Now, the next step

Published : Aug 15, 2008 00:00 IST

Interview with Anil Kakodkar, AEC Chairman.

WE can now take the next step, was the cryptic response of Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, when his reaction was sought after the United Progressive Alliance government won the trust vote in the Lok Sabha. The next step involves the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) approaching the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on August 1 to get the approval for the India-Specific Safeguards Agreement (ISSA).

The corrective measures are what I describe as unspecified sovereign actions. We can decide [them] at the appropriate point of time, Kakodkar said when he was asked to spell out the corrective measures that India would take to ensure uninterrupted fuel supply for the nuclear power reactors that it would put under the IAEAs permanent safeguards.

On allegations that only the preamble of the ISSA mentioned the corrective measures and not its operative part, and that the preamble did not have the same force as the operative part, he replied that international law insisted that any agreement has to be seen as a whole.

In an interview given over two days, on July 18 and July 23, Kakodkar emphasised that our agreeing to permanent safeguards is on the basis of permanent supplies [of fuel].

Kakodkar, who is also the Secretary of the DAE, pointed out that there were provisions in the ISSA for building up a stockpile [of fuel] to last for the full operating life of the reactors and our own ability to take corrective measures. Excerpts:

The DAE is putting reactors under safeguards in perpetuity as a reciprocal measure for uninterrupted fuel supply. How is uninterrupted fuel supply incorporated in the ISSA?

Basically, you should understand that this safeguards agreement has a background. The background is the civil nuclear cooperation that we have negotiated with the United States, Russia and France, particularly that part of the understanding with the U.S., where we have agreed that we will identify some of our facilities as civilian facilities and that they will be placed under safeguards with an India-Specific Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. This also spells out that the facilities, which are not identified as civilian, will have no external hindrance of any sort.

So we are talking about an ISSA, which is an umbrella document that is restricted to facilities that India identifies as civilian. Our identifying any facility as civilian is conditional to that facility benefiting from full, civil, nuclear cooperation. This will mean that the reactors we identify as civilian and place under safeguards will receive full, assured fuel supply from outside. We have also incorporated provisions for building up a stockpile [of fuel] to last for the full operating life of the reactors and our own ability to take corrective measures. So our agreeing to permanent safeguards is on the basis of permanent supplies.

Why are the corrective measures unspecified in the ISSA? Why have you not spelt them out? What corrective steps will India take if the fuel supply is cut off?

The corrective measures are what I describe as unspecified sovereign actions. We can decide [them] at the appropriate point of time.

The corrective measures that we can take and the strategic fuel reserve that we can build up find mention only in the preamble to the ISSA. There is a fear that since this aspect is not mentioned in the operative part it will not be enforceable. Why was this not included in the operative part?

That is not correct. I think that if we go by international law, it specifies that any agreement has to be seen as a whole. More specifically, the ISSA preamble is tightly linked with the operative portion.

If India were to conduct a nuclear test, it would attract the provisions of the Hyde Act and the fuel supply for the reactors would be cut off. What are the corrective measures planned?

As far as we are concerned, we are governed by the bilateral civil nuclear cooperation that we have negotiated.

With Russia, the U.S. and France?

I am talking about the U.S. I am talking about the 123 nuclear agreement that we have negotiated with the U.S. There is no mention of [nuclear] tests in that text.

The ISSA does not grant us full, civil nuclear cooperation, which means that we will not get the technologies for reprocessing the spent fuel and for enriching uranium. How are you going to face this problem? Under the agreement with the U.S. for running the Tarapur reactors we had the right to reprocess the spent fuel. But we could never enforce that right.

The safeguards agreement is an agreement between India and the IAEA, established at Indias request and will apply to facilities that India will identify as civilian and ask the IAEA to safeguard. The ISSA covers reactors as well as fuel cycle facilities, including reprocessing.

You have said that the indigenous reactors that we put under safeguards are entitled to receive fuel supplies from abroad and that they will be under permanent safeguards. If that fuel supply is cut off and we use our own fuel, will those reactors continue to be under safeguards in perpetuity?

No, no. First of all, we would have built up a stockpile. There is no chance of stoppage of reactors because the stockpile will be available. During that time [if the fuel supply stops], we can take necessary action.

You have told me that the safeguards agreement should recognise India as a nuclear weapon state. Does it recognise India as a nuclear weapon state?

First of all, the title of the ISSA is that it is an agreement for Indias civilian nuclear facilities. Further, the text of the agreement provides for non-hindrance to facilities and activities, which are not covered by the safeguards agreement.

This clearly means that while the safeguards agreement is only for civilian facilities, India is free to pursue its own domestic development, including the development of its strategic areas.

The Hyde Act makes the specific requirement of safeguards to be in perpetuity in accordance with the IAEA document of GOV/1621 of August 20, 1973. The ISSA also invokes GOV/1621, which makes it clear that the reactors we put under safeguards will be under safeguards in perpetuity even if we use domestic fuel...

GOV/1621 is about supplied materials and supplied facilities. As part of the cooperation agreement with other countries, we will ensure that the fuel is stockpiled to meet the life-time requirement of our reactors.

