The Indian Economy Blog

December 4, 2006

US India Nuclear Deal: When Economic Dreams Meet Geopolitical Reality

Filed under: Business,Energy,Environment,Politics,Science and Technology — Nandan Desai @ 4:38 am

If you go to the NASA website, you can see beautiful satellite pictures of the earth at night. If you look carefully where the lights are, it says a lot about where the world economy is today. Europe is probably the most uniformly luminous; but not as bright as the eastern part of the US and its western coastline. Africa is almost completely in the dark. Latin America is lit, but mostly along the coasts. One can also see Asia’s economic story in the picture: vast swaths, including most of Russia, Tibet, and the Middle East are unlit. Japan looks like a shining moon in the middle of the pacific. The southern part of the Korean peninsula is bright, the north completely dark. China’s lights shine on the coast and slowly fade inland. India is full of a million dull lights, with a few bright spots.

Earth at Night - NASA

To me, the picture highlights the obvious point that wealth, economic growth, and energy use are fundamentally intertwined: where there is wealth or growth, energy is needed the most. If we could somehow see that picture evolve over the past 50 years, I am almost certain that we would see Europe, Japan, and the US brighten as their economies grew, with the rest of Asia emerging towards the tail end. The point of this silly astronomy lesson is simply to say that if India wants to grow at the pace necessary to lift our millions out of poverty within two or three decades, we’re going to have to power that growth – with lots of electricity and fuel; and hopefully some alternative methods too.

Currently, the average Indian consumes 0.9 barrels of oil, 31.5 cubic meters of natural gas, and 610 kilowatt hours of electricity every year – and these numbers are going up by 4.5% – 5% annually. Add to that 1% annual population growth, and our total energy needs

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will increase by about 5.5% – 6% a year. This year, we will produce about 90% of our natural gas and 30% of our petroleum domestically, and import the rest. Capacity addition over the last few years has been quite rapid, but not nearly

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fast enough to keep up with the growth of demand. Judging by current rates of capacity addition, and borrowing some projections from the EIA, by 2020 we will have to import 20% of our natural gas, and 80% of our oil; by 2030 those numbers will be around 30% and 90%, respectively.

A parallel problem is our pending electricity shortage. As far as I know, electricity cannot (and probably should not) be imported – it has to come from coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, and wind power plants at home. Even if we add power plants at the fast rate that we have over the last few years, demand will still outstrip our production capacity within another five years (It also doesn’t help that, at last check, our transmission and distribution losses were an astounding 27% of output) – by 2020 the shortage will be about 13% of demand, 25% by 2030. Right now, we have enough installed capacity to produce about 80,000 mw of electricity a year, and it is growing at about 5% a year. Consumption is currently at 75,000 mw, but is growing at about 6.5% a year. This

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by 2020, and 70,000 mw by 2030.

This is by far the biggest reason why signing the nuclear deal into law is extremely important for India. Right now, only 3% of our electricity production is from thermonuclear generation. Following the approval of the deal in the Senate, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) announced that it planned to add 20,000 mw of capacity by 2020 and 50,000 mw by 2030. These sums are not trivial – they represent 10% and 15% of our projected electricity demand, respectively. While these alone still don’t cover the projected shortfall, the smaller margins (3% in 2020, 10% in 2030) can probably be made up for by an increased pace of capacity expansion propecia controindicazioni gravidanza (or, less

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favorably, by a mild recession).

The nuclear deal achieves two basic things: it hitches our foreign policy wagon for the time-being to the US, and it allows us a clear path towards energy security. In an important sense, it is foreign policy and economic policy rolled into one. Despite seemingly overwhelming support in the US Congress and in India, there are still loud critics on both sides. Publications like the New York Times and the Economist are urging that the deal be made contingent on a cap in India’s strategic arsenal (obviously a non-starter), and if that doesn’t work, that the other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) not follow the US’ lead. In India, critics from the BJP and CPIM are urging the government to back out of the deal because it infringes on India’s ability to pursue an independent foreign policy (which is essentially a way of saying, ‘Don’t align our interests with America’s’). While the argument that this deal may damage the Non-proliferation Treaty is reasonable; I would argue that the NPT was flawed from the beginning – both in being inherently unfair to India, and being completely ineffective (as demonstrated by Iran and North Korea’s unbridled march towards nuclear weapons).

