Amid festering unease about the safety of nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, India has underlined its ambitious plans to scale up atomic electricity production, with the global atomic watchdog lauding New Delhi’s non-proliferation and safety track record.
Dr Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visited India’s key nuclear facilities in Mumbai and held talks with senior Indian officials, including Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.
“The reason why I am visiting India is simple. India is an extremely important partner for the IAEA. It has an extensive nuclear programme, very much advanced in the nuclear application for peaceful purposes, helping other countries and a good record of non-proliferation and safety,” Amano said at a joint media interaction with Mathai after holding talks in New Delhi March 13.
The IAEA chief’s endorsement should come in handy for the Manmohan Singh government which is locked in an information war with critics and protesters who are not convinced about India’s nuclear safety standards, specially at the Russia-built Kudankulam nuclear power plant.
Indian officials familiar with the talks said there was a meeting of minds with the global nuclear watchdog’s top diplomat on the viability and necessity of nuclear electricity in emerging countries like India which suffer from a major power crunch.
Dr Amano was also all praise for innovative peaceful uses of nuclear energy by Indian scientists in areas of health, agriculture and water desalination. Envisaging India as an important partner in nuclear security, the IAEA chief said: “The nuclear techniques are very useful to promote the global development agenda and your country is using this technology for the development of your country but also helping other countries and I am very grateful for the contribution that India is extending to other countries.”
“India is also a very important partner in nuclear security, nuclear security means to prevent fissile material and radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists,” he said.
In a refreshingly realistic appraisal of the future of nuclear energy, Dr Amano busted some myths that have proliferated after the March 11, 2011 Fukushima radiation disaster, triggering global alarm about atomic safety.
“I visited India in January 2011, two months before the Fukushima accident. Things have changed a lot and I had to work a lot to address this Fukushima accident,” he said. “There are things that have not changed. The use of nuclear power for the generation of electricity continues to be a very important option.”
Above all, he effectively punctured the crowning myth about “the end of nuclear power.” “There is a misunderstanding that the Fukushima accident should mean the end of nuclear power or should mean the decline of the use of nuclear power,” he underlined.
The IAEA has projected a minimum 23% increase of nuclear electricity production by the end of 2013. “That is the minimum estimate. According to our high estimate, there would be 100% increase. So double the present. The reason is very clear.”
“The basic situations or conditions like the need to mitigate global warming effect, ensuring energy security, or mitigate the effect of volatile fossil fuel price and in many countries they need to stay economically competitive or need to secure energy for development.”
Mathai, who was India’s ambassador to France when New Delhi struck its first nuclear deal with Paris September 30, 2008, following the historic waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, conjured up an upbeat picture of India’s burgeoning nuclear power industry.
“India views nuclear energy as an essential element of its national energy basket and is committed to taking forward its three stage nuclear programme based on a closed fuel cycle,” he said.
“As a major nuclear industry country with the capability to produce all items for a complete nuclear fuel cycle, India is committed to maintaining the highest export control standards,” he said. “Our nuclear safety track record has been impeccable. India is committed to continuous improvement and innovation in our nuclear safety standards and practices to maintain public confidence in nuclear power as a clean and safe energy source,” he said.
The global nuclear rapprochement of India in the last five years has been nothing but spectacular. Once derided as a nuclear pariah and rule-breaker, the NSG, the exclusive club of 45 nations which controls the global nuclear trade, awakened to manifold advantages of getting India inside the tent.
In a historic move, the NSG allowed India to resume global nuclear commerce Sept 6, 2008, after a hiatus of more than three decades. The US led this process of India’s global nuclear entente, with major powers and key players in the NSG following suit.
Ever since the historic India-US nuclear deal, struck in 2005 and sealed in 2008, India has signed civil nuclear deals with more than half a dozen countries. What was unthinkable once may become reality in the not too distant future: more and more countries are backing membership of India in key multilateral nuclear bodies, including the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.