N-deal with US must for Indian economy: Kasturirangan(Interview)

June 26th, 2008 - 12:42 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of ISRO
By Aroonim Bhuyan
Dubai, June 26 (IANS) India must finalise the civil nuclear deal with the United States to maintain its reputation as an economic power, says K. Kasturirangan, a renowned space scientist and director of the Bangalore-based National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS). “This (the nuclear deal) is a most favourable situation and should be fully capitalised. It will allow us to work with a country that has very advanced technology,” Kasturirangan, who was in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to attend a conference in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, told IANS in an interview.

The Padma Vibhushan recipient, who is former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said it was critical for India to finalise the deal. He dismissed fears expressed by some political parties that it would compromise India’s nuclear security.

“It is very critical for India to have this deal fructify if we want to have 60,000-100,000 MW of nuclear power in our energy mix in the next 25 to 50 years,” he said.

The India-US nuclear deal has been stalled by serious differences over it between the ruling United Progressive Alliance and its Leftist allies who give crucial support to the government from outside.

Stating that India had recognised three decades ago that nuclear power would have to be an important component of the country’s energy mix, Kasturirangan said: “From the available uranium resources in our country, nuclear power can only yield a maximum of 10,000 MW of power, which is less than three percent of the power generated.”

India generates around 140,000 MW of power now.

Going into the technicalities of India’s nuclear power programme, he said the country had planned a three-stage nuclear power plan long ago, starting with uranium enrichment.

“We started with a pressurised heavy water reactor that needed uranium with enrichment that was not high. With such a reactor, we realised that generating more than 10,000 MW of power would be difficult,” Kasturirangan said.

“So we wanted to look for an area which could give us the maximum of a nuclear fuel - which is thorium,” he said, adding that India had 40 percent of the world’s thorium reserves.

However, he said to reach the thorium stage, India needed top technology, which it could get only if it signed the deal with the US.

“India has its indigenous capabilities (to develop its nuclear power programme). This has to develop on its own and is a must. But developing indigenous capabilities to global levels would need enormous research,” Kasturirangan said.

Which is why, he said, the proposed deal with the US will help India a lot.

“Any time there has been international collaboration, it has always benefited both sides. International collaboration has the advantage of accelerating technology development. In such cases, one plus one does not necessarily result in two but much more than that because a lot of resource and experience come from both sides,” he said.

Elaborating on India’s nuclear development programme, he said: “After pressurised water (uranium), we have to move to the second stage which is the fast breeder reactor through which uranium is converted to plutonium. From plutonium you get U235, which will get you through to thorium.

“We haven’t reached the second stage yet, but hope to reach there in a few years’ time. And the thorium route is still far away.”

It is in this context, he explained, that it was crucial that the India-US nuclear deal had to be clinched quickly.

“I don’t see any other way that is feasible,” he said. “We need to have means by which we get more uranium and other nuclear fuel. We need to buy more reactors to upgrade our current capacity. We need to accelerate the process of three-phased (nuclear programme) development and any input from outside will be useful.”

Speaking about the benefits of the much-touted 123 clause of the proposed US-India civilian nuclear deal, he said: “First, it will allow us to discuss with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). Second, it will help make a clear distinction between which of our reactors are safeguarded and which are not.

“Thirdly, we can talk with the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) comprising 44 countries, which will help us receive reactors, components for reactors and nuclear fuel.”

Asked about fears that the deal would compromise India’s nuclear security, he said: “That is because they (those expressing concern) wanted to know whether we will be allowed to explode further nuclear devices to perfect our nuclear weapons programme. But, if you go by the statement of our former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Rajagopala Chidambaram, we don’t need any more nuclear testing.”

The NIAS director said that even if India needed further nuclear testing, there were other ways.

“We can go about it through a negotiated process. Or else, the most that can happen is they (the US) will pull out of the deal. Even then we can develop our programme with help from other countries. So what are we gaining and what are we losing?”

“My concern is whether India will lose its status of an economic power in Asia that it has gained by the high levels of growth we are maintaining now. If you can’t maintain this power, where is the need to talk about autonomy (in nuclear security) and such issues,” he said.

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