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Nuclear deal will not affect India's weapons programme

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March 06, 2006 08:09 IST
An influential Indian critic of the India-United States civilian nuclear agreement now says he is satisfied with the deal.

"This is a fair deal," Dr M R Sreenivasan -- a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission -- told in an exclusive interview."From the Indian point of view it is a good agreement. The last minute hurdle was over acceptance of a clause regarding safeguards in perpetuity. But the compromise was reached with India getting a guarantee of uninterrupted power supply."

Dr Sreenivasan is currently a member of the Atomic Energy Commission, which was a key party to the negotiations between India and the US over the separation of India's civilian and military nuclear establishments.

After the July 18, 2005 agreement between President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he had publicy expressed reservations -- via his newspaper columns -- about the deal, questioning the rationale to separate India's civilian and military nuclear facilities. As a member of the AEC his concerns were taken seriously.

Dr Sreenivasan said he had been against the deal for sometime. Previously, he explained, "there appeared to be some pressure on the Indian side. Particularly, (Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Senator (Richard) Lugar's statement made scientists worried. He was taking a maximalist (that most of India's nuclear plants be placed under International Atomic Energy Agency scrutiny, thus inhibiting India's military nuclear programme) approach. But in the end India got a reasonably good deal."

There is nothing in the agreement, he felt, which would tie India's hands and prevent it from pursuing its strategic weapons programme.

Other former doyens of India's nuclear programme -- Dr Homi N Sethna, Dr P K Iyengar (both men, like Dr Sreenivasan, ex-chairmen, AEC) and Dr A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board -- have also welcomed the agreement.

"Even after the deal India will be able to produce tritium and plutonium for weaponry projects," Dr Sreenivasan said. "Indian scientists'concerns have been largely met."

He felt India needed to rapidly acquire new nuclear energy plants like China, which is importing new large-sized reactors.

In view of a likely energy crisis in India such a deal was necessary, Dr Sreenivasan, author of a book on India's nuclear power programme, said, adding that India's three-phased plan -- Heavy Water reactors, Fast Breeder reactors and thorium-based energy plants -- would not be disturbed.

Some experts could certainly argue that 14 Indian nuclear reactors are too many to be placed under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, he said, but in return India is assured supply of nuclear fuel.

India can import fuel for its Tarapur Atomic Power Station, which exhausted its fuel a few months ago, after the United States Congress approves the nuclear agreement. India, he added, would also like to buy Light Water reactors from France and Russia.

Asked if the separation of India's nuclear establishment into civilian and military facilities would be expensive, Dr Sreenivasan felt the separation would not cost much. A dedicated facility will be created in the future for civilian nuclear energy, he added, its cost will depend on the size of plan.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi