India, China and NPT


Nuclear Abolition News | VOICES of the South on Globalization

- India has a flourishing nuclear power program and expects to have 20,000 MWe of nuclear capacity on line by 2020.
- China has electricity demand growing at 20 percent per year and a rapidly-expanding nuclear power program. Nuclear capacity of at least 40,000 MWe is planned by 2020.
- India is already self-sufficient in reactor design and construction and China has become so for second-generation units, but is importing Generation-3 plants. India's uranium resources are limited, so it is focusing on developing the thorium fuel cycle to utilise its extensive reserves of thorium.
- China's uranium resources are modest and it is starting to rely on imported uranium.

India is the world's largest democracy, with over one billion citizens. China has over 1.2 billion people. They epresent about half of the world's population which is rapidly increasing its energy, and particularly electricity, use. They both have well-considered policies to increase dramatically their use of nuclear power to make that electricity. Both see nuclear power as an important ingredient of sustainable development.

India's nuclear weapons program is described by its government as a necessary minimum deterrent in the face of regional nuclear threats that include a considerably larger Chinese nuclear arsenal as well as Pakistan's nuclear arms.

While India and China are alike in having large aspirations to produce clean energy in the 21st century using nuclear power, the two countries occupy quite different positions in relation to the NPT. China exploded its first weapon in 1964, and India did so in 1974. Between those dates, the NPT went into effect. Under its terms, China became recognised as one of the world's five 'weapon states'.

For its part, India was left with the choice of remaining outside the NPT or relinquishing any possibility of maintaining even a minimal nuclear deterrent. In the light of perceived strategic challenges from both China and Pakistan, India chose a nuclear deterrent. However, it has been scrupulous in ensuring that its weapons material and technology are guarded against commercial or illicit export to other countries. Pakistan has been conspicuously unscrupulous, and China has been sometimes unduly flexible. Meanwhile, international efforts to build a stronger non-proliferation regime had the effect of penalising India harshly.

The NPT itself requires only that internationally-traded nuclear material and technology be safeguarded - a condition that India has continually made clear it is willing to accept, even though it declines to disarm and join the NPT as a "non-weapon-state".

However, in 1992, in an effort to induce expanded participation in the NPT, the informal 'club' of nations called the Nuclear Suppliers Group decided - as a matter of policy, not law - to prohibit all nuclear commerce with nations that have not agreed to full-scope safeguards.

This precondition effectively requires countries to join the NPT as non-weapon-states if they are to participate in nuclear commerce. As a practical matter, this left India as as a pariah in the world of nuclear commerce.

India's response has been to intensify its embrace of the ethos of self-reliance as it continues its dual policy of maintaining a small nuclear deterrent while pursuing peaceful nuclear power on a ever-larger scale.

In October 2002 - while India was hosting a major conference of signatories to the International Framework Convention on Climate Change - the Indian Prime Minister called for a rational review of global nonproliferation policy. Specifically, he asked the international community to:

1. Focus on clandestine and illegal development and transfer of missile and nuclear technology;
2. Recognise that India's indigenous nuclear weapons program provides nothing more than a "minimum credible deterrent" that is necessary for its regional security and that India has not contributed to nuclear proliferation beyond its borders;
3. Take cognizance of the global environmental importance of India's civil nuclear power program and cooperate with it, using safeguards to ensure that all traded material is used for peaceful purposes; and
4. End its hypocrisy in relation to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. ("It is truly ironic that we are lectured on our moral obligations to clamp down on emissions while being denied international technology cooperation.")

In March 2006 India and the USA signed an agreement designed to put India on the same basis as China in relation to international trade in nuclear technology and materials. The agreement was finalised in July 2007, opening the way for India's participation in international commerce in nuclear fuel and equipment and requiring India to put most of the country's nuclear power reactors under IAEA safeguards and close down the Cirus research reactor by 2010. It would allow India to reprocess USorigin and other foreign-sourced nuclear fuel at a new national plant under IAEA safeguards. This would be for used fuel arising from those 14 reactors designated as unambiguously civilian and under full IAEA safeguards.

The IAEA Director General welcomed the agreement in 2006 as "an important step towards satisfying India's growing need for energy, including nuclear technology and fuel, as an engine for development." It would bring India closer as an important partner in the nonproliferation regime, he said, and would "also be a step towards the universalisation of international safeguards regime" and "timely for ongoing efforts to consolidate the non proliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism and strengthen nuclear safety."

– Clive Banerjee with report from the World Nuclear Association.