For years, India has been trying to gain entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a 48 member grouping that was formed in the aftermath of India’s 1974 nuclear test with the aim of ensuring non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology. From India’s point of view, it was formed to deny India access to sophisticated technology.
The 48 members of the NSG include the five nuclear weapon states, US, UK, France, China and Russia. The other 43 are signatories to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India is not a signatory to the NPT which it calls discriminatory.
It was civil nuclear deal with US, concluded in 2008, that paved the way for India’s application as a member of NSG. India’s commitment to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes and its non proliferation record—ie ensuring that its indigenously developed technology is not shared with other countries—is what works in its favour. Besides, India has also ratified an Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which means that its civilian reactors are under IAEA safeguards and open for inspections—ie ensures increased transparency.
Membership of the NSG means:
1. Access to technology for a range of uses from medicine to building nuclear power plants for India from the NSG which is essentially a traders’ cartel. India has its own indigenously developed technology but to get its hands on state of the art technology that countries within the NSG possess, it has to become part of the group.
2. With India committed to reducing dependence on fossil fuels and ensuring that 40% of its energy is sourced from renewable and clean sources, there is a pressing need to scale up nuclear power production. This can only happen if India gains access to the NSG. Even if India today can buy power plants from the global market thanks to the one time NSG waiver in 2008, there are still many types of technologies India can be denied as it is outside the NSG.
3. India could sign the Nuclear non proliferation treaty and gain access to all this know how but that would mean giving up its entire nuclear arsenal. Given that it is situated in an unstable and unpredictable neighbourhood India is unlikely to sign the NPT or accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that puts curbs on any further nuclear tests.
4. With access to latest technology, India can commercialize the production of nuclear power equipment. This, in turn will boost innovation and high tech manufacturing in India and can be leveraged for economic and strategic benefits.
For example, India has signed a civil nuclear energy co-operation pact with Sri Lanka. Currently, this entails training people in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including use of radioisotopes, nuclear safety, radiation safety, nuclear security, radioactive waste management and nuclear and radiological disaster mitigation. Should India get access to advanced nuclear technologies, it can start building updated versions of its own fast breeder reactor and sell it to countries such as Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. Bangladesh is currently looking at buying Russian reactors for power generation.
5. Having the ability to offer its own nuclear power plants to the world means spawning of an entire nuclear industry and related technology development. This could give the Make in India programme a big boost.
6. Should India get membership to the NSG, it can block Pakistan from its membership as entry into the grouping is by consensus only. This is one of the reasons why China is pushing to include Pakistan as well as pointing out that India as a non signatory to the NPT cannot be a member. It comes down to a power game—keep India out and deny it access to various technologies. India’s contention is that its nuclear technologies are indigenously developed and it has a clean non proliferation record unlike Pakistan whose non proliferation record was tainted with the revelations that its nuclear scientist A.Q Khan sold nuclear technologies to countries such as North Korea. China’s non proliferation record too is tainted with allegations that it has helped Pakistan on the sly, but given its economic clout the country is unlikely to attract sanctions.
Article by Elizabeth Roche first published in LiveMint .