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'Respect concerns of nuclear scientists'

By Vishwanath Pratap Singh
February 21, 2006 18:18 IST
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In a letter to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, former prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh questioned Washington's motive behind the India-United States nuclear deal.

We reproduce the letter in which V P Singh -- who had earlier supported the agreement -- wrote that if the nuclear deal amounts to making India a camp follower of the US, it should be scrapped.

Dear Dr Manmohan Singhji

You may recall that, after your speech in Parliament, I had extended support to the Indo-US nuclear deal. I did that under the impression that:

i)India was free to make its own choices on the question of separation of civilian and military facilities, and

ii) US sanctions would be lifted, enabling India to access technology easily.

Our scientists have, through their efforts, already made the sanctions irrelevant.

On the substantive issue of separation, recent events that have unfolded belie the hope of the freedom to develop an independent nuclear programme.

The entire effort of the US seems to be to force India to put its fast breeder reactor development programme in the civilian area. Also, the US demands and threatens that the entire Indo-US deal would be called off if India did not vote against Iran.

All this clearly indicates that unless India toes the US line and becomes a camp follower, in matters even outside this agreement, the Indo-US nuclear deal would remain an illusion.

India's concerns in the area of nuclear energy (both civil and military) need to be necessarily dictated by geo-political considerations. And in that context, the following are obvious:

i)That no country would help another country, much less a developing country, in harnessing nuclear power.

ii) That the nuclear power countries, led by the US, are very suspicious and intolerant to any developing country acquiring and/or developing technological and manufacturing capability in both the civilian and military sectors. All that they would allow is the purchase of hardware manufactured in the developed countries and that too with fuel linkages tied to them, so that such equipment can be rendered useless at will. India has first hand experience of this in Tarapur, where the US unilaterally stopped supplies of fuel.

iii) Every effort is being made to ensure complete monopoly of a few countries, led by the US, in nuclear technological and manufacturing capability.

Under these circumstances, India's principal national interest and strategic concern should be the development of indigenous technological and manufacturing capability based on India's natural endowment of thorium.

Scientists have assured me that the fast breeder reactor is central to this endeavour of developing indigenously designed and manufactured nuclear power plants that would, once they reach the thorium cycle, enable accelerated power development. Considering India's inadequate fossil fuels, save high-ash coal, the thorium-based nuclear power plants can ensure rapid economic development.

Import of nuclear plants through the uranium route may bring us back to needless dependence since India does not possess adequate indigenous resources.

At this stage, to confuse the issue and link it to military concerns of the US and open the entire indigenous R&D (research and development) efforts to third party inspections would certainly jeopardise the pace of development of the indigenously designed and developed thorium-based power plants.

The strategic interest of the nation lies in the government respecting the concerns of nuclear scientists and in keeping the fast breeder reactors from the purview of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Any short-term gains, however lucrative, cannot justify jeopardising self-reliance in such a critical sector.

I wish to express serious concern that even after Dr Kakodkar, chairman of our Atomic Energy Commission, felt pressurised to the extent that he had to make public his reservations, we are not aware of the government having made any effort to consult senior scientists and engineers with nuclear expertise, both serving and retired, who have made the nation proud.

Finally, in my opinion, the entire Indo-US nuclear deal needs to be reviewed. If this deal is going to compromise our technological self-reliance and security interests as is being witnessed, it should be straightaway scrapped.

With warm regards,

V P Singh

Also see:
'The nuclear deal was India's idea'
Column: It's not about nuclear weapons

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Vishwanath Pratap Singh