Moscow, Nov. 12: Russia and India are keen to enhance cooperation in the field of sensitive civilian technologies.
In a step in that direction, India is to collaborate with Russia on the design and fabrication of its satellite navigation system called the Global Navigation Sputnik System or Glonass.
The Indian Space Research Organisation and the Russian aviation and space agency, Rosaviakosmos, today signed a memorandum of understanding for the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. This is one of the most significant of a raft of agreements signed between the two countries to deepen their cooperation.
Russia has apparently also shown some interest in assisting India with its proposed lunar mission. However, nothing more than a showing of “interest in principle” by Russia should be read into it, foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said.
India’s involvement in Glonass is significant because it is a rival to the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and, like it, is under military control.
The only civilian system to do the same job commercially as the GPS and the Glonass is being put into place in Europe — the Galileo global satellite system.
India is expected to be a stakeholder of about $300 million in the Galileo system and this issue is scheduled to figure in the EU-India summit in New Delhi at the end of this month. The Galileo, a joint venture between the EU and the European Space Agency, is expected to out-perform the American GPS.
Global navigation satellite systems have been described as virtually the Internet of global navigation and are used for mobile telephony, air traffic control and surveillance and almost invariably have a military aspect.
The agreement signed between India and Russia today, however, deals only with cooperation for the peaceful uses of outer space.
In the field of sensitive civilian technologies, the two sides also discussed the ongoing Russian assistance in the construction of two 1,000-mega watt each nuclear reactors for generating electricity at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu. The first plant is already operational and the second one will go on line in December 2007.
The fuel for the reactors — uranium enriched to about 4 per cent — is supplied by Russia and will be returned to it after it is burned.
Russia has been under pressure from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) not to assist India in this filed as it refuses to accept full-scope safeguards. Such safeguards would require a detailed accounting of the nuclear fuels in all Indian nuclear installations by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. Delhi does not accept full-scope safeguards — preferring only facility-specific ones.
The question of continuing access to nuclear material and technology is of significant interest to India given its burgeoning energy demand. “There is considerable scope for Indo-Russian cooperation in this area provided the problems that we all know exist can be overcome,” Sibal said.
Russia is a member of the NSG and keen on selling civilian nuclear reactors to India. It justifies its assistance to Kudankulam on the ground that it joined the NSG in 1992 after the deal was signed in 1988. But if it desires to sell more nuclear power reactors to India, it needs to overcome the NSG’s objections. For this, Russia needs to successfully solicit the help of other members of the NSG to make an exception in the case of India.
India is not known to have been involved in any transfer of sensitive technologies to third countries. However, just exactly what came out of today’s discussions on cooperation in the field of nuclear energy was not known.
The other agreements signed today were on scientific cooperation and exchange between the department of science and technology and the Russian Academy of Sciences; for setting up a centre for gas hydrate studies and another on earthquake research; on cooperation between the Indian National Science Academy and its Russian counterpart; for regional cooperation between Tartaristan and Andhra Pradesh; for facilitating export credit and for seeing that steps recommended in the past for enhancing economic cooperation are speedily implemented.