The India-specific safeguards agreement was approved by the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today.
Opening today's meeting, IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei said the draft, circulated since early July, "satisfies India's needs while maintaining all the agency's legal requirements." The agreement had been carefully negotiated since November 2007 and the board was able to wrap up its deliberations in just one day. It will implemented next year.
ElBaradei speaks on India - via the IAEA's new YouTube channel
Almost every country in the world has a comprehensive nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which facilitates the agency's role to ensure civilian nuclear materials are not misused. All these were made under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which India has consistently rejected since it opened for signature 40 years ago.
The specific agreement between the IAEA and India will allow the country to place its civil nuclear plants under international observation in a series of tranches. Materials at six of India's nuclear power plants are safeguarded under pre-existing specific agreements with the IAEA. Today ElBaradei said these arrangements could be suspended, with the safeguards work continuing under the new agreement which he expects to cover 14 reactors by 2014. India has 17 reactors in operation now, with another six under construction.
A wide safeguards agreement is an essential step in a project to allow India to buy and sell civilian nuclear power technology and fuel on the international market. Leading nuclear nations including Britain, France, Russia and the USA are ready to complete individual nuclear cooperation deals.
In return for the safeguards the IAEA approved today, the USA has agreed to push for changes in the rules of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which currently limits international trade to NPT signatories. India has already sent envoys to each of the NSG nations to garner support for the changes.
Meanwhile, time is running short for American legislators to bring into law their own nuclear cooperation deal with India (the 123 Agreement) before President George Bush leaves office. This presents the possibility that the USA might not be among the first countries to enjoy nuclear trade with India, despite the American efforts that started this whole process in 2005.