UK OKs nuclear trade with India

11 November 2008

The UK government has lifted its ban on nuclear-related exports to India, following the decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to allow the transfer of "trigger list" items to India for peaceful purposes.


UK policy since 2002 has been to refuse all licence applications for the transfer of items which could potentially have nuclear uses to India because of that country's status as a non-signatory of the international Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Such items, which appear on the NSG's "trigger list", can only be transferred to a country with full non-proliferation safeguards to ensure that they are indeed used for peaceful purposes. However, after India finalised a wide-ranging safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) earlier this year, the NSG decided in September to permit such items to be transferred to India.


Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell announced in a statement to the House of Commons that the UK would now be considering licence applications for all trigger list items for peaceful purposes in India on a case-by-case basis, and NSG dual-use list items – those which could potentially have military nuclear applications - when they are destined for IAEA safeguarded civil nuclear facilities in India. Applications of all items destined for unsafeguarded nuclear fuel cycle or nuclear explosive activities, or if there is an "unacceptable risk of diversion" to such activities, will continue to be refused. The new policy is effective immediately.


Kazakh uranium?


India has been largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials for over 30 years because of its status outside the NPT. This has not stopped it from developing a nuclear power programme of its own. With 17 nuclear reactors in operation, and six under construction, it plans to have 20,000 MWe of nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050. However, a lack of indigenous uranium reserves, as well as its isolation from nuclear industry trade, has hampered the country's nuclear energy sector.


Now, with the NSG agreement, followed closely by cooperation agreements with France and the USA,  the doors of the international nuclear energy industry are opening to India once again, including the uranium trade.


A diplomat from Kazakhstan has told the Indian media that his country is ready to supply uranium to India and could also potentially take part in the construction of new nuclear power plants. Kairat Umarov, Kazakhstan's ambassador to India, told The Times of India that the "modalities" for such a cooperation would be worked out during a forthcoming visit of Kazakhstan's president Nursultan Nazarbayev to India.


Belgian research agreement


Meanwhile, India is reported to have signed an agreement on nuclear cooperation with Belgium, during a visit by King Albert II to India. According to reports in the Indian press, Belgium is seeking Indian collaboration on the development of its MYRRHA accelerator-driven system (the acronym is taken from Multi-purpose hYbrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications, and features a sub-critical fast nuclear core), while India is looking to participate in the ITER fusion project.