If the IAEA Board clears the ISSA, what do you expect from the Nuclear Suppliers Group? You had earlier said you wanted clean, unconditional exemptions from the NSG.

We expect clean, unconditional exemptions for nuclear commerce with India.

The DAE has agreed to put even research facilities and heavy water plants under safeguards. How are they different from the nuclear power reactors coming under safeguards?

As I told you, whatever we identify as civilian must also benefit from unrestricted, international cooperation. The research that we carry out in our institutions should benefit from an environment of unrestricted scientific collaboration. When we declare something as civilian, the condition for that is that it should benefit from civil nuclear cooperation. We should also recognise that the activities of these institutions are irrelevant from the point of view of safeguards.

You said in Bangalore recently that if India could import 40,000 MWe of nuclear power between 2012 and 2020, we can wipe out the gap between the demand for and the supply of power by 2050 by building more fast breederreactors using the spent fuel arising from these imported reactors. But you also said that thorium does not have properties that allow for faster growth of power generation. Media commentators have alleged that this amounts to India abandoning its third stage of building thorium-fuelled reactors.

Right from the beginning all the way up to now, there is absolutely no contradiction between my statements on thorium utilisation strategies. These are based on detailed analyses and they remain valid. The three-stage nuclear power development programme based on domestic efforts remains a priority activity and would be implemented unhindered.

To optimise the benefits of thorium utilisation, the timing of the introduction of thorium has to be judiciously planned. In any case, it has to follow significant build-up of nuclear power generation capacity through the deployment of fast breeder reactors. The point to realise is that Indias electricity requirements are growing fast. The gap between demand and supply that can be managed on indigenous resources is widening and it would exceed 400,000 MWe by 2050.

The question that one needs to address is how soon we can bridge this gap through the growth potential that is possible with fast breeder reactors. Clearly, this necessitates emphasis on deployment of fast breeder reactors with the shortest possible doubling time.

The timing of the introduction of thorium needs to be adjusted in such a way that the demand-supply gap is bridged at the earliest, and at the same time we derive full benefit of the vast energy potential of our thorium resources for centuries to come.

The import of 40,000 MWe of power as an additionality [to the domestic nuclear power programme] would bridge not only this gap by 2050 but would avoid the necessity of import of much larger fossil energy resources and at the same time enable earlier deployment of thorium, meeting the objectives stated above.

The point is, even after we pursue the domestic three-stage nuclear power programme, which we will pursue on a priority basis in any case, there will be a gap of 400,000 MWe. If we introduce thorium earlier, this gap will become larger and the three-stage programme will become smaller. On the other hand, if we can get this 40,000 MWe from outside [by importing reactors], we can bridge this gap, and at the same time, we can advance the deployment of thorium.

Is the DAE delaying the start of the construction of the indigenous 700 MWe Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors and the criticality of the three new PHWRs of 220 MWe each at Rajasthan and Kaiga for want of uranium?

It is true that at present there is a mismatch in the demand and supply of indigenous natural uranium. But things are about to start improving now. The capacity factor of the reactors is about to start improving. This is because the production [of yellow cake from uranium] from the mill at Turamdih in Jharkhand will start coming in now.

We are working on the uranium mining and milling project at Tummlapalle in Andhra Pradesh. I am hopeful about the Meghalaya uranium project. There are also other sites. Our efforts for increasing the domestic production of uranium are continuing.

What is your reaction to the UPA government winning the trust vote?

We can now take the next step. The safeguards agreement has to be discussed in the IAEA Board.

Are you confident that the IAEA Board of Governors will approve the ISSA?

Let us see.

If the IAEA Board approves the ISSA and the NSG relaxes its guidelines and permits its members to have nuclear commerce with India, what is the time-frame in which you expect to reap the benefits? When can you start importing the reactors?

I cant hazard a guess.

You mentioned that under international law, the preamble has the same force as the operative part. Could you explain?

It is the Vienna law. There is a particular section in that law which clearly talks about the preamble being part of the overall agreement and has to be taken into account. There is an explicit mention like that. Over and above that, the preamble in the ISSA is tightly coupled to the operative part. Towards the end of the preamble, it has words to the effect, Nowtherefore taking into account the above and so on, and then the operative part starts. Even otherwise, if you go by the international law, there is an explicit mention that the preamble is integral to the main part.

You mentioned that India agreed to put some of its reactors under permanent safeguards on the basis of the reactors receiving permanent supplies of fuel from abroad. The first two units of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station are using indigenous natural uranium as fuel although they are under permanent safeguards. How do you explain this?

As part of the new framework, we do expect that RAPS 1 and 2 should start receiving fuel from outside because they are under safeguards.

Why is there no arbitration clause?

There are provisions that they will be discussed with the IAEA Board of Governors. There are built-in provisions where we can take them to the Board. If there is a disruption, we can report to the Board.

Disruption of fuel supply?

Any kind of disruption, we can report to the Board of Governors. There is a provision that it will be implemented according to the international law.

Is it true that the 123 agreement was already on auto-pilot? So it did not matter even if the UPA government had lost the trust vote.

No. Nothing goes on auto-pilot. Every step has to be taken because we are, after all, a party to it.

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