Amid criticism that the United States was shifting the goalpost, senior nuclear scientists Monday came out in strong support of Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar's contention that the fast breeder programme should be kept out of the civilian list of nuclear reactors that would be subject to international safeguards.
Former diplomats including former foreign secretary A P Venkateswaran feared that the price India would be asked to pay to ensure US Congresssional ratification would be too high, not only in the specific area of its future nuclear programme, but even on broader issues of nuclear proliferation and other foreign policy aspects.
Sharing Kakodkar's concern, the nuclear scientists said India should not succumb to any pressure to put fast breeder reactors, the second of the three-stage nuclear programme, in the civilian list under the plan to separate civilian and military programmes.
"We want full freedom to do research as well develop future power programme in the country and no one can and should dictate on this issue," they asserted.
S K Jain, chairman and managing director of Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd, a new company of the Department of Atomic Energy formed to handle fast breeder reactors, told PTI that by putting the country's completely indigenous fast breeder programme under safeguards amounts to dampening Indian nuclear power programme.
"Any facility under safeguards amounts to slowing down as even movement of material from one place to another within the premises also will be delayed. We want total freedom and unrestricted research and development to be carried out," Jain said.
"Any move in this direction of putting fast breeder programme under safeguards will slow down our progress considerably. Every movement of material will require calling of inspectors, which will dampen the progress," he contended.
Jain said India has the second largest reserve of thorium and it has potential of giving 530,000 MW electricity for more than 300 years.
Kakodkar, who had accompanied Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the US for the July 18 landmark nuclear deal, in a newpaper interview published Monday was quoted as saying that placing the fast breeder programme in the civilian list would not not be in India's strategic interest both for long-term energy security and for maintaining nuclear weapons capabilities.
The AEC chief also felt that any such move would push India into another "import trap" and make it constantly dependent on supplies of imported enriched uranium.
Jain said if US is bargaining for the supply of uranium to Tarapur units, then "the current reserve will last at least for 18 months and we are already working on alternative things".
"Even five years back, we had fabricated MOX fuel (plutonium mixed oxide) and it was used in those reactors giving very good results," he said.