Perspectives on India’s nuclear energy and weapons programme

Despite constant provocation, India's nuclear non-proliferation record is spotless. India remains a beacon of hope in responsible use of nuclear energy, and the nuclear energy programme has proven peaceful credentials. Using indigenous PHWR technology and Thorium, India seeks to maintain a healthy nuclear component in the overall energy mix.,

Perspectives on India’s nuclear energy and weapons program

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On nuclear energy

  1. More energy, bolder decisions : In a bid to give a fresh boost to India’s domestic nuclear power production, the Union cabinet cleared a proposal to indigenously build 10 atomic reactors at Mahi Banaswara (Rajasthan), Chutka (Madhya Pradesh), Kaiga (Karnataka) and Gorakhpur (Haryana). When completed, the 10 reactors of 700 MW each will boost overall output. The Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) will be developed by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
  2. Clean energy imperative : Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal is upbeat that 7000 MW capacity would be added, which would help produce clean energy. Presently, India has an installed nuclear power capacity of 6,780 MW from its 22 operational plants. Another 6,700 MW of nuclear power is likely to be added by 2021-22 when the under-construction projects get operationalized in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
  3. India’s energy mix : The decision reflects government’s commitment to prioritize the use of clean energy in India’s energy mix, as part of low-carbon growth strategy. It also supports India’s commitment to sustainable development, energy self-sufficiency, and bolsters global efforts to combat climate change. In light of America’s opposition to the landmark Paris Agreement, India may be the bulwark against global warming. However, note that the five renewable sources of energy are : biomass, wind, solar, hydro and geothermal. Nuclear energy generated through the fission process of atoms is non-renewable (fissile Uranium is consumed).
  4. Russian help all along : Russia is the only country in the last four decades to have actively assisted Indiain its nuclear power generation programme, but India and Russia do not have a conventional civil nuclear power agreement along the lines of what India has signed with the US, France, Canada, Britain, Australia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and most recently Japan.
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  6. The China factor : Presently, Russia and China share cordial relations. This could be seen in the context of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, openly praising China’s Belt and Road initiative and Moscow calling for an end to the intimidation of North Korea. India has tried convincing Russia to persuade China to allow India’s entry in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Reports suggest that India has threatened to put on hold a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Russia for developing civil nuclear projects – Kudankulam 5 and 6 reactor units.
  7. NSG and NPT : China has repeatedly blocked India's MSG membership bid despite support from majority of NSG members, on the grounds that New Delhi hasn't signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Voicing its concerns over India’s nuclear capabilities, Pakistan called on the member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to make a well-considered decision over including India.
  8. Russia and India MoU : Russia is worried that India might be purposely delaying the MoU to ensure a guaranteed place in NSG. India has also made it clear to Moscow that it would have no option but to go for an indigenous nuclear energy programme if its bid to become an NSG member is denied. Russia’s deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin took the matter up with Indian PM.
  9. Modi and Putin meeting : The development came after India and Russia reviewed their bilateral cooperation ahead of the summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 1, 2017. The MoU was reportedly supposed to have been signed on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Goa last year.
  10. A little history : In August 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin had jointly dedicated to the nation the 1,000 MW Nuclear Power Plant-I, assuring it was one of the safest atomic plants in the world. With NSG membership being a top priority for India, India feels that only Russia can influence China to soften its stance against India. If top nuclear countries do not support India, it may be forced to pursue an independent civil nuclear policy.
  11. Do check out exams-focussed Confidence and Vocabulary Booster series of learning resources here
  12. Download Resources : PDFs on energy and related issues available on Downloads page here. And, here are some facts and images to help the case better.

On nuclear weapons

    1. For many decades now, India has remained a role model of peaceful use of nuclear energy, and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons technology despite constant provocations from two neighbours. Demands for reassessing India’s nuclear doctrine are raised regularly. But India is already committed to a “No First Use” or its intention to retaliate massively to any nuclear first strike by an enemy. But there is another aspect of it.
    2. India reserves the right to nuclear retaliation in the event of a major attack against India or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons. Download SIPRI factsheet from Downloads page. We tend to club together nuclear first use and biological and chemical first use. The former has not occurred since 1945, and the latter, especially chemical, continues, whether by state or non-state actors.
    3. A recent example :  the recent assassination of North Korean Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia by the chemical agent VX Although, chemical weapons are banned, they are frequently being used in Syria and Iraq, where their use is attributed to the Islamic State (IS). 
    4. The 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention has only partly made their use utterly responsible. There is a fairly strong norm governing non-use of nuclear weapons, whereas the norm against the use of chemical weapons is still not so strong. The Syria chemical weapons situation : Bashar al-Assad used the nerve agent sarin against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in August 2013, killing over 1400 people.
    5. Though, President Obama invoked a ‘red line’ about the movement of chemical weapons in the region, eventually stepped back from a military response to that attack. A diplomatic solution was eventually found with the help of Russian President Putin, and Syria agreed to dismantle 1300 tonnes of chemical agents and acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention. 
    6. Can India resist popular pressure for decisive retaliation if Indians suffered such a chemical attack is the main question? Nuclear weapons, at best, deter other nuclear weapons. These weapons are a political force, as limited number of states possesses them and they can cause immense generational and environmental consequences. In the words of late K Subrahmanyam, nukes are like “the million pound note” that is not to be squandered lightly. 
    7. That is the reason why the No First Use policy works well. It builds stability into deterrence by promising retaliation in the event of extreme provocation. That also explains China’s anger at deployment of US THAAD in South Korea. Read a Bodhi on India’s defence preparedness, here.,

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    Bodhi Booster: Perspectives on India’s nuclear energy and weapons programme
    Perspectives on India’s nuclear energy and weapons programme
    Despite constant provocation, India's nuclear non-proliferation record is spotless. India remains a beacon of hope in responsible use of nuclear energy, and the nuclear energy programme has proven peaceful credentials. Using indigenous PHWR technology and Thorium, India seeks to maintain a healthy nuclear component in the overall energy mix.
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