energy is one of the options which can provide solution to India's energy security needs. Nuclear agreements of supply of uranium with the countries like Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan and Namibia provide a security of resources.

Apart from it India has largest reserve of Thorium in the world which is near 963000 tonnes. This provides an opportunity for India to make on the resources available in the country. However this is subjected to the technological capacity acquired by the country to exploit the available resource. After NSG offered a special waiver to India for its nuclear fuel requirements and technologies for peaceful use. Developed countries like USA, Germany, South Korea, Russia, Australia and UK are looking India as largest market to offer their services, technologies and fuel. India's agreement with these countries will boost the mutual cooperation & acquisition of cutting edge technology at the competitive rate.

Economic growth, standard of living and improvement in social parameters like literacy, health, sanitation, empowerment of vulnerable especially women are directly or indirectly related to the assured supply of electricity. India also targeted to supply electricity to all villages by 2018. These requirement make need of a sustainable source of power generation. Nuclear energy has the potential to cater this need.

Currently India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power programme and expects to have 14.6 GWe nuclear capacities on line by 2024 and 63 GWe by 2032. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050. India has a vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle. There are several other factors like nuclear energy is a high density fuel, it is relatively cleaner than other fossil fuels and can have geographical distribution as per need. The cost of generation of electricity is also competitive. Renewable technology in India is still in developing phase & cost much higher than nuclear energy. These factors make nuclear energy a significant contributor in India's energy needs.

Russia has assisted in India's efforts to design a nuclear plant for its nuclear submarine. With this India is able to safeguard its long coastline in the Indian Ocean and even India used the nuclear submarine platform to develop its military nuclear arsenal. This enabled India to create a deterrent against its aggressive neighbours in north across the Himalayas and on its western border. India's nuclear diplomacy has been successful to provide India a similar status to countries that ratified the NPT without compromising on its security needs. This has also established India as a major power to maintain peace in the South Asia Region & in Indian Ocean.

Major Challenges & Issues

One of the major challenges till recently was sanction imposed by the countries of Export control regime to access technology & fuel after 1974 nuclear test. This slowdown the India's effort to boost nuclear installations for electricity generation. However with self restrain on its nuclear test & a responsible attitude enable Indian diplomats to get the special waiver from NSG to have access to nuclear technology & fuel access. However challenges have not overcome fully. Especially which involve the nuclear laws of India and US. As per India's Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act of 2010, the operator of nuclear plants i.e. Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) can sue the manufacturers and suppliers in case of incident. This has been a major blockade in supply of technology by most of the countries. However Administrative Arrangement for implementing the agreement have been signed and the India Nuclear Insurance Pool set up to implement the understanding on civil nuclear liability, which has addressed international and domestic concerns on India's Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act of 2010.

In case of Namibia, the world's fourth largest producer of uranium, is keen to supply the product to India, an African Union agreement is impeding its implementation in a way. The Pelindaba Treaty, to which Namibia is a signatory, prohibits the research, development, manufacture, stockpiling, acquisition, testing, possession, control or stationing of nuclear explosive devices in the territory of parties to the treaty and the dumping of radioactive wastes in the African zone by treaty parties.

The treaty also prohibits any attack against nuclear installations in the zone by treaty parties and requires them to maintain the highest standards of physical protection of nuclear material, facilities and equipment, which are to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. The treaty requires all parties to apply full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards to all their peaceful nuclear activities. However India has decided to sort out the legal issues by setting a joint technical team & enable India to have access to supply from Namibia.

An Australian governmental committee has recommended that uranium sales to India should only be allowed to proceed after its concerns about non-proliferation, nuclear regulation and safeguards have been addressed. Monitoring of fuel use and pricing of the fuel are major issues which still need to be settled.

Japan which is the only victim of nuclear disaster during 2nd World War, and recently of Fukushima disaster has been now taking the path of non nuclear energy & even hesitant to supply the civil nuclear technology to the other countries.

There is another issue of China's resistant to India to get the membership of NSG which will enable India legally to have a assured trade of fuel & technology across the world.

There have been concerns about the safety of nuclear installations regarding leakage of radiation & disposal of waste material. There has been delay and protest on commissioning of Kudankulam nuclear power plant which has been built with assistance from Russia.

Inspite of environment challenges which can be addressed with high net of technological safety and monitoring on part operator, India need the nuclear energy to sustain its economic growth & a affordable energy for its people. Nuclear agreements holds the key for the assured supply of fuel, technology and even boosting of commercial & strategic tie up of India with other countries of the world.

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