The contention by those in India that we should back out of the deal because it impinges our sovereignty, however, is a shallow argument. The agreement represent somewhat of a turning point in Indian foreign policy. Through

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most of the past 60 years, our foreign policy has been predicated on two basic instincts. Firstly, there was a perpetual insecurity about transgressions on our sovereignty. This is understandable given our colonial experience, and our wars with China and Pakistan. Secondly, there was a tendency towards moralizing – using foreign policy to reward the “good guys” and punish or ignore the “bad.”

The deal marks a turning point because it is made purely out of economic self-interest. It understands the compromises required: align with an unpopular America, and join the global nuclear security architecture (via IAEA inspections, etc.) which we have thus far studiously avoided. This is precisely the approach to foreign policy which is required if we are to meet our energy needs. It has the added benefit that it will increase our influence in global affairs (which should help in trade negotiations, etc.), but it will also impose on us certain basic responsibilities and transparency requirements.

The remaining Indian critics of the deal must understand two fundamental realities about India and the world today. Firstly, if the emerging geopolitical realignment between energy exporters like Iran, Venezuela, and Russia; and

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energy importers like Europe, the US, Japan, etc. continues, India will invariably end up on the latter side. Secondly, we need rapid economic growth in order to fight poverty, create jobs, and clomid online develop our resources, and we face relatively severe electricity constraints in trying to achieve

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that level of growth. We will need big, out-of-the-box ideas to deal with this, and the agreement is a big step in that direction.

It is, in not so many words, the best way forward. If you’re still in doubt, take a look at that picture again, and think about what you would like India to look like from space in another 20 years.


  1. “with lots of electricity and fuel; and hopefully some alternative methods too.”

    Alternative methods are necessary. Otherwise, there wont be a map to look for in the future.

    Comment by Alex — December 4, 2006 @ 11:53 am

  2. I agree that energy expansion is critical to our economic growth but am still unsure of my stance on the Nuclear deal. On one hand it is a way for us to come closer to acheiving our energy needs but on the other hand it increases the risk of rogue nuclear states with close geographical proximity by destroying the NPT. Though NPT may be flawed it is still the only framework we have to prevent proliferation. It has, however minimally, been a net positive in reducing the risk of Nuclear war. Do you beleive that the NPT has been minimally effective? What are the macro foreign policy risks of this deal?

    Comment by Azeem Zainulbhai — December 4, 2006 @ 12:09 pm

  3. Excellent post, very eloquent.

    Rather than showing Iran, and North Korea as examples of the shortcomings of the NPT. You should cite Pakistan, and Isreal. Both are nuclear states as a result of technology transfers from 2 of the 5 main members of the NPT.

    I don’t think the NPT has been marginally effective in preventing proliferation. An alternative treaty which does not discriminate between those who are allowed to have weapons and those who are not, might have actually served to disarm nuclears states rather than simply slow the growth of new ones as the NPT has.

    Comment by Patel — December 4, 2006 @ 12:39 pm

  4. [...] With the aid of a NASA Satellite image of the World at night, Nanubhai at The Indian Economy Weblog demonstrates that wealth, economic growth, and energy use are fundamentally intertwined. [...]

    Pingback by DesiPundit » Archives » Economic Dreams And Geopolical Reality — December 4, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

  5. You clearly argue for the importance of energy security to meet the development challenge India is facing, which definitely involves coming up with \’out of the box\’ ideas that can be implemented, alternative sources like wind power for instance, in addition to subsantially upgrading the conventional energy infrastructure through private investment. Oil & gas have been at least adding capacity, in electricity the shortage is so acute it will affect India\’s economic growth in a few years.

    Still it is a big leap to use this as a justification for the Indo-US nuclear deal, which tries to establish trust in the US-India bilateral relationship by creating this special exception for nuclear & satellite technology transfer to India in exchange for foreign policy alignment with the United States on key political issues.

    Selling out political independence for economic gain? You would imply here that it is necessary. But obviously not all Indians agree. The CPI is usually reflexively anti-American but here it is raising a fair point against the idea that Indian sovereignty be compromised in any way. This is not false patriotism, but a genuine belief that it is not in India\’s interest to sign this deal and ally itself with the US in the long term. India is definitely facing an energy crisis. But that should hardly be the main reason we become allies with one of the most polarizing countries, with consequences that are not in our interest.

    Comment by Motabhai — December 4, 2006 @ 8:28 pm

  6. Thanks for comments.

    Alex: I 100% agree. Nuclear power is cleaner than burning coal (even though there are some new clean coal technologies currently being introduced) so increasing the % of our electricity which comes from such sources would reduce the environmental impact of our increased energy appetite. So would more wind/solar/hydroelectric power, but on a unit cost basis, those are still significantly more expensive.

