Three significant developments in the last ten days promise bright prospects for India's long term energy security requirements. These are:
The US Senate passing the Indo-US Nuclear Deal on November 16, 2006
The announcement in the Joint Statement during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to New Delhi on November 20, 2006 that both countries would cooperate in the field of nuclear energy, and
India signing the ITER Accord on November 21, 2006 along with seven major countries for a global project envisaging the construction of an experimental nuclear fusion reactor which could provide a cheaper and safer energy source.
The Indo-US Nuclear Deal was exercising India's official and public patience ever since news reports started emerging of the opposition and stalling tactics of the vocal non-proliferation lobby in Washington and some other lobbyists working for Pakistan who were employing more subtle approaches. There was a danger that this historic Agreement which symbolizes the evolving Indo-US Strategic Partnership would lose its sheen by any further delays on Capitol Hill.
There are still many more wrinkles that the United States needs to iron out in the reconciliation meetings between the Senate and House of Representatives drafts which contain conditionalities which India is unlikely to accept as these do not form part of the June 18, 2005 Agreement signed by President Bush and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, with President Bush's personal commitment to get this deal through, it is expected that with the ushering in of the new year , the finalized deal incorporating India's sensitivities would be through.
The significance of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal lies in that it opens avenues for India to have access to critical nuclear fuel and technologies required for civilian nuclear power generation . India's burgeoning economy desperately needs alternative power generation means and nuclear power generation is an essential component of India's long range energy security. With this deal through India can initially plan to increase its present nuclear power generation of 3% of its total power generation to 8%. It would also act as a building block for further expansion of nuclear power generation.
China and India in the Joint Statement issued during the just concluded visit of the Chinese President to New Delhi made references to nuclear energy cooperation in the following manner: 'The two sides agree to promote cooperation in the field of nuclear energy , consistent with their respective international commitments' and more significantly that 'International civilian nuclear cooperation should be advanced through innovative and forward- looking approaches.
At first glance these statements may appear too generalized but their significance lies in that such references to nuclear energy cooperation find reference for the first time in official statements between China and India. It also needs to be noted that in the early 1990's, China had supplied critically needed fuel for India's Tarapur nuclear reactor. So a precedent exists for China to extend nuclear co-operation in the energy sector.
India's joining the ITER Project (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is even more significant than the Indo-US Nuclear Deal as it takes care of India's long term energy security requirements. The United States, China, India, Russia, Japan and South Korea and the European Union signed a $ 12.8 billion agreement to build an experimental fusion reactor in Southern France. As one report indicates, it will bring to fruition the physicists dream of harnessing the fusion that powers the sun to make clean, safe and limitless energy. This nuclear fusion project reactor would take about eight years to build and it is expected that a demonstration power plant would be ready only by 2040. As the United States is not hosting the facility this project would not fall prey to the whims and fancies of US Congress decisions.
Concurrent with the above, India has its own plans and projects for making its own indigenous thorium-based fast breeder reactors as the mainstay of its long range energy security requirements in terms of nuclear power generation. This is not only an energy security requirement but a strategic imperative also as self-reliance is a key ingredient of the global power status that India aspires for.