Drama drama drama at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in New Zealand last week.
You remember that big nuclear deal between India and the US a couple of years ago, right? You know, the one where Bush gave away the whole store to secure some sort of foreign policy legacy? Well, that decision appears to be coming back to bite the US right in the nuke. China now wants to build two nuclear reactors in Pakistan. Given the lengths the US went to make sure its deal with India went through, it’s going to have a hard time objecting to this agreement without upsetting Pakistan or further alienating China.
The reason the India-US nuclear deal was a good idea, at least the way it was sold to Congress, was that the deal would promote non-proliferation by bringing India into the fold of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its monitoring and regulation. But India only agreed to this on the condition that it would split its civil nuclear program from its military nuclear program, and that only the former would be subject to inspection and regulation.
The US also pushed through an exemption in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which allowed India to trade in nuclear material and technology even though it has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Signing the NPT is a prerequisite for participation in the NSG for every country except India. This blanket exemption drew concerns from the non-proliferation crowd. Their argument was that if India was supplied with enrichment and reprocessing technology for their civilian program, there was no mechanism preventing them from using that technology for their military program.
Makes sense, right? An inspection of a facility can establish whether or not the right amount of nuclear material is there, but how can an IAEA inspector determine whether a particular reprocessing method has been duplicated in a military facility that’s off limits?
It appears that the Obama administration is on board with this reasoning, because at last week’s NSG meeting, the US was apparently lobbying hard to pass restrictions on the trade of enrichment and reprocessing technology. It isn’t clear who said what, but these restrictions did not pass, and the only note we have on the record are two bullet points from the vague NSG release (pdf):
â€¢ Participating Governments agreed to continue considering ways to further strengthen guidelines dealing with the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies.
â€¢ The Group discussed practices used by Participating Governments addressing the challenges posed by the intangible transfer of technology and end-use control.
Similarly, the much-anticipated Chinese announcement that it would be supplying two nuclear reactors to Pakistan seems to have resulted in nothing official. The relevant bullet point:
â€¢ The Group took note of briefings on developments concerning non-NSG states. It agreed on the value of ongoing consultation and transparency.
The two new reactors would be added to the Chashma Nuclear Power Complex, started in 1991, which already houses two Chinese-built reactors. The Pakistani and Chinese governments argue that the two new reactors are part of an already existing agreement between the two countries which pre-date the NSG, which was created in 2004, and are therefore not subject to any NSG restrictions. The US argues that the two new reactors represent a new agreement rather than a continuation of the old agreement, and that it should be subject to NSG approval.
Reports that China not only avoided bringing up the agreement with Pakistan at the NSG meeting but flat out refused to answer questions from other countries seem to indicate that they will proceed without the NSG’s approval.
The way the Bush administration bullied the NSG into exempting India seems to have undermined the NSG’s legitimacy, and the Obama administration’s current backtracking doesn’t seem to be enough. China is now flouting the rules that the US bent. India made out like a bandit in the end, free to import uranium for its civilian program and use its domestic supply for bombs, and how that promotes non-proliferation is beyond me.
Here are some reactions to the proposed Chashma reactors:
In an editorial in The Dawn, Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy argues that Pakistan doesn’t need more facilities, it needs to make more efficient use of the facilities it already has.
Siddharth Varadarajan, who’s written extensively on the India-US nuclear deal for The Hindu, suggests that India should “[encourage] the international community to discuss the contours of an agreement that would lead to the orderly induction of Pakistan into the global nuclear regime” (The Hindu), making such an induction contingent on non-proliferation.
Former Indian Ambassador T.P. Sreenivasan argues in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that India and the US should protest the deal.
There are many other issues to discuss, and here are a few, briefly:
The issue of non-proliferation itself is fraught with power. Nuclear nations are constantly bickering between themselves about stopping the spread of nuclear weapons without leading by example in any sort of meaningful way.
What’s the big freaking deal if Pakistan gets two more reactors in Chashma? They seem to be managing the ones they already have just fine.
Nuclear energy itself. Is it really safe and clean? How to dispose of spent nuclear fuel?
Finally, I want to draw attention to an important article Siddharth Varadarajan wrote in The Hindu a few weeks ago which has to do with India’s ability to hold nuclear suppliers accountable for gross negligence:
At Washington’s request, the Manmohan Singh government has agreed to delete a key provision of the draft civil nuclear liability bill allowing American suppliers to be sued for recovery of damages in the event of an accident caused by gross negligence on their part.
The only window for legal action against a supplier of faulty or unsafe equipment is now Section 46 of the nuclear bill, which says the Act’s provisions “shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, any other law for the time being in force.” This, say Indian officials, will allow the filing of tort claims and even criminal charges in case a nuclear accident is caused by negligence on the part of the nuclear operator or its equipment suppliers.
But the draft bill contains no provisions to make the filing and pursuit of these claims or charges easier, raising the prospect of lengthy and eventually fruitless litigation of the sort the victims of the Bhopal gas disaster have had to endure for 25 years (The Hindu).