    Azeem: I understand your concern about the NPT since it is the only nuclear security treaty. But I think you are significantly overestimating its effectiveness is stopping proliferation. The goals of the NPT had already been diluted to such an extent as to render it all but irrelevant. It was designed around two complementary bargains: that the existing nuclear weapon states would supply atomic fuel to those countries which didn\’t seek weapons; and that they in turn would move towards disarmament. We all know the second part of the bargain was sent to the scrapheap of history by the P5. Moreoever, the treaty was inherently unfair to Indian interests (which is why we didn\’t sign it I\’m assuming) – it froze the status of who was permitted to have nuclear weapons and carved out an exception for China, India\’s strategic rival. It is easy to fantasize about an ideal treaty which could prevent proliferation (and NPT is seductive mainly to those who would like to maintain the nuclear status quo). Finding a solution that actually works for all the players involved is much harder because you have to actually deal with what their interests in it are.

    Patel: all great points. My hope is that this deal will usher in a period where nuclear proliferation is dealt with in a realist manner. Inspections, vigorous case-by-case diplomacy, incentives, etc. are the only way to deal with the tough task of reducing the risk of nuclear war.

    Mota: Yes, we will need increased private investment and alternative methods to fulfill our energy needs. However, the purpose of the numbers which I highlighted in the post was to show that I don\’t think this alone will be enough (at least with regard to the electricity shortage). Power plants have gone up at a phenomenal rate from 2000-2004 and it still hasn\’t been enough to keep up with growth of demand. Add to that the problem that almost 30% of our capacity is lost/stolen in transmission, and you have a pretty big problem. I also don\’t think that we\’re \”selling out political indepedence\” to the US. The only group we are relinquishing some measure of sovereignty to is the IAEA (which will come in and inspect our civilian plants after the deal is done) – so one must clearly understand what are the compromises involved.

    You are right though in that we are aligning with the US – but I would argue that this is the right course to take. As I see it, in the global energy game, India has two basic choices: align with US and Western interests, or continue with \”non-alignment\”. The latter has not and will not secure our energy needs. When it comes to oil, we will always be price-takers so we are better off aligning ourselves with other price-takers rather than making pointless attempts to crawl into bed with members of OPEC. I too disagree with lots of elements of US foreign policy today, but I still think that an alliance with the US can be beneficial without us having to compromise on our ability to make other alliances.

    Comment by Nanu — December 4, 2006 @ 9:20 pm

  7. [...] Satellite pictures of the earth at night reveal a lot about energy consumption and economic activity. At The Indian Economy Blog, a post on India’s energy needs and its likely growth. “Japan looks like a shining moon in the middle of the pacific. The southern part of the Korean peninsula is bright, the north completely dark. China’s lights shine on the coast and slowly fade inland. India is full of a million dull lights, with a few bright spots.” Neha Viswanathan [...]

    Pingback by Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » India: Energy Needs — December 5, 2006 @ 1:07 am

  8. Patel: Incidentally, the reason I used Iran/DPRK as examples of the NPT’s ineffectiveness instead of Israel/Pakistan is because the latter two aren’t signatories. That notwithstanding, your point that they received their nuclear technology from NPT signatories is completely valid. However, in my view, North Korea and Iran are even worse examples since they actually ratified the treaty, and presumably extracted benefits as a result.

    Comment by Nanu — December 5, 2006 @ 2:05 am

  9. Very nicely written.

    I guess, from those that who oppose the N-Deal in India, I haven’t heard any dire consequences for India if this deal comes through. Just broadly saying, that we are relinquishing sovereignty does not cut it for me. At that broad level, sovereignty is just a word.

    Comment by swamy — December 5, 2006 @ 6:06 am

  10. Hi,

    I have been an avid reader of ur blog.I came across this blog written by peter Foster,a Telegraph UK journalist.Have a look at the second part of this article which is related to the article in the Economist about which India’s economy which is getting too hot to handle.

    Comment by Vidya — December 5, 2006 @ 10:14 am

  11. India needs the nuclear deal. However publications like The Economist are against it and I have written several letters to them protesting about their biased thinking. One of them is:

    The Editor
    The Economist

    Ref: Editorial in your magazine dated March 11-17 on sale of nuclear
    technology to India.

