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The India-Japan nuclear agreement must be stopped

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Kumar Sundaram - CNDP

On December 12 the Japanese and Indian governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (the MoU) regarding nuclear trade. There is still work to do before a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement is concluded, and no timeline has been provided. There is widespread civil society opposition in both countries − and internationally. The Japanese Parliament may yet prove an obstacle, but probably won't.

Sukla Sen from the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) in India bluntly summed up the politics: "The fact that both Japan and India are at the moment ruled by hard right-wing ultra-nationalist outfits having deep links with the business-industrial-nuclear lobbies has definitely helped to take the negotiations ahead."1

If and when the cooperation agreement is finalised, Japan will face the same dilemma as other would-be exporters of nuclear technology to India, in particular India's liability law which does not provide the blanket immunity that suppliers demand. Public opposition to reactor projects in India, and the capital costs of reactors, are further obstacles. The Hindustan Times noted in November 2014 that India's nuclear program is in a "deep freeze" and little has changed since then.2

Kumar Sundaram from the CNDP summarises the problems with the proposed bilateral nuclear agreement:

The India-Japan nuclear agreement would be an international disaster. It would rehabilitate the global nuclear lobby, which is facing its terminal crisis after Fukushima. They are aiming to use the toothless safety laws and corrupt politicians of India, and the general political apathy for the lives of the poor and the environment in the country.

The agreement essentially does three things:

1. It provides a safe home in India for the international nuclear lobbies, where they compensate for their terminal global crisis post-Fukushima and regain the financial health to bounce back globally later.

The Japanese deal is essential for the reactor projects of the US and France to proceed on the ground as some crucial reactor equipment is manufactured only by Japanese companies. Another reason is that the two major US nuclear giants – GE and Westinghouse – have become Japanese-owned companies.

In immediate terms, the deal means six EPR reactors for Areva and four each for GE and Westinghouse. Japan will only supply crucial equipment and there are no turn-key reactor purchase talks so far, so the financial gain for Japan isn't really all that big, but the US and France have been pushing Japan to conclude a deal with India.

2. This deal implies a serious threat to the people of India, particularly the most vulnerable sections in the rural areas, whose lives and livelihoods are at stake. India is imposing these reactor projects at gunpoint against the wishes of the local communities, in ecologically fragile, geologically sensitive areas with dense human populations.

The people – tens of thousands of farmers, fisherfolk, women and children in these areas – depend on the local ecology for their food and livelihoods. These will be threatened both in terms of forced mass eviction for these projects with compensations only for the landed few, as well as the loss of traditional vocations for a larger number around the proposed project sites.

3. The nuclear supply from Japan to India creates a bad precedent for nuclear disarmament. It practically rewards a country which conducted nuclear tests, defying sane advice from within and outside, at a time when the world is looking towards measures to make the nuclear commerce regime more stringent as the number of potential proliferators increases.

The region has two nuclear-armed nations and any small conflict, often used for domestic political purposes, can escalate into a nuclear exchange.

Apart from the above specific negative implications of the deal, the larger context in which India-Japan relations have taken a decisively militarist turn should also not be missed. The first beneficiary of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy of re-starting military exports to foreign countries is going to be India, which will buy the Shin-Meiwa US-2, the amphibious 'rescue' aircraft. The joint exercises in the Indian Ocean by the Indian and U.S. navies have caused anxieties in Pakistan and China and are seen as a part of the larger U.S. design of propping up a Japan-India axis to counter China in the region.

The nuclear deal with Japan also comes at a time when the nuclear energy plans of India are at an important juncture. The new Indian PM – Narendra Modi – belongs to the Hindu-majoritarian BJP, which places strong nationalist pride both on nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. During his recent overseas visits in the past 18 months to the U.S., France, Australia, Mongolia and Japan, Modi has strongly pursued nuclear commerce agreements.

India's newly appointed Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Shekhar Basu, almost taking a leaf from Modi's zeal for nuclear power, started his sting with a press conference where he announced that the foreign nuclear suppliers should not be made liable for any accident.

The Indian law, the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, provides for a 'right of recourse' against the nuclear suppliers in case of an accident to the state-owned operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) under Clause 17(b).

The clause was introduced under pressure from Parliament and civil society by a reluctant Manmohan Singh government. At that time there was a public outcry on liability, following the June 2010 Bhopal judgment that let the accused go almost scot-free. This led to a sensitive debate.

Although the Act capped the total liability at a ridiculously low amount and was criticised for its complicated procedural stipulations, it provided for a very limited hook on private suppliers – both foreign and home-grown.

Attempts to dilute and circumvent the liability norm started soon. These included making supplier culpability dependent on an explicit mention of the liability provision in the bilateral contract between the supplier and the operator.

