Saturday, December 22, 2007

Circling The Water

I flagged these two articles last night but was a bit too bleary-eyed to comment on them. The first, from The Times of India, discusses France's interest in forging civil nuclear energy ties with India. The second, from The People's Daily Online, discusses the status of the stalled deal between Russia and India by which Russia would construct four civil nuclear reactors, in addition to the two already under way, at India's Koodankulam site.

Both arrangements, like the US-India deal, depend on India arriving at an agreement with the IAEA that would create an "India-specific" inspection regime, including an intrusive Additional Protocol. But as the IPS News wire reported, those discussions have hit a snag over India's insistence on an "uninterrupted supply" clause which would allow it to create a stockpile of nuclear fuel for use in the event of a disruption of imported supplies. The concern is that the stockpile would immunize India against sanctions in the event of, among other things, a nuclear weapons test, thereby undermining the IAEA's leverage that is about the only incentive, from the point of view of non-proliferation, for creating the India-specific status in the first place.

The entire situation reveals not only how fierce the competition over India's civilian nuclear energy market is, but also the tension that the lucrative market worldwide is placing on the increasingly fragile non-proliferation regime. For the time being, everyone has agreed to pay lip service to the IAEA's regulatory role under the NPT. But the IAEA has already reported Iran to the UN Security Council for non-compliance with its intrusive inspection obligations, which didn't keep Russia from delivering the first batch of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr reactor this week. Under such circumstances, France's rapid acceleration of its "nuclear checkbook diplomacy" is cause for concern. (It has already announced plans to supply Morocco and Libya with nuclear reactors, and its flagship nuclear power group, Areva, recently declared its goal of supplying a third of the reactors set to go online worldwide between now and 2030).

India obviously represents a major challenge to the non-proliferation regime, and as such, efforts to bring it into semi-compliance should not be rejected out of hand. With so many sharks circling the water, sometimes a less good solution is preferable to a very bad one. But semi-compliance is not the same as a legal fiction. And the worst possible outcome would be for an India-specific deal to serve as a disincentive for other countries to take the NPT seriously.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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