France stops supply of uranium
THE FRENCH government's decision to stop supplying enriched uranium for the nuclear reactor in Tarapur, 100 km north of Bombay, has thrown the Indian establishment into a tizzy.
Some department of atomic energy (DAE) officials insist the French announcement is merely a ploy to make India sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). Other assert they will not allow this development to sidetrack India's peaceful atomic energy programme.
Since 1977, fuel for the Tarapur plant has been supplied by France under an arrangement that ends in October. Enriched uranium for the plant, which was made with US collaboration, was provided initially by the US under a 1963 agreement that envisaged supplies would continue upto 1993. But, this was called off in 1977 under congressional pressure.
France has indicated it might extend the agreement if India signs the NPT. This would require New Delhi to open all its facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Discriminatory treaty India argues NPT is discriminatory because it deals most leniently with countries that already possess nuclear weapons. Even worse, says M R Srinivasan, former chairperson of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and DAE secretary, "Nuclear powers have tried to obstruct even the genuinely peaceful strategies of use of atomic energy by developing countries."
Authorities at Tarapur have developed plans to use a mix of oxides of uranium and plutonium as fuel for the twin reactors there. This, they say, would allow them to substitute enriched uranium with plutonium 239, which can be obtained by reprocessing the spent (used) uranium stored at Tarapur. They say this would allow the reactor to operate upto 2010.
Indian plans to reprocess the fuel supplied by the US and France has raised the hackles of the Clinton administration. In mid-June, a US embassy official in New Delhi announced his government would react "very sharply" if India reprocessed spent fuel of American origin.
Reacting indignantly, Srinivasan -- a member of the team that negotiated the 1963 Indo-US agreement -- recalled the Americans had specifically allowed reprocessing. "From then on," he maintains, "the Americans have consistently back-tracked from the provisions of the agreement."
Diplomatic and defence experts in New Delhi are adopting an even more hardline stance. Says R R Subramanian of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, "India should exercise its freedom to do what it likes with the spent fuel."