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India offers to put 14 nuclear reactors on civilan list

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: February 26, 2006 21:55 IST
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India has handed over the final draft of its nuclear separation plan to United States Under Secretary Nicholas Burns, the US administration's point person in the dialogue between the two nations, for the US to accept, according to a well-informed source in the Department of Atomic Energy. With this, it appears that the Indian side has taken a political decision to not include more than 14 reactors on the civilian list.

According to sources, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shared India's proposal with core members of his Cabinet and the United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Saturday evening.

Full coverage: President Bush visits India

India has offered to put 60 per cent of its nuclear reactors on the civilian list -- which will keep them completely out of the country's weapons-making programme. These reactors will come under International Atomic Energy Agency inspection, and will be eligible to recieve nuclear fuel from abroad.

According to a source, in all 22 nuclear reactors and entities were on the table for negotiations. Of these, 14 reactors will, subject to the Bush administration agreeing with India's proposal, go to the civilian list.

Since the July 18, 2005 agreement, when the two countries started negotiating over the nuclear deal, the US side believed that India needed only four to six plants outside the civilian list to carry on with its nuclear weapons programme but now, it seems that India has insisted that it needs eight plants outside the civilian list.

India is unlikely to change its stance of not putting more than 14 nuclear plants on the civilian list in view of intense pressure from its scientist community.

However, even if the US agrees to India's proposal, it will still be only the begining of a long journey.

If President George Bush accepts India's proposal, the complex battle to remove the 'sanctions regime' and denial of world-class technology to India will start, because India will have difficulty in initiating the actual separation without the Bush administration keeping its part of the bargain -- initiating changes in US laws for which the US Congress support is required. According to the reciprocity clause in the July 18, 2005, agreement, the US side will have to show results too.

The final agreement on the separation plan, if it comes through, will be a huge achievement for the Singh government because India's scientific community's stand was, 'whatever was indigenously developed should not go on the civilian list at all.'

It is not known on what basis or rationale India has offered to place 60 per cent of its reactors on the civilian list. Most importantly, if the agreement over the separation plan comes through on March 2 during President Bush's visit to New Delhi, Indian scientists, particularly those who are experts in the safeguards issue, would like to know if the US will allow India the "same benefits and advantages" as are given to other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi