New Delhi, March 7: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today chose to put India’s nuclear ‘bad boy’ past behind to join the international nuclear non-proliferation regime with a clean slate.
In doing so, he presented a detailed separation plan for the country’s civil and military nuclear facilities in Parliament, paving the way for ending India’s errant status.
The separation plan presented in Parliament dealt not only with thermal nuclear reactors but also research facilities, research reactors, future reactors and upstream (fuel and heavy water production) and downstream (fuel reprocessing and storage) facilities being opened up for safeguards and international inspection.
India, according to the plan, has agreed to put nine nuclear research facilities, including the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), in the civilian list and under safeguards while keeping the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (Barc) as a strategic or military facility.
This was in addition to the 14 out of 22 nuclear power generating plants that would be put on the civilian list by 2014.
As promised by the Prime Minister, the separation plan was in the 65 per cent and 35 per cent ratio and was phased.
While the heavy water plants at Thal, Tuticorin and Hazira would go under safeguards between 2006 and 2009, safeguards in “campaign mode” (inspections by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors for a limited time) would be accepted at the Tarapur fuel reprocessing facility after 2010. Safeguards on spent fuel storage at Tarapur and Rajasthan nuclear power plants would come between 2006 and 2009.
Singh claimed that this would in no way constrain India’s nuclear weapons capability as “adequacy of fissile material and other inputs” had been assured. On the other hand, he said, the scope for co-operation in nuclear power generation and research would be expanded.
Singh also sought to snap links with the country’s only perceived controversial act ' breaking international assurances to test nuclear bombs. India, he said, had agreed to shut down one reactor and shift the fuel core of another with foreign links from the Barc into a safeguards regime. This prevented safeguards on the entire establishment.
Singh explained: “We have taken these steps rather than allow intrusive inspections in a nuclear facility of high national security importance.”
One of the two reactors, Cirus (Canada-Indian Reactor, US) ' so named because of the three countries which collaborated on it ' provided the plutonium for the Pokharan test in 1974. Choosing the subterfuge of a “peaceful nuclear explosion”, India used it for testing a bomb despite prohibitions. As a consequence, it lost all nuclear co-operation with Canada and the US.
The un-safeguarded Cirus reactor, capable of producing 9 to 10 kg of weapons-grade plutonium annually, will now be decommissioned in 2010.
India’s oldest nuclear reactor, Apsara, had a fuel core purchased from France. That fuel core would now be shifted out of Barc and put under safeguards.
Shutting down of Cirus may lead to India setting up another military reactor for weapons purposes. But whether this would be done simultaneously was not clear.
India is not expected to make a list of its military facilities or plans public or share them with Washington. However, Singh claimed that India had ensured that “reprocessing and enrichment capabilities and other facilities associated with the fuel cycle of our strategic programme” were kept out of safeguards. Enrichment results in fuel, which, when burned, gives spent fuel containing plutonium. Reprocessing that spent fuel gives weapons-grade plutonium.
He underlined how India had managed to get “commitments from the United States underwritten several times over for the reliable supply of fuel to Indian civilian reactors.
In turn, New Delhi would sign “India-specific” safeguards to prevent use of safeguarded material from civilian reactors for military purposes; and allowing India to take “corrective” measures to ensure continual supply of fuel in case of disruption.
He assured the MPs that India would continue to retain its “sovereign right to take all appropriate measures” to fully protect its interests.