U.S.-India Nuke Transactions Go From Bad to Worse

“The United States has made new concessions as part of its civilian nuclear agreement with India,” Nicholas Kravlev reported for the Washington Times back in April, “while New Delhi has yet to make it possible for U.S. companies to benefit from the unprecedented deal. … Washington agreed to Indian demands to increase the number of plants allowed to reprocess U.S.-supplied nuclear fuel from one to two [in order to] avoid long-distance transportation of dangerous materials. Arms control experts denounced the new deal saying it adds to the “damage” done by the original agreement.”

For those unfamiliar with how damaging that was, Kralev reminds us that “the Bush administration went against established norms and allowed a country that has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to use U.S.-supplied fuel to make plutonium, though for strictly civilian purposes.”

Nor is it just the arms control crowd for which the United States engaging in nuclear commerce with India presents a problem. As Colum Lynch reported in his UN blog “Turtle Bay” at Foreign Policy . . .

“There is mistrust,” said Egypt’s U.N. ambassador, Maged A. Abdelaziz [according to whom] the five major nuclear powers are [among other things] permitting a special group of nations — India, Israel, and Pakistan — a free pass to produce nuclear weapons, without having to abide by the obligations of signatories to the NPT. “States outside the treaty are reaping the benefits of the treaty,” he said.

As Andrew Lichterman and M.V. Ramana write in Beyond Arms Control (2010, Critical Will):

“Procedurally, if such a deal were to be agreed to at all, it should have been voted on by all states parties to the NPT rather than just by” those few states that compose the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). “By its very constitution, the NSG, consisting mostly of countries that engage in and profit from nuclear commerce, is a biased body, not suited to decide on the future of non-proliferation norms. … There is a sour irony in the NSG making such an exception for India, since the trade cartel was formed largely in response to India exploding a nuclear device in 1974. [Emphasis added.]

Meanwhile, what’s this about New Delhi yet to make it possible for U.S. companies to benefit from the original deal? Disarmament considerations aside, is America being played by India? More likely, the aftershocks from Bhopal have yet to cease reverberating. As Kralev wrote in his Washington Times piece, “India thus far has failed to pass legislation that would release U.S. companies from liability in case of accidents [in the] two reactors expected to be built” under the original agreement.

Presumably, though, U.S., as well as Indian, corporations expect to ultimately prevail. Lichterman and Ramana again: “. . . the nuclear deal is part of a broader set of [U.S.-Indian] agreements [which] US-based multinationals are. . . hoping to use. . . as a wedge to further open India to foreign investment and sales.” Of course . . .

In light of the spiraling collapse of the US financial sector, the notion that opening India to its particular brand of radically deregulated, short-term profit-driven “financial services” will promote “economic stability” is highly suspect. [Read: laughable. – RW] … The effect of the US-India deal. . . will be to bind India to a development path favourable to particular elements in the US political and economic elite and to their Indian counterparts. … nuclear power is most useful for serving. . . the consumption needs of the elites who profit from them. It has far less promise, however, for solving the energy needs of the vast majority of India’s population. … Nuclear power, as the most expensive form of centralized electricity generation, is an inefficient way to deliver energy to this population living in villages spread out over a vast country side.

Meanwhile, whither sustainable development in this equation? Lichterman and Ramana explain that “use of decentralized, renewable energy technologies in India [would be] economically efficient. . . self-reliant. . . and environmentally sound [and would promote] innovation and bring down prices.”

We’ll end with another irony to bookend the earlier instance cited by Lichterman and Ramana in which the Nuclear Suppliers Group made an exception for the state (India) in response to whose explosion of a nuclear device the NPG was, in large part, formed. “But even in terms of the urban rich,” they write, “the reality is that nuclear power in India has been mostly a failure. [It generates] less than one percent of its total energy needs. This is unlikely to grow significantly.”

Between India’s elites failing to see the return they expected, its masses denied both energy and sustainable development, and U.S. plans thwarted at the moment by the Indian legislature, it looks like the India-U.S. nuclear deal has thus far been a lose-lose-lose deal.