In addition, the Indian government limited the product liability period to just five years under the Nuclear Liability Rules, 2011, designed to guide the implementation of the 2010 Act. Eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee termed the Rules "ultra vires" (beyond the powers) of the Act and going against its spirit.

In his last foreign trip as PM, when Singh went to the United States, he offered "as a gift" a reinterpretation of the liability law. According to that reinterpretation, the operator has the option of not exercising its right of recourse against the supplier. He assured Obama that the public-owned Indian operator will not sue suppliers.

Evidently, even this failed to assuage companies such as GE and Westinghouse. They were uncertain about future Indian governments abiding by such a promise, especially in the wake of public pressure that would follow any big nuclear accident.

The foreign corporations have also been opposed to the Indian law as it is a departure from the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), which they want the world to adopt as an international template. Ironically, India rushed to sign the CSC in October 2010, soon after it enacted the domestic law. It then started citing that as a reason to amend the Parliament-mandated law.

At that time there were fewer CSC signatories. Only in April this year has the Convention entered into force. India had an opportunity, as an attractive investment destination for the nuclear sector, to actually lobby for amendments to the CSC to ensure adequate liability for people in developing countries. Japan's signing of the CSC gave it the required legal status and now it has become a weapon to push other countries to exempt suppliers from liability.

All peace and democracy loving people across the world must demand scrapping of this nuclear agreement between India and Japan. The two Asian countries should instead focus on alternative energy technologies, learning lessons from Fukushima, and focus on reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons in the 70th year of Hiroshima.

The end of non-proliferation

Muhammad Umar from Pakistan's National University of Sciences and Technology discusses the proliferation implications of India's nuclear power and weapons programs:3

It is a well-known fact that India misused a research reactor, which had been supplied to them by the Canadians under peaceful uses conditions (similar to the current export deal with Australia) to illegally produce plutonium for the production of their first nuclear bomb, which they exploded in May of 1974.

At the time a number of states that were already signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), in an effort to counter future proliferation, acted swiftly to create the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to control the export and re-transfer of materials that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. The United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom spearheaded the creation of this multinational body.

There are 48 members of the NSG today, and it is ironic that nine of the 48 that were so committed to strengthening non-proliferation measures that they developed and/or supported the creation of the NSG as a response to India's nuclear explosion are now willing to supply that same country with nuclear materials, helping it continue to vertically proliferate.

The nine NSG member states that currently have a civil-nuclear deal with India include Australia, the United States, Canada, Russia, France, Argentina, Kazakhstan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. There are only two non-NSG member states – Mongolia and Namibia – with a deal to provide India with uranium.

The only major holdout has been Japan but it seems that will likely change by the end of the year as President Abe gears up to visit New Delhi later this month.

The international community led by the US says that they are committed to nuclear non-proliferation but their actions serve as evidence of their hypocrisy. If the US and others want to do business with India and are willing to forego its past as a proliferator, then other weapon states outside the NPT should also be afforded the same privileges.

The Indian case is confirmation that exemptions from the NSG and NPT can be made; in this case the exemptions should be based on criteria and anyone meeting those criteria should be able to conduct business to attain nuclear technology for peaceful uses.

If the criteria-based approach is not doable than the US, along with other states violating their NPT and NSG obligations, should stop talking about norms, morals, and ethics. They should not continue to make a fool out of a more than a hundred and eighty states.

There is no doubt that the Indian case has put the NSG and NPT in dire straits. The short-sighted actions of countries engaging India in nuclear trade have created untold new challenges for international security, and will eventually lead to the collapse of the non-proliferation regime.

There is no doubt in my mind that new nuclear power states will emerge. Having observed the special treatment given to India, it will be easy for them to argue that the NPT no longer holds any power, and is a relic of the past.

When you have countries like the US, Australia, Canada, France, and the UK helping a country like India actively proliferate, it proves that the international non-proliferation regime has failed.

The stark reality is that the idea of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime has been lost to a system of practical geopolitics; all moral and ideological considerations have been tossed aside. There will be no hope for the longevity of the non-proliferation regime if those currently holding out – like Japan – also choose to violate their commitments to the NSG and NPT for the sake of short-term economic incentives. That will truly mean the end of the non-proliferation era.

I foresee a very dangerous future if we continue down this path and let the non-proliferation regime breakdown. This is a future on the edge of a nuclear Armageddon, where more and more states will begin acquiring nuclear weapons as they realise that the non-proliferation regime has collapsed, and NPT and other international treaties and institutions are powerless to stop them from acquiring the bomb.

This failure could be the first domino tile. This should not be acceptable to any of us.


1. Sukla Sen, 14 Dec 2015, 'Nuclear Deal between Japan and India: A Brief Stocktaking',

2. Shishir Gupta and Jayanth Jacob, 30 Nov 2014, 'Govt plans N-revival, focuses on investor concerns',

3. Muhammad Umar, 7 Dec 2015, 'The end of non-proliferation',

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