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PM moves to melt nuke-wary eight

New Delhi, Aug. 26: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today invited the nuclear scientists who had expressed concern over the Indo-US nuclear deal to advise the government for future negotiations, but also urged them to think of ways to take advantage of the agreement.

In a 90-minute meeting this evening with seven of the eight scientists who had earlier this month released a note detailing their concerns, Singh invited them to “help outline a path to take advantage of this new opening to end the nuclear apartheid against India”.

He asked them to show “how best to use the opportunities on the horizon, while minimising the risks and taking care of our national interests”.

Singh also told the department of atomic energy and the national security adviser to remain in touch with the nuclear scientists and seek their advice while negotiating the safeguards agreement and an India-specific Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Earlier this month, the group of eight scientists had cautioned that India should not accede to any restraint on its freedom of action or allow indigenous research to be hampered by external supervision.

The scientists today reiterated their concerns about the changes sought by members of the US Congress to the July 18, 2005, joint statement issued by Singh and President George W. Bush.

Singh reiterated his assurances he had earlier given in Parliament. In his response during discussions in the Rajya Sabha on August 17, Singh had said the nuclear agreement will not be allowed to be used as a backdoor method of introducing Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty-type restrictions on India.

He had also said India’s offer to put nuclear facilities under safeguards in perpetuity was conditional upon these facilities securing fuel from international sources through their lifetime. If the fuel supply assurances as enumerated in the Separation Plan are disrupted, then India would have the right to take “corrective measures” to ensure the continued operation of these reactors, Singh had said.

The scientists said they were happy with the meeting.

“We had a good meeting. We discussed relevant issues, and he patiently heard us,” M.R. Srinivasan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said.

“It was a friendly and good meeting. But we’ll have to wait for the reconciled version of the bill (in the US),” said P.K. Iyengar, another former chairman. However, he said, concerns about negotiating an India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA persist. India should not accept highly intrusive safeguards involving inspections and release of information that would hamper indigenous research, Iyengar said.

A. Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of the atomic energy regulatory board, P. Rodrigues, former director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, and H.N. Sethna, former Atomic Energy Commission chairman, were among the scientists who met the Prime Minister today.

Earlier in the day, Singh also held a meeting with members of the Atomic Energy Commission where discussions spanned the Indo-US nuclear deal, the shortage of fuel for India’s nuclear reactors, and the need to expand nuclear power capacity.

A PTI report said nuclear plants in the country are operating at 65 per cent of their installed capacity. The shortage of fuel could hamper India’s plans to generate 20,000 mw electricity from nuclear plants by 2020. The Indo-US nuclear deal, if implemented, is expected to allow India to import uranium fuel for its reactors.

The meeting was attended by all members, including AEC chairman Anil Kakodkar, national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi and the chairman of the Prime Minister’s science advisory council, C.N.R. Rao.

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