Moscow reacts positively to U.S.-Indian "nuclear tango"

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - It appears that India and the United States have started a mutual "nuclear tango" during the July 7-9 G8 summit at the Toyako resort area in Hokkaido, Japan. Under the proposed deal, New Delhi will gain access to U.S. uranium and nuclear technology.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has told U.S. President George W. Bush that his government is ready to railroad the 2007 U.S.-Indian nuclear energy cooperation agreement through parliament.

Singh also negotiated this issue in Hokkaido with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao, because Moscow and Beijing are members of the Nuclear Club, the UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Although it takes two to tango, the U.S-Indian "nuclear tango" is something special because at least four other partners are waiting for Washington and New Delhi to take the first step. Russia is among them but it is not worried about India's possible involvement in the U.S. nuclear program.

Moscow will have to compete against Washington on uranium markets.

If the bilateral nuclear deal goes through, then the United States would enter the Indian nuclear market, which is worth an estimated $60-100 billion.

India, which has refused to join the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) and the IAEA, exploded its first nuclear device in 1974. The last test was conducted in 1998 and was followed by a moratorium, still effective today.

Pakistan and Israel have also refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty; and North Korea rejected the document after quarrelling with the IAEA.

The Indian Prime Minister is staking his own reputation and the reputation of his cabinet on the deal, and is also risking an early general election. He has completely wrecked the parliamentary coalition in order to obtain majority backing for the bill.

Diplomats in Vienna said off the record that the IAEA Board of Governors was planning to discuss this issue on July 28. New Delhi has chosen Washington as its main partner in order to access the IAEA on special terms. Under the relevant inspection agreement, India will implement military and civilian nuclear programs, allowing IAEA experts to inspect its civilian facilities.

Although the U.S. Congress approved the bilateral agreement last year, the document's final version, due to be coordinated with the IAEA and the NSG, will only be submitted to Congress this September, after the summer break.

Considering the packed Congressional schedule, U.S. legislators may not examine the agreement before the November presidential elections. The new White House Administration could revise the agreement because of allegations that America is giving too much to India and demanding too little in return.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India is telling the national parliament that the country would become completely subordinated to the United States and would be prevented from conducting independent military and nuclear policies.

However, Indian nuclear scientists and power industry workers have every reason to support the agreement.

India, an emerging industrial powerhouse, is suffering from snowballing energy shortages. It will have to generate 200% more power, or 440 gigawatts, by 2017 simply in order to maintain the current 8% growth rates.

Geographic factors, the direction of India's rivers and its teeming 1.2 billion population mean that hydroelectric and thermal plants will not be enough to meet rising national energy demands.

New Delhi wants the national nuclear power industry to generate 20-30 gigawatts by 2020. To achieve this target India, which annually produces just 300 metric tons of uranium, will require 4,000 metric tons for its nuclear reactors per year. But the country's confirmed deposits contain just 70,000 metric tons of uranium, and will be depleted in 15 years. That makes uranium imports inevitable.

Although the United States cannot completely meet Indian energy demand, it will tie the country to its nuclear fuel and technology.

According to Western analysts, Russia will, nonetheless, control at least 25% of India's nuclear power market.

Moscow and New Delhi have made headway in the sphere of civilian nuclear power. Russia is completing two 1,000 MW reactors at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu and has agreed to build four more reactors and supply additional nuclear technology and equipment.

A Russian-Indian agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy could be approved as soon as New Delhi signs safeguard agreements with the IAEA and the NSG. France, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom have also drafted similar agreements.

In effect, the world's nuclear powers are rushing to enter the Indian market.

Moscow has frequently supplied uranium to India, eventually incurring considerable pressure from other NSG members, who demanded that it must not violate established rules of the game.

In 2001, Russia delivered uranium to India's Tarapur nuclear plant in Maharashtra. However, subsequent pressure forced Moscow to suspend uranium shipments until 2006 and to coordinate their terms with Washington.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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