Thursday, 26 June 2014

India’s nuclear diplomacy: Late addition

Nguồn tin:

SIX years after India and America agreed to co-operate on civil-nuclear matters both sides are still waiting for the benefits. But a decision this week by India’s government to ratify a related, long-delayed, international protocol offers some hope. The 2008 agreement was opposed both by the left (Communists) and right (the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, then in opposition), furious at such cosying up to America. Foreign critics argued that the civilian deal with India, which has some 100 nuclear warheads but has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, weakened the global non-proliferation regime.

In fact India’s ties with America are broadly friendly but tetchy enough to allay nationalist concerns. As for proliferation, India has a good record itself, though the deal allowed worse-behaved countries, such as Iran and North Korea, to allege Western hypocrisy. Under American pressure the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group ended its isolation of India. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) signed an India-specific “additional protocol” giving its inspectors access to India’s civil sites, though not its military ones. India’s government said on June 23rd it had at last ratified that protocol.

Yet if fears were overdone, gains are so far disappointing. India plans to tackle its chronic shortage of energy, and costly reliance on imports of fossil fuels, with a big nuclear-energy programme: some 19 working reactors, five under construction and at least 16 more planned. But expansion requires imported uranium as fuel (miners fail to extract enough from domestic deposits) plus foreign capital and expertise to build big reactors of 1,000MW or more.

Uranium will come. Australia, notably, is negotiating terms to export the fuel, ending a ban as it seeks strategic ties with a fellow Asian democracy. But big new reactors are not being built, as American, French and Russian contractors hold back. Japanese builders would in theory like to enter. A Japan-India civil-nuclear deal could be discussed when Narendra Modi, the new prime minister, visits Japan, probably in August. But its investors will wait for changes to India’s regulations.

The most serious deterrent is India’s 2010 law on nuclear liability, which puts heavy financial responsibility on suppliers and contractors in case of an accident. Legislators who drew up the liability law had in mind the chemical-plant disaster in Bhopal in 1984, when thousands died. The American firm responsible, Union Carbide, eventually paid $470m compensation, a sum they considered too small.

With his hefty parliamentary majority, Mr Modi could amend the liability law, by taking on the more strident wing of his own BJP. In parliament’s upper house he would need others’ help, but the main opposition, Congress, might agree, since in government it tried to bring nuclear investors to India. He might, too, present the change as part of a broader shift in energy policy. This would be a good moment. A national budget on July 10th is supposed to signal reforms to spur economic growth.

In September Mr Modi travels to America, where he will appeal to investors especially in infrastructure. He will be more credible if he can point to difficult decisions that his government has already taken. Acting early makes sense electorally, too. For, as the nuclear deal showed, benefits take time to accrue.

Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh



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