    Sir, In your editorial you have made a show of giving both sides of the story by mentioning India’s past (good) record in non-proliferation. However you have cleverly left out several critical points which would have made your main argument (that India does not deserve the Nuclear deal) seem hollow.
    One, that India has signed the no-first use of nuclear weapons policy.
    Two, that India has been threatened with nuclear weapons by none other than the Pakistani President himself.
    Three, that Pakistan has attacked India four times in the past.
    And four, that India has promised never to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country.
    The very basis of your argument against the sale of nuclear technology to India is that one should never break rules. But that’s what we call the ‘clerk mentality’.
    You are also forgetting that these silly nuclear rules have been made by aggressive countries who already possess nuclear weapons. The very nations who have colonized and plundered other countries in the past. And even today there are nations whose aggression knows no bounds – America’s attack on Iraq is the proof.
    India has never attacked or colonised any other nation.

    Nita Jatar Kulkarni.

    Ofcourse they did not publish the letter.

    Comment by Nita Jatar Kulkarni — December 5, 2006 @ 12:05 pm

  12. Is it still astronomy if one is looking at pictures of Earth?

    I agree with you regarding the nuclear deal with US. But opposition to nuclear power plants is alive and well.

    Comment by Chandra — December 5, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

  13. Where did you get those numbers? India´s current installed electricity generation capacity is 128,000MW according to a presentation by Power Secretary Shahi in November 2006. Assume 65% load factor (this is an approximation – most of the generation is thermal, and the average load factor of these plants is now just over 70%) and you have capability to produce 128,000*8760*0.65=729bn MWh per year (production is measured in MWh, not MW)

    Now suppose instead of the nuclear deal, efforts go into reducing the T&D losses to 10%(and in fact when you include local distribution losses the average is over 30%). This frees up over 200bn MWh per year – equal to the production of 33,000MW of nuclear plant. (here I assume 80% load factor for the nuclear plant)

    Another assumption you make is that the planned nuclear capacity will get built. India has consistently planned to add enough capacity to satisfy the growing demand, the problem is that the planned capacity has not been built. In the five year period to April 2007 only 75% of planned capacity has been built, and in the previous five years this was less than 50%.

    Clearly there isn´t a miracle solution to India´s electricity needs, but some of the less glamorous ´in the box´ alternatives that you dismiss in your article can also deliver on the required scale.

    Comment by LC — December 5, 2006 @ 2:54 pm

  14. Thank you all for your excellent comments. 

    Swamy: “Sovereignty” is often used as an excuse for and against controversial foreign policy moves. Different people have different notions of it. Any sort of foreign policy deal (trade agreements, security guarantees, alliances, etc.) reduces sovereignty because you are binding your nation to some sort of external agreement. There are two critical questions which any foreign minister has to answer: 1) how much ‘sovereignty’ are we willing to give up? 2) How can we get the most economic/geopolitical benefits in return?

    Vidya: Thanks for the link.

    Nita: Nice letter. As I said in my response to Azeem, people rarely answer criticisms about the NPT, because they are usually the ones trying to protect the status quo. Blair just said that he was renewing the UK\’s entire nuclear submarine program (violation of NPT – article VI) and the Economist guys barely batted an eyelid.

    Chandra: Please treat the “astronomy” thing as just a figure of speech! Just trying to show the link between energy and growth – used a picture because it saved me a thousand words.

    LC: I got the numbers from the Energy Information Administration and the EIU (which compiles comparable data for almost every country). I inferred the production capacity in megawatts (\’how much electricity can all the power plants produce at any given moment\’) from actual annual production numbers in megawatt hours (divide by 8760 hrs/yr). You seem to be doing the reverse: inferring implied production from actual capacity. Also, since the last reading of many of these numbers is around 2003-2004, I used 10-yr average growth rates to project forward, and 5-yr averages in the parts where I said “at the rate of the last few years”.

    I think, instead of 729 billion mwh, you actually meant 729 million mwh (128000mw * 8760hrs * 65%). My (implied) estimate for 2006 electricity production is not much different from that (702 million mwh: 631m mwh actual production in 2004 + 2 yrs of 5.5% growth). The difference between the numbers is most likely because yours is derived from the GoI’s stated capacity, while mine is derived from actual production numbers. In either case, I don’t think it makes much of a difference to the end result – the electricity shortfall is only a couple of % pts smaller using your estimate.

    As for your point about focusing on limiting T&D losses, obviously it is important as well. But I think a significant chunk of the losses are because of pilferage – meaning, even though no one pays for it, at least someone ends up consuming it. There is not enough data on this, but my guess is that if you reduce T&D losses, it would not free up commensurate production capacity. (ie. if pilferage is 2/3 of T&D losses, then a 1% reduction is losses would only free up 0.33% in capacity). The point is simply that we need to reduce T&D losses and add capacity at a faster rate – not one or the other.

