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Nuclear issues and Iran will figure significantly in Putin-Manmohan talks

N. Ram

Koodankulam power project under construction is a model of equity and dependability

— AP

For Cementing ties: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reviews a guard of honour during an official welcome ceremony at the Vnukovo airport in Moscow on Sunday.

Moscow: Russia, with its strong nuclear energy capabilities, advanced technology, including in the field of breeder reactors, and fuel supply arrangements and plans, should be an attractive interlocutor and partner for an India that is desperately keen on getting the tap of international civilian nuclear supplies opened. For it is low-enriched uranium supplied by Russia that keeps the United States-supplied Tarapur reactors going. The Koodankulam nuclear power project under construction is a model of equity and dependability: India accepts IAEA safeguards in perpetuity and, in return, Russia absolutely guarantees the supply of low-enriched uranium fuel and other essential items for the light water reactors, come what may.

There was some talk of Russian willingness to build four additional reactors at Koodankulam under the 1988 grandfather agreement, which would mean that all India would need to do was to conclude the customary safeguards with the International Atomic Energy Agency. What is not clear is whether this was a real Russian suggestion or at least a possibility that was seriously explored. However, although nuclear energy establishment chief Anil Kakodkar is part of the official delegation on this visit and could have some nuclear business up his sleeve, the indications from the onboard briefing were that it would not be possible to get these four additional reactors without getting the Nuclear Suppliers Group to change its guidelines.

One interesting prospect that has not been explored adequately by the Manmohan Singh government is participation in the Angarsk International Uranium Enrichment Centre in southeastern Siberia. Russia is promoting this actively as a component of the Global Nuclear Power Infrastructure (GNPI) initiative that President Putin unveiled in January 2006 (See the article, “The nuclear deal and a Russian initiative,” by Science Correspondent R. Ramachandran published in The Hindu of July 26, 2007, and accessible at www.thehindu.com.) Interestingly, Kazakhstan, with its rich reserves of natural uranium, is a partner in the enterprise. The question is whether the soft-spoken Dr. Kakodkar has been brought along on this visit essentially to correct a situation where official India has been lukewarm in its interest in what looks like a very promising nuclear fuel cycle initiative.

Confrontational stakes

And where does the Manmohan Singh government stand on Iran as the Bush administration raises the confrontational stakes? After all, President Putin, who recently visited Tehran, has come up with a strong position of opposing harsh sanctions and war mongering against Iran. Where precisely does India stand on this major international issue, after its 2005 volte-face at the IAEA Board of Governors? In response to this question, Foreign Secretary Menon said India wished to underline the need for “a peaceful negotiated settlement.” Iran was expected to figure significantly in the high-level talks on Monday and “we will get back to you after the discussions.” We can only wait and see how this goes.

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