India is dramatically expanding its nuclear energy and its nuclear weapons – separately. Both are inevitable.
On the energy side, President Barack Obama and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached an agreement that will open the door to the sale of U.S. nuclear power plants and nuclear industry support to India, a step that could rejuvenate the American nuclear industry like nothing has in a long time. (Reuters).
There were other mutually-critical areas discussed by the two leaders during the President’s trip in addition to nuclear:
– Defense: developing cooperation through the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (Business Standard),
– Counterterrorism: cooperating on anti-terrorism and homeland security,
– Economic ties: through increased trade and investment, especially in infrastructure,
But the nuclear deal was the big one. When India developed their own atomic weapons in the 1970s, the relationship between America and India became rocky, to say the least. But nuclear energy is a huge part of India’s energy future, as a way to bring hundreds of millions of people up into the middle class without increasing the use of coal. Therefore, it was in the best interest of both countries to find a way to address the nuclear issues.
India’s nuclear industry is largely indigenous and relies mainly on small pressurized heavy-water reactors. The country rejected the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and was subsequently excluded from international nuclear trade as a result of the lack of safeguards brought in under the treaty by other countries.
This issue was corrected outside the non-proliferation treaty, and India was then able to buy uranium, nuclear fuel and services on the open market. As a result, the existing nuclear power plants in the country have attained record performance. The time is ripe for outside investment in nuclear and this agreement could not have come at a better time.
Over the next 25 years, India needs to raise about 800 million people up out of poverty by producing 3 trillion kWhs of electricity per year. That means India must triple its present power production by 2040. They plan on nuclear power to supply a considerable portion, as much as a third. And they want the United States to be a major contributor to this effort.
In particular, the nuclear agreement reached between Obama and Modi solved a six-year stalemate over India’s nuclear liability law that shut American nuclear firms out of the Indian market (Hindustan Times).
Under global norms, the primary liability lies with the power plant operator, but all nuclear power plants in India are run by the government-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL).
So India’s law made foreign equipment suppliers responsible for any future accidents.
That was not acceptable to foreign companies, especially in France and the United States, so the new plan stipulates that insurance is bought by the companies contracted to build the nuclear reactors who would then recoup the cost by charging more for their services. Thisoutcome was predicted by Neutron Byteslast fall.
Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said the new arrangement doesn’t require the nation to weaken its strict liability laws to which U.S. companies have objected in the past(Times of India, RT of Russia).
What is the size of the commercial nuclear market in India that this agreement opens up to American firms?
Six new reactors are under construction in India, and 40 more are planned. In just the next 20 years, India expects to increase its present nuclear fleet from 21 reactors, producing 5 GWe, to over 60 reactors producing 40 GWe (see figure above).
However, 100 reactors are planned by mid-century to produce the better part of a trillion kWhs per year. This represents almost a trillion dollars in likely nuclear builds and related industries. Competition for this market is fierce among the U.S., French, Russian, and South Korean nuclear companies, but the U.S. still does nuclear better than all the rest, and India has wanted to work with us for a long time.
Dr. Nachiketa Das, Professor of Geology at Ravenshaw University of Cuttack in India, feels that the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal signed by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi “will provide the much needed legitimacy to the entire nuclear establishment of India on the world stage.” Which translates into a big expansion of nuclear activity with many international partners.
The push to expand nuclear five-fold in India comes from coal still being the king, providing over 70% of the country’s electricity. Instead of building 500 new coal-fired power plants, India wants to build 100 new nuclear power plants. The government’s plan is ambitious but doable, especially with United States’ assistance.
At the same time, nuclear weapons are growing in India. Expansion of China’s nuclear weapons program, particularly the development of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) has stimulated India to do the same. Which has gottenPakistan all nervous. Throw in Russia’s fear of losing its nuclear edge over China, and the Asian continent could become an even more dangerous place (The 5 Most Dangerous Nuclear Threats No One Is Talking About; India’s Mobile Nuclear Launchers).
Increasing the standard of living in the world is the only way to reduce poverty and its evil stepchildren, war and terrorism. So expanding nuclear and all other forms of energy, is also a way to decrease tensions. But everyone has to benefit.
It will take some smart diplomacy, especially on the part of the United States, to pull this off without blowing up the whole continent.
That’s why the invitation to President Obama to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations was a truly historic event (Brookings). Being the chief guest is one of the most significant honors that India can bestow on any foreign leader, and it presages a closer relationship between the two countries.
Something the jostling pool of 2016 candidates needs to understand.
This article was written by James Conca from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.