    You’re dead-on about the planned nuclear plants not being built. However, this is essentially because we don’t have enough uranium to fuel those plants – that is what this deal seeks to deliver. I think our operating assumption should be that we will not add as much as we plan (as Chandra noted, the grassroots opposition to nuclear power is still alive and well). However, this only increases the need for a big, out-of-the-box solution. Also, I assure you that trying to reduce 27% T&D losses is not an easy or in-the-box solution!

    Comment by Nanubhai — December 5, 2006 @ 6:24 pm

  15. You´re right, I did mean million. Please excuse the slip!

    Comment by LC — December 5, 2006 @ 11:19 pm

  16. [...] December 6, 2006 « US India Nuclear Deal: When Economic Dreams Meet Geopolitical Reality [...]

    Pingback by The Indian Economy Blog » A Nice Pair — December 6, 2006 @ 6:36 am

  17. Nanubhai, no need to explain – I thought it was funny that’s all.

    Comment by Chandra — December 6, 2006 @ 11:41 am

  18. Since some commenters have raised issues relating to the NPT and nuclear proliferation, I’d like to direct the interest reader to the following series of posts: the roots of proliferation lie elsewhere, NPT in its current form has failed and the future of non-proliferation.

    Bottomline: The causes and future of nuclear proliferation have little to do with the India-US nuclear deal. There can be nothing but contempt for anyone who argues that India’s energy security must be held hostage to an flawed, ineffective and biased international treaty.

    Comment by Nitin — December 6, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

  19. While I don’t completely agree with it, it’s interesting, makes you think.

    Comment by Swapna — December 7, 2006 @ 3:55 am

  20. Sorry, the well-written post is riddled with SERIOUS FLAWS. The deal was largely fueled by American industry interests, who have no orders at home for nuke stations and need an export market that is large. Other than China, India is the hot ticket…..and the deal is for them, more than a “win-win”.

    FIRST, unlike the Tarapur station which was a single, low-energy output station paid by US Aid, this deal will create a new “nuclear grid” with several clusters of megawatt reactors, paid for by India. That makes ALL the difference!

    Tarapur was sanctioned, but we survived due to the fact that it was a small energy unit funded by the Americans. If the new energy grid faces like sanctions such as fuel cut-off and tech support withdrawal, we have a badly crippled investment costing upward of 50 BILLION dollars (not US aid, our monies). That would devastate our economy.

    *Millions* of watts of energy would further be crippled, impacting thousands of businesses and huge number of residential and commercial areas. There would be an economic catastrophe with so much power outage. This would result in an avalanche effect….if a shop does not earn money how can it pay the suppliers, the banks, etc? Think 10,000 businesses failing instead.

    Since India produces so little uranium, we have to ASSUME that stable fuel and tech support will always be on tap. Can YOU guarantee it? We can’t even attack the USA unlike China. Our scientists are struggling to get rockets to go past 3500 KM (note the Agni-3 fiasco) and our nuclear weapons are poorly tested for high-yields. We have no leverage unlike China.

    Your argument for “energy security” means that the West would have an *unprecedented* grip on our economy. If we use a nuclear device in war, or attack terrorists on border with nukes, the West would simply withdraw support. (Note, the US has famously violated a “ratified” agreement, the 1972 ABM treaty, the Australians are madly anti-nuclear, etc).

    SECOND, India’s nuclear weapons program would be badly impacted. The thermonuclear device would require an additional test at scaled-up yields, and in fact, several tests of manufactured stockpiles. Otherwise there will be valid doubts about its performance and reliability, leaving India with a 12 KT yield fission bomb as the sole weapon known to be dependable without further tests. Contrast this with China having 3 MT + (megaton range) weapons, and you will see why India would wind up losing any war with them. There is no need to rope ourselves into some wooly-headed restriction of any sort regarding our weapons and weapon technology.

    THIRD (and last), there is a SAFER ALTERNATIVE available. It would equate to “true energy security” by going fully Indian. We have huge quantities of thorium, and new reactor designs are developed to use thorium fuel.

    In fact thorium fueled reactors are the next generation designs. Over time, our current designs can be scaled up for high-energy production and mass produced, with good participation from the private sector. Now ALL the money would be cycled in India, growing the Indian economy rather than building the American and Russian economies.

