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‘Meddling’ fuel feeds nuclear fire

New Delhi, Feb. 8: In pursuing the Indo-US nuclear deal, the government has departed from its decades-old practice of encouraging indigenous nuclear capabilities and keeping bureaucrats from meddling in nuclear affairs, a former atomic energy official said today.

Against the heavy odds of US sanctions, the department of atomic energy spent decades building world-class indigenous capabilities with the encouragement of successive Prime Ministers who also kept the civilian bureaucracy from interfering in the affairs of this scientific establishment, Dr Adinarayan Gopalakrishnan, former head of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, said.

“It is unfortunate that the present government neither provides such encouragement nor cares to preserve the delicate morale of two generations of nuclear scientists who have put India on the world nuclear map,” Gopalakrishnan added.

His comments come in the middle of a debate over whether the government should press ahead with the nuclear deal with the US. There is also a perception that the department of atomic energy is under pressure from officials in Delhi to accept the US deal as it is.

The Indo-US agreement announced after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President George W. Bush in July last year envisages separation of India’s civilian and military facilities in exchange for US cooperation to help Delhi import nuclear fuel or reactors that produce nuclear energy.

India and the US have been negotiating details of the proposed separation of nuclear facilities.

The view within the department of atomic energy is that only nuclear facilities with imported components ' fuel or reactors ' should be designated as civilian and thus opened to safeguards and inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The department is trying to resist proposals to extend safeguards to the fast breeder reactor that will serve as a source of both nuclear fuel for future nuclear reactors and weapons grade plutonium.

The fast breeder is based entirely on “our own ingenuity, efforts and creativity”, Dr P.K. Iyengar, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said here yesterday.

Research on fast breeders involves a trial-and-error process and it cannot function efficiently in an atmosphere of intrusive inspections, a senior nuclear engineer said.

The experts also said the Indian nuclear power programme would grow “with or without the Indo-US nuclear deal”. Without any import or either fuel or reactors, the Indian nuclear power programme will be able to reach about 48,000 mw by 2030 and 104,000 mw by 2040, Gopalakrishnan said.

“There is no need for India to surrender its indigenous nuclear programme as a sacrificial offering in return for the promise of a broader strategic alliance,” he added.

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