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India can build fast breeder reactors: Burns

Amit Baruah

Understanding a esoteric arrangement


  • Says India will preserve part of its nuclear industry to service its nuclear weapons programme
  • The entire civilian nuclear sector will be opened up to international inspection

    NEW DELHI: India can build fast breeder reactors in future to produce nuclear weapons and its strategic programme will be "walled off," the United States has conceded.

    " ... India could build reactors that would service their nuclear weapons industry," U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told a press briefing on Thursday.

    Asked whether India could have non-civilian breeder reactors, Mr. Burns, who revealed that talks on securing a civilian nuclear understanding had stretched till 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, said: "And ... the answer is yes, they could build facilities to service the nuclear weapons programme, but the great majority of the growth we think will come on the civilian side."

    "It's not a perfect deal in the sense that we haven't captured 100 per cent of India's nuclear programme. That's because India is a nuclear weapons power, and India will preserve part of its nuclear industry to service its nuclear weapons programme. But the majority of the programme will now come under international inspection. And we think that is a tremendous and positive gain for us," he stressed.

    Describing the understanding reached as a "complex and esoteric arrangement," Mr. Burns said India's entire civilian nuclear sector, however, would be opened up to international inspection.

    " ... India will have international trade and investment into that civil[ian] sector and the entire civil[ian] sector will be opened up to international inspection. But the nuclear weapons sector of their programme will not be open to trade and investment or safeguards. And so that's going to be walled off. And that's important. The United States has not recognised formally India as a nuclear weapons state and that's important. But we do recognise the need for nuclear power in this country."

    He said the U.S. had committed to India on Thursday to "work very hard" to help ensure a continuous and reliable supply of nuclear fuel to India.

    Briefing the American press, he said: "First of all, we have a bilateral agreement now to negotiate, and we will embed in that bilateral agreement assurances that we will seek to help India secure fuel for its nuclear reactors."

    "Second, we have agreed that India and the United States will approach the IAEA for a multilateral regime to supply fuel for India. Third, we've agreed to set up a council of advisers — India and the United States and other countries — so that if there is ever a threat of interruption of supply, those countries could meet to figure out how to maintain supply to India."

    Under safeguards

    According to Mr. Burns, India will put a majority of its civilian nuclear power reactors under safeguards and that will be phased-in between 2006 and 2014.

    "Second, they said that in the future, as they construct nuclear power plants, all the civil thermal and breeder reactors would be put under safeguards. Third, they said they would enter into permanent safeguard arrangements with the International Atomic Energy Agency. We have now achieved a degree of transparency and oversight and impact on the Indian nuclear programme that was not possible for three decades," he said.

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