    From reactor to the fuel we could produce the whole energy grid locally. That would make for ideal “energy security” as we control the nuclear grid, end-to-end.

    The negatives of the “third point” would be severe as well. India would need much more time to create such a viable alternative. Our reactors are less reliable and there are more uptime issues. But at least it would be a working alternative. It may slow our economy down by a few years….that is still way better than putting an entire economic/energy infrastructure under someone else’s control, while negatively impacting our defence preparedness by banning nuclear tests.

    Comment by Shiv — December 14, 2006 @ 7:11 am

  21. Shiv, thanks for your comment. Allow me to address the points you made:

    \”If the new energy grid faces like sanctions such as fuel cut-off and tech support withdrawal, we have a badly crippled investment costing upward of 50 BILLION dollars (not US aid, our monies). That would devastate our economy.\”

    The whole point of the nuclear deal is that it lets India OUT of the sanctions regime which was imposed on us post-Tarapur. Assuming the NSG approves the deal (which looks quite likely), the US will not be our only supplier of uranium. The countries with abundant supplies will compete to sell nuclear fuel to India thus making us LESS dependent on any one nation.

    The point you make that a cutoff of fuel supplies would devastate our economy is a valid one – however, we all have to live with the fact that India is and will be an energy deficient country (in a way, this is a good thing, because it reflects a fast-growing economy). Barring radical new technological advances in the cost-effectiveness of alternative energy methods, we will HAVE to import significant amounts of energy. The real question is, who would you rather have our economy be a hostage to: the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (whose member countries are, for the most part, democratic) or OPEC (whose members most certainly are not)?

    \”Your argument for “energy security” means that the West would have an *unprecedented* grip on our economy. If we use a nuclear device in war, or attack terrorists on border with nukes, the West would simply withdraw support.\”

    If we have to resort to using nuclear weapons on our border, then believe me, the economy will be the least of our problems. Perhaps we have different views on what the impact of using nuclear weapons will be. In my view, a strategic arsenal is only there for use in the most catastrophic of instances (hence our no-first-use policy), because there is no turning back in a nuclear confrontation… cities will be destroyed, and countless people will die – there is no way around that. The reason to have such a doomsday arsenal is for use as a deterrent. And while our deterrent is not quite up to the caliber of a China or the US, it is good enough for us to avoid a nuclear confrontation.

    \”There is no need to rope ourselves into some wooly-headed restriction of any sort regarding our weapons and weapon technology.\”

    I agree. And the Indian negotiators made it quite clear that if the US congress added such restrictive provisions, that would effectively kill the deal. They didn\’t. If you are referring to the civilian-strategic separation plan, then I think you\’re misreading its impact on our strategic arsenal. The safeguards will apply only to the plants which *WE* designate for civilian use. Thus, ALL the uranium which we have domestically can be diverted to the strategic program, and the imported uranium will be used to produce electricity. The international community would understandably go nuts if an Indian government official were to publicly say this.

    \”THIRD (and last), there is a SAFER ALTERNATIVE available. It would equate to “true energy security” by going fully Indian. We have huge quantities of thorium, and new reactor designs are developed to use thorium fuel.\”

    While the science of this is outside my area of expertise, I have done a good deal of reading on this. According to the Indian Department of Atomic Energy (, moving to Thorium reactors is the third and final stage of the planned nuclear energy capacity addition.

    A brief science lesson courtesy of wikipedia: \”Thorium, as well as uranium and plutonium, can be used as fuel in a nuclear reactor. Although not fissile itself, 232Th will absorb slow neutrons to produce uranium-233 (233U), which is fissile. Hence, like 238U, it is fertile. In one significant respect 233U is better than the other two fissile isotopes used for nuclear fuel, 235U and plutonium-239 (239Pu), because of its higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed.

    Given a start with some other fissile material (235U or 239Pu), a breeding cycle similar to, but more efficient than that currently possible with the 238U-to-239Pu cycle (in slow-neutron reactors), can be set up. The 232Th absorbs a neutron to become 233Th which normally decays to protactinium-233 (233Pa) and then 233U. The irradiated fuel can then be unloaded from the reactor, the 233U separated from the thorium (a relatively simple process since it involves chemical instead of isotopic separation), and fed back into another reactor as part of a closed nuclear fuel cycle.\”

