India's nuclear safeguards deal

10 July 2008

India's nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been released to officials. The deal will bring many Indian nuclear facilities into the global mainstream and is a step towards international trade.


ElBaradei Kakodkar (Dean Calma/IAEA) 
Negotiations on safeguards began
when Mohamed Elbaradei sat down
with Anil Kakodkar in November 2007
(Image: Dean Calma/IAEA)
A draft copy of the document, dated 9 July, gives details of arrangements between India and the IAEA for the agency to ensure nuclear materials and technology meant for civil production of power are not used in India's nuclear weapons program.


The document emerged at a crunch time for the US-India nuclear cooperation deal, which has been delayed by almost a year. Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush declared in July 2005 they intended to work towards a position where India could engage in international nuclear trade.


A key part of the US-India deal was the agreement that the USA would lead an initiative to request the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) make an exception for India from its normal rules. The NSG is a non-treaty organization which limits civil nuclear trade to signatories of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which India has rejected as unfair from the start. This US action was conditional on India voluntarily placing its civilian nuclear infrastructure under safeguards.


Now, with the emergence of the safeguards agreement and the news that some of Singh's former political opponents have crossed the floor to support him, the US-India deal seems reinvigorated - even if time to pass enabling legislation before Bush leaves office is running very short. However, should the US-India deal fail, America would still be expected to act at NSG meetings with the support of other leading nuclear nations which are poised to conclude their own cooperation agreements with India.


The safeguards agreement is ready for signature by Indian and IAEA representatives.


The agreement


Under the NPT, member states of the IAEA are divided into two groups: 'non-nuclear weapons states' and 'nuclear weapons states', the latter group comprising only China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA. Effectively, the terms of the NPT and the safeguards agreement each country holds with the IAEA allow the weapons states large relative freedom in nuclear matters. The non-weapons states are much more confined.


India's agreement more closely resembles that of a non-weapons state. It takes the form of an 'umbrella' agreement on reporting and inspection procedures for the IAEA to ensure the separation of civil and military nuclear programs at any number of Indian sites.


After signing the agreement, India would make declarations to the IAEA detailing its civilian nuclear facilities and stocks of civilian fissionable nuclear material, uranium and plutonium. Sites being put under safeguards would be declared in phases and listed in an annex to the main nuclear safeguards agreement.


The text of the agreement itself describes special arrangements for uranium conversion, nuclear fuel fabrication and used fuel reprocessing facilities which could be only partly covered by safeguards. If India ever decides to place a uranium enrichment facility under safeguards, it would "consult and agree" on safeguards for it with the IAEA before placing it in the agreement annex.


More special arrangements are made for nuclear sites which host safeguarded (civilian) and unsafeguarded (essentially military) nuclear materials. Special rules also apply to operations blending the two categories of material, which would ensure the same or more fissionable atoms remain under safeguards at all times.


The text notes that an "essential basis" of India accepting the agreement is "the conclusion of international cooperation arrangements creating the necessary conditions for India to obtain access to nuclear fuel supplies from companies in several nations." The text notes that India, however, remains committed to its own three-phase nuclear development program drawn up to enable nuclear power expansion without access to international supplies of uranium.