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Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, during an interview with The Hindu, in Mumbai on Friday.
“The corrective measures are what I describe as unspecified sovereign actions. We can decide at the appropriate point of time,” Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission told The Hindu in an exclusive interview in Mumbai on July 18. He was responding to a question asking him to spell out the “corrective measures” that India would take to ensure uninterrupted fuel supply for the nuclear power reactors that it would put under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s permanent safeguards.
In the interview, Dr. Kakodkar, who is also the Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, emphasised that “our agreeing to permanent safeguards is on the basis of permanent supplies [of fuel].” He also made the point that there were provisions in the India-specific safeguards agreement for “building up a stockpile [of fuel] to last for the full operating life of the reactors and our own ability to take corrective measures.”
Excerpts from the interview:
Question: The DAE is putting reactors under safeguards in perpetuity as a reciprocal measure or a quid pro quo for uninterrupted fuel supplies to those reactors. How is the uninterrupted fuel supply incorporated in the India-Specific Safeguards Agreement (ISSA) that you have concluded with the IAEA secretariat?
Dr. Kakodkar: Basically, you should understand that this safeguards agreement that we have developed with the IAEA has a background. The background is the civil nuclear cooperation that we have negotiated with the U.S., Russia, and France. Particularly that part of the understanding with the U.S., where we have agreed that we will identify some of our facilities as civilian facilities and that they will be placed under safeguards with an India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA. This also spells out that the facilities which are not identified as civilian will have no external hindrance of any sort.
So we are talking about the ISSA, which is an umbrella-document restricted to facilities that India identifies as civilian. Our identifying any facility as civilian is conditional on that facility benefiting from full civil nuclear cooperation. This will mean that the reactors we identify as civilian and place under safeguards under the ISSA will receive full, assured fuel supply from outside. We also have incorporated provisions for building up a stockpile [of fuel] to last for the full operating life of the reactors and our own ability to take corrective measures. So our agreeing to permanent safeguards is on the basis of permanent supplies [of fuel].
Why are the corrective measures unspecified in the ISSA? Why have you not explicitly spelt them out? What corrective steps will India take if the fuel supply is cut off?
The corrective measures are what I describe as unspecified sovereign actions. We can decide [them] at the appropriate point of time.
The corrective measures that we can take and the strategic fuel reserve that we can build up find mention only in the preamble to the ISSA. There is a fear that this will lack teeth because they are not mentioned in the operative part of the ISSA. Why did you not include them in the operative part?
That is not correct. I think that if we go by international law, it specifies that any agreement has to be seen as a whole. More specifically, the ISSA preamble is tightly linked with the operative portion.
If India were to conduct a nuclear test, it will attract the Hyde Act of the U.S. and the fuel supply for the reactors will be cut off. So what are the corrective measures that you will take?
As far as we are concerned, we are governed by the bilateral civil nuclear cooperation that we have negotiated.
With Russia, the U.S. and France?
I am talking about the U.S. I am talking about the 123 nuclear agreement that we have negotiated with the U.S. There is no mention of [nuclear explosive] tests in that text.
The ISSA does not grant us full, civil nuclear cooperation, which means that we will not get the technologies for reprocessing the spent fuel and uranium enrichment. How are you going to face this problem? Under the agreement with the U.S. for the first two Tarapur reactors, we had the right to reprocess the spent fuel from those two imported reactors. But we could never enforce that right with the U.S.
The safeguards agreement is an agreement between India and the IAEA, which was established at India’s request and it will apply to facilities that India will identify as civilian and ask the IAEA to safeguard. The ISSA covers reactors as well as fuel cycle facilities, including reprocessing.
You have said that the indigenous reactors that we put under safeguards are entitled to receive fuel supplies from abroad and that they would be under permanent safeguards. If that fuel supply is cut off and we use our own fuel, will those reactors continue to be under safeguards in perpetuity?
No, no. First of all, we would have built up a stockpile. There is no chance of stoppage of reactors because the stockpile will be available.
During that time [if the fuel supply stops], we can take necessary action.
You told me earlier that the India-Specific Safeguards Agreement should recognise India as a nuclear weapon State. Does it recognise India as a nuclear weapon State?