    In other words, the Thorium reaction can NOT occur without Uranium-238 or Plutomium-239. Now, we can either use our limited stockpiles of the fuel (which could otherwise be used in the strategic arsenal), or we can seek to get ourselves out of the sanctions regime and import the fuel from abroad like many other countries do. More importantly, the technology for the Thorium reactor is not close to complete (30-50 years out according to an expert I consulted, and similar time delay indicated by the GoI) so it would indeed be an expensive proposition to try to get to that point, without:

    a) a guarantee that we will have enough Uranium-238 to power the Thorium reaction process

    b) additional nuclear energy capacity addition in the intervening period

    The route that you think we should take – develop an indigenous thorium-based nuclear power program, increase strategic deterrent, meet electricity demand – is a fantastic one. Only problem is that it\’s not feasible given our Uranium shortage and growing electricity demanfd. By removing us from the sanctions regime, this deal makes the impossible possible.

    Comment by Nanubhai — December 16, 2006 @ 1:23 am

  22. Continuiamo a non trovare sulla vostra rivista la notizia dell’invenzione del moto perpetuo e come tutti gli altri ne dovrete rispondere in tribunale: perchè non volete parlare dell’invenzione del moto perpetuo e quindi dell’energia gratis e quindi dell’acqua gratis? Ci penseranno gli avvocati a chiedervelo.

    Il primo esemplare di Motore di Schietti clandestino è stato consegnato

    Svolta nel mondo dell’energia, è stato inventato il moto perpetuo, free energy per tutti!

    Comment by ciao — December 16, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

  23. I have read the blog entry completely and some of the comments.
    Couldn’t find anyone raising this point.

    Doesn’t lightning in the night emphasises more upon the night life people are living in these countries.
    Surely, there will be production units operating in night shifts but is that kind of development we are aiming at?
    Day and night operation
    do we want to make every individual restless?

    I do feel that India needs a revamp, a change but please not a borrowed face transplant from developed world. We first need innovation at the goal level itself.

    Comment by Rahul Gupta — December 26, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

  24. I like alot of your reflections – if I didn’t know of the concepts of Peak Oil – Look it up at google …. and learn.
    This world shall scale down – I’m afraid – more or less everything we can think of — suggestion : start to read


    Comment by paal myrtvedt — March 1, 2007 @ 6:29 am

  25. norfolk southern railroad employment…

    Value source for norfolk southern railroad employment….

    Trackback by norfolk southern railroad employment — March 22, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  26. India and USA should sign the nuclear deal as soon as possible. I totally agree with your views, this nuclear pact is already delayed a lot and it is not in the interest of both the nations if it is further delayed. As far as USA is concerned they will be happy to have improved the foreign relations with India. But India will be the bigger beneficiary as this pact will help India meet its growing energy demands. India is growing at a very high rate and it is very tough to meet the energy needs with out this pact. Also this pact will improve India’s credibility in the global market and investors will see India as a developing secular nuclear power.

    Comment by Ashuthosh Bamareddy — October 1, 2007 @ 8:43 pm

  27. [...] Lem wrote an interesting post today on Comment on US India Nuclear Deal: When Economic Dreams Meet …Here’s a quick excerpt [...]

    Pingback by Burmeselev.Com » Comment on US India Nuclear Deal: When Economic Dreams Meet … — October 2, 2007 @ 6:43 am

  28. India should indigenously develop new ways of generating power instead of selling out to the Americans. A sovereign country should never surrender its foreign policy no matter what. But unfortunately American pressure on our government is clearly showing in India not attending the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline meetings citing some frivolous reason of transit fee issue with Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan have agreed to finalize the deal without India.
    Consider this as the first case in point of our foreign policy being dictated by America.

    Just a month back our ex-president Abdul Kalam on Ndtv’s show Walk the talk had said that India should focus more on generating electricity through Thorium of which we have the world’s second largest known reserves. He even went on to say that our scientists are working on it and in 5-7 years time we should be able to start our own indigenous thorium powered nuclear reactor.
    If an ex-president of his repute who also happens to be a scientist says such things on national television, then the government should sit up and take his views into account and speed up the R&D for a thorium nuclear reactor instead of depending on foreign countries who might use our need for uranium for arm-twisting tactics thereby infringing on the sovereignty of our country (India not attending Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline meeting under US pressure).

    Comment by Iceman — October 2, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

  29. The leaders of BJP should be forced to quit politics. It is just playing destructive role in India. When BJP was running the government, Vajpayee made a conditional offer for signing the CTBT.
    Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Vajpayee said India, having harmonised its national imperatives and security obligations and desirous of continuing to co-operate with the international community, is now engaged in discussions with key interlocutors on a range of issues including the CTBT.

