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India Opens Civilian Nuclear Facilities to IAEA Oversight

  • Anjana Pasricha

The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flies in front of its headquarters during a board of governors meeting in Vienna, Nov. 28, 2013.

The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flies in front of its headquarters during a board of governors meeting in Vienna, Nov. 28, 2013.

As India seeks to increase nuclear power generation, it has decided to open its civilian nuclear facilities to greater oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is a key step toward boosting nuclear commerce with countries such as the United States and Japan.

India Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin says the agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency underlines the country’s commitment to the responsible use of nuclear power.

“The government has decided to ratify the additional protocol to the India specific safeguards agreement… This is a signal of our commitment to abide by our international obligations,” said Akbaruddin.

Confidence-building measure

Ratification of the protocol will give the nuclear watchdog easier access to scrutinize India’s civilian nuclear facilities.

Rajiv Nayan, at the Indian Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi, says the protocol being ratified is in addition to an earlier agreement with the IAEA.

“This is basically a confidence-building measure that, Ok, here is an agreement which is generally considered in the world not adequate. So we will give you some additional, additional assurance,” said Nayan.

The United States has called this an important step in bringing India into the international non-proliferation mainstream.

In New Delhi, analysts see it as a signal that India’s new government wants to facilitate nuclear trade with countries such as the United States and Japan.

Addressing energy shortage

In his first policy speech to parliament this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to develop nuclear power projects for civilian purposes - an indication that nuclear energy will be a priority as India seeks to address its massive energy shortages.

Modi is expected to travel to Japan in August and the United States in September. Cooperation in the civil nuclear field is likely to be high on the agenda for a country seeking billions of dollars in investment in nuclear power plants.

Washington said Monday that it is committed to expanding civil nuclear cooperation with India. Tokyo has also said that it wants to step up nuclear commerce with India.

It was a 2008 deal with the United States that gave India access to international nuclear commerce. It was earlier barred from nuclear trade because is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.

But investment in the area has come in slowly, partly because of a tough nuclear liability law that has deterred some foreign investors. While India has struck deals with Russia and France, the first commercial agreement with a U.S. company (Westinghouse) for nuclear reactors was only signed last year.

Closer ties with Washington

Analysts say changing the slow pace of civil nuclear cooperation with the United States is an important signal that the new government wants to boost ties with Washington.

Analyst Nayan says several large new nuclear plants are expected to come on stream over the coming decade, as India remains committed to scaling up nuclear power to meet is massive energy needs.

“Even after the tragic accident of Fukushima, we went ahead, we still reposed our faith in nuclear energy. We are going to take several measures to ensure nuclear safety and to assure people that there will be no problem with nuclear energy or nuclear plants,” said Nayan.

India aims to meet a quarter of its electricity requirements from nuclear power by 2050.