First of all, the title of the ISSA is that it is an agreement for India’s “civilian nuclear facilities.” Further, the text of the agreement provides for non-hindrance to facilities and activities which are not covered by the safeguards agreement. This clearly means that while the safeguards agreement is only for civilian facilities, India is free to pursue its own domestic development, including the development of its strategic areas.
The Hyde Act makes the specific requirement of “safeguards to be in perpetuity…in accordance with the IAEA document of GOV/1621 of August 20, 1973.” The ISSA also invokes GOV/1621, which makes it clear that the reactors we put under safeguards will be under safeguards in perpetuity even if we use domestic fuel for them.
GOV/1621 is about supplied materials and supplied facilities. As part of the cooperation agreement with other countries, we will ensure that the fuel is stockpiled to meet the lifetime requirement of our reactors.
If the IAEA Board of Governors clears the ISSA, what do you expect from the Nuclear Suppliers Group? You said earlier that you wanted clean, unconditional exemptions from the NSG.
We expect clean, unconditional exemptions for nuclear commerce with India.
The Department of Atomic Energy has agreed to put even research facilities and heavy water plants under safeguards. How are they different from the nuclear power reactors coming under safeguards?
As I told you, whatever we identify as civilian must also benefit from unrestricted, international cooperation. The research that we carry out in our autonomous research and development institutions should benefit from an environment of unrestricted scientific collaboration. When we declare something as civilian, the condition for that is that it should benefit from international civil nuclear cooperation. Our autonomous R and D institutions should benefit from unrestricted international scientific collaboration. We should also recognise that the activities of these institutions are irrelevant from the point of view of safeguards.
You are the father of thorium reactor technology in India. You said in Bangalore recently that if India could import 40,000 MWe of nuclear power between 2012 and 2020, we can wipe out the gap between the demand and the supply of power by 2050 – by building more fast breeder reactors using the spent fuel arising from these imported reactors. But you also said that thorium does not have properties that allow for faster growth of power generation. Media commentators have alleged that this amounts to India abandoning its third stage of building thorium-fuelled reactors.
Right from the beginning all the way up to now, there is absolutely no contradiction between my statements on thorium utilisation strategies.
These are based on detailed analyses and they remain valid. [Dr. R.] Ramachandran’s article in Frontline (August 1, 2008) is either from a result of lack of understanding or misinterpretation. The three-stage nuclear power development programme based on domestic efforts remains a priority activity and would be implemented unhindered.
To optimise the benefits of thorium utilisation, the timing of the introduction of thorium has to be judiciously planned. In any case, it has to follow significant build-up of nuclear power generation capacity through deployment of fast breeder reactors. The point to realise is the fact that India’s electricity requirements are growing faster. The gap between electricity demand and supply that can be managed on indigenous resources is widening and it would exceed 400,000 MWe by 2050.
The question that one needs to address is how soon we can bridge this gap through the growth potential that is possible with fast reactors. Clearly, this necessitates emphasis on deployment of fast breeder reactors with the shortest possible doubling time. The timing of the introduction of thorium needs to be adjusted such that the demand-supply gap is bridged at the earliest and at the same time, we derive full benefit of the vast energy potential of our thorium resources for centuries to come.
The import of 40,000 MWe of power as an additionality [to the domestic nuclear power programme] bridges not only this gap by 2050 but it would avoid the necessity of import of much larger fossil energy resources and at the same time enable earlier deployment of thorium, meeting the objectives stated above.
The point is even after we pursue the domestic three-stage nuclear power programme, which we will pursue on a priority basis in any case, there will be a gap of 400,000 MWe. If we introduce thorium earlier, this gap will become larger and the three-stage programme will become smaller. On the other hand, if we can get this 40,000 MWe from outside [by importing reactors], we can bridge this gap, and at the same time, we can advance the deployment of thorium.
Is the DAE delaying the start of the construction of the indigenous 700 MWe Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) and the criticality of the three new PHWRs of 220 MWe each at Rajasthan and Kaiga for want of uranium?
It is true that presently there is a mismatch in the demand and supply of indigenous natural uranium. But things are about to start improving now. The capacity factor of the reactors is about to start improving. This is because the production [of yellow cake from uranium] from the mill at Turamdih in Jharkhand will start coming in now. We are working on the uranium mining and milling project at Tummlapalle in Andhra Pradesh. I am hopeful about the Meghalaya uranium project. There are also other sites. Our efforts for increasing the domestic production of uranium are continuing.
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