    The prime minister gave a clear indication of his government’s willingness to sign the CTBT by September 1999.
    BJP…please Quit India.

    Comment by Naveen Saini — October 3, 2007 @ 12:30 am

  30. I think that India is trying to be a developed, World class country..however, the old ways of the left are holding EVERYONE BACK.
    I think the left parties want to uphold communist ways and not democratic ways .. and continue to starve and deprive the people of India.

    It’s time that the people stood up and voiced their opinion.

    It is in no way about hate for the U.S. or Western ways…what it is about is the left parties keeping the Indian people in a vacumn … totally unaware of the true opportunities that exist in a democratic World.


    Comment by Debbie Slater — October 5, 2007 @ 7:38 am

  31. I don’t understand the open animosity against the CPI in this debate. Most of the questions they have raised to the UPA have merit and answers from the government have not been convincing. There are some real concerns for me with the 123 Agreement and the Hyde Act.

    The only response the government has given is that once the accord was approved by US Congress, only its provisions and not the US law would govern the rights and obligations of the contracting parties. The government also claimed it has “ensured” that it would not be placed in a situation similar to the one experienced by the Tarapur nuclear power plant when the US had stopped fuel supplies.

    Let the deal stall if it means safe guarding our interests for the future.

    Comment by Nikhil Nayak — October 6, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

  32. I will never again vote for congress if it succumbed under pressure from left parties and stall the nuclear deal. There is nothing in the deal that is against the interest of our country. We have the choice of discontinuing the deal anytime we want and the same is the case with USA. Why do we have to make a big deal of it. Even if this is not in paper, we still know that every nation has its own decision making committee and we don’t know who will be at the helm tomorrow. India is planning for gas pipeline from Iran thru pakistan. Do we know for sure that Iran will never stop supply of gas after such a huge investment. We should throw the communist parties out of our country if we want to see India a developed nation.

    Comment by Sumeet Kupoor — October 12, 2007 @ 11:11 pm

  33. I do not agree that India not seen lit at night is the only reason to sign the dubious Nuclear deal. The light flux of India at night gives a sense of pride considering that India got independence only 50 years ago and it has more than successfully sustained the plundering India of its wealth by British and others. China has the same amount of light flux yet it is the supreme loan lender to USA. If China pulls plug American light flux changes to black hole.

    Considering the central theme of signing the nuclear deal in mind these are some serious lingering questions for which UPA doesn’t have answers:
    - Analysis of how much the price of Uranium can rise over 40 years?
    - Does ‘corrective measures’ include signing Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty?
    etc have to be addressed. Otherwise we are being coaxed into deep trouble brother. I feel the UPA headed by Congress needs to be more transparent and discuss the questions and find satisfactory answers to themselves before any further move like signing IAEA safeguards.

    Following are the key questions put forth by the Left parties:
    • In case the U.S. or other countries in the NSG renege on fuel supply assurances for imported reactors, will we have the ability to withdraw these reactors from IAEA safeguards?

    • If U.S./NSG countries renege on fuel supply assurances, can we withdraw our indigenous civilian reactors from IAEA Safeguards?

    • If we have to bring nuclear fuel from the non-safeguarded part of our nuclear programme for these reactors in case of fuel supply assurances not being fulfilled, will we have the ability to take it back again?

    • What are the corrective steps that India can take if fuel supplies are interrupted by the U.S./NSG countries?

    • What are the conditions that India will have to fulfill if the corrective steps are to be put into operation? Once the text of the Safeguards Agreement is approved by the IAEA Board of Governors, which is what the UPA Government seeks to do now, the subsequent steps require no participation at all by the Government of India. It is the U.S. Government that takes the next steps – moving the NSG countries for the waiver and then placing the 123 Agreement before the U.S. Congress.

    Comment by Jay — July 9, 2008 @ 7:54 am

  34. By creating electricity through nuclear is quite danger for environment so every people should know how to use renewable energy which is environment friendly. As we know that the global climate is changing day by day so there will be more powerful blowing of air which we can use for generating electricity and their may not be so much rain in the deserts we can put the solar panels on that area in vast form. We can also put the solar panels on the layer of highway roads so that the heat which is coming from the tyres of the vehicles can be converted into other form of energy. Basically I’m not the science student but these are my thoughts to change the world by using eco-friendly energy.

    Comment by Pankaj Thapa — July 19, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

  35. [...] India needs this deal. While this blog urges his government to stop the [...]

    Pingback by Talking Points for July 22nd « BBC World Have Your Say — July 22, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

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