By Aishwarya Mohapatra

Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

Indian PM Narendra Modi’s latest visit to Japan revolved around the central theme of India’s development and progress, and what Japan can do as a potential partner to help pave the way for India’s economic transformation. In this context, once again, India’s situation regarding nuclear deals with other countries and its stand on the Non-Proliferation Treaty made headlines all around the world.

To provide a little background on the subject: India is the world’s largest democracy, and with a population of 1.3 billion, energy demands are fast outpacing the supply. India looks to using nuclear energy to dramatically meet the energy needs of this mammoth population, and already has a flourishing nuclear power program in place. According to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, India operates 20 small reactors at 6 cities with a capacity of 4780 MW, which is 2 percent of its total power capacity. The government is looking to have 15000 MW of nuclear capacity in line by 2020 and subsequently 63000 MW by 2032, by adding a total of 30 reactors to the count. The country is already self–sufficient in reactor design and construction, however, limited uranium reserves in the country mean that India needs to import uranium from other countries. Since early 1990s, Russia has been a major supplier of nuclear fuel. Uranium supply agreements are also in place with Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Namibia. After a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008, India also signed bilateral deals on civilian nuclear energy and cooperation with the US, the UK, Canada and South Korea.

India had been hoping to win over Japan for a nuclear pact between the two countries, and lure Japanese nuclear technology firms like Toshiba and Hitachi into India’s fast-growing market. It would be a great opportunity for the Japanese players, as following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, there was a huge anti-nuclear backlash in Japan.

Though it seems there has been “significant progress” regarding the prospect of a nuclear deal between the two countries, officials are still tight lipped on this issue. Japan wants an explicit guarantee from India that it would not conduct any more nuclear tests. Understandably, as the only country in the world which has suffered a nuclear attack, Japan has always championed nuclear disarmament.

However, India has a unique standing as one of the three countries in the world (India, Pakistan and Israel) that have not yet signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) despite possessing nuclear capabilities. The NPT recognizes the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, Russia, UK, France and China) as nuclear-weapon states and the rest as non-nuclear weapon states. In a nutshell, the entire treaty is based on the central premise that non-nuclear states would agree never to acquire nuclear weapons, while in exchange; the nuclear-weapon states would agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology, while always pursuing the aim of finally eliminating their nuclear arsenals.

The Indian government describes the nuclear weapons program as a minimal deterrent against potential threats in the region – a much larger Chinese nuclear arsenal, as well as that of Pakistan, who is always competing with India when it comes to the number of nuclear warheads owned by each country. China carried out the first nuclear test in 1964, while India did the same in 1974. The NPT went into effect in 1970, and thus China was officially recognized as a nuclear power, while India was excluded from this status. Hence, India faced two choices: it could give up the choice of having any kind of deterrent, or remain outside the treaty. India chose the latter. In 1992, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) took a policy decision that only non-nuclear weapon states identified by the NPT could participate in international nuclear commerce, a decision that stunted India’s nuclear energy growth prospects. It was only in 2008 that NSG allowed nuclear exports to India, following which bilateral civilian nuclear agreements with other countries came into effect. This decision allowed India to effectively be recognized as a nuclear power existing along with the NPT ecosystem, if not within it.

The Indo-Japan nuclear deal has huge economic and strategic prospects at stake – Japan manufactures key components needed to set up nuclear power plants, which can be effectively used to operationalize civil nuclear pacts with other countries. Hence India has sought extensively to address Japan’s concerns over this issue. After all, India was able to drive a civilian nuclear deal with US on the basis of its clean non-proliferation record and an unwavering commitment to the guarding of its weapons and technology against illicit export to other countries, which is consistent with guidelines laid down by Article 1 of the NPT, something which has been flouted by neighbors like Pakistan and China many times.

Negotiations with Japan had started in 2010 on both sides, however the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 proved to be a setback to the discussions. The prospective deal once again was brought to the forefront in late 2013 between the two countries, and even a change of command at the Indian Centre has not slowed the negotiations down this time.

Once again, as the country’s unique standing on NPT was debated globally in the wake of Modi’s Japan visit, Indian PM used the Japanese platform to essentially send out the message that India is not on-board the NPT as it is flawed. Perhaps more focus should be given to India’s commitment to safeguarding the nuclear weapons and technology program, given the “DNA of non-violence” ingrained in the Indian mindset for thousands of years. The Modi government seeks to reassure Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, regarding the Indian weapons program, and is also considering a separate Japanese proposal for a commitment not to test nuclear weapons.

One thing is very clear to Indian officials – rather than rush the process, which is at a sensitive stage at the moment, the Modi government is fortifying the foundations well before arriving at a bigger-than-ever nuclear energy pact between the two countries.

Aishwarya is a Graduate in Manufacturing Science and Engineering from IIT Kharagpur. She is a hardcore rebel through and through, and loves taking the not-much-thought-of side of things. Her philosophy is “A good laugh a day keeps the doctor away.” A keen lover of books, she writes – whether it is logical prose or irrational poetry. She is passionate about theology, spirituality and women’s rights. She likes meeting new people and learning about new cultures. She can be reached at her email (ash.kgp@gmail.com) or her blog (aishwarya-23@tumblr.com)

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind