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India’s troublesome Nuclear Liability Laws: still an issue for the US? October 31, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

In May 2010 I noted that the then Civil Nuclear Liability Bill defined the financial and legal liabilities for groups, seeking “to put the burden of damages on the nuclear plant operator”. (South Asia Masala, “Operationalizing” the Indo-US nuclear agreement) That burden remained unacceptable to potential operators United States’ companies Westinghouse and General Electric Hitachi, which have waited some three years for inter-government agreement to be reached on the unsatisfactory Nuclear Liability laws, before taking up long-since allocated sites in India to develop commercial nuclear power plants.

The Liability bill approved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Ministerial Cabinet in 2009 and passed by Parliament in 2010, defined financial and legal liabilities, and was the final facilitating step in the 2008 Indo-US Nuclear Agreement, itself several years in negotiation. The benefit for India in the US reversal of a lengthy ban on supplying nuclear fuel and technology is immense, but the fine-tuning in this last stage is as problematic as the earlier delays and trade-offs over the issue of a nuclear reprocessing facility in India.


Defence Minister Johnston and Australia’s role in Pakistan September 27, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

As we wind down in Afghanistan after a twelve-year war, new Defence Minister David Johnston reportedly says we need to keep our counter-insurgency skills honed, including for possible use in Pakistan (SMH, 21 September 2013).

Mr Johnston and his advisers need to think such statements through. Does he mean a limited role in advising Pakistan on counter-insurgency or does he envision a more robust involvement in maintaining stability? Either way, there is no useful role for Australia, either singly or in concert with its friends and allies.

Pakistan is both a supporter of the insurgency in Afghanistan and involved in counter-insurgency against groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) within Pakistan.

In the former role, the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the ISI, support Afghan anti-government groups like the Haqqani network and harbour the Taliban leadership in Quetta. US intelligence believes the Haqqani network, with support from the ISI, was involved in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008, in which 58 died. The network also allegedly killed the Karzai government’s chief peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani.


India-China border tension and nuclear posturing May 9, 2013

Posted by aungsi in : Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

The standoff between China and India in Ladakh has been resolved, at least for now. After China set up five tents for 40 personnel 19 km inside what India regards as the line of control, India set up similar tents facing them.  Both lots of tents are now to be removed, but it is still unclear whether India is to remove any of the structures at Fukche and Chumar, as demanded by the Chinese.

The Chinese withdrawal only occurred after India had hardened its position on the impending visit of Indian foreign Minister Salman Kurshid to Beijing on 9 May and the reciprocal visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to New Delhi on 20 May. The Indian government was forced to harden its position by the strong public reaction to what was perceived to be its week-kneed response to the Chinese ‘incursions’.

A disturbing feature of the incident was the way it had been politicised on both sides, thus risking the protagonists being ‘locked in’ to their respective positions.


Implications of India’s long-range missile capabilities May 4, 2012

Posted by nishankmotwani in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India , comments closed

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This post first appeared on Future Directions International on 2 May 2012.


As the latest addition to India’s expanding arsenal, the launch of the Agni-5 long-range missile on 19 April is another step forward in the diversification of India’s nuclear strike capabilities. While India celebrates its technological achievement, the development of a nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missile, with an estimated range of 5,000 kilometres or 3,100 miles, is likely to intensify strategic competition between Pakistan and China, which have viewed these developments with reservation.


Although senior Indian officials publicly say that the Agni-5 is for deterrence purposes only, India has a clear rationale behind the missile’s development, which is to: demonstrate its expanding strategic strike capabilities, impress the world’s major powers that possess intercontinental missiles and deliver a strong message to Pakistan and China. (more…)

India and Australia: The end of estrangement? April 4, 2012

Posted by nishankmotwani in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

Reprinted from Clingendael Asia Forum at the Clingendael Asia Studies, 9 December 2011. Read the full story.

On the eve of the visit of US President Barack Obama, Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared that Australia is willing to reconsider its ban on uranium exports to India. The ban is widely believed to be a major obstacle to a stronger India—Australia relationship, which has so far remained weak despite numerous, and shared maritime security concerns. While estrangement during the Cold War was understandable, Australia’s and India’s subsequent inability to forge a closer relationship is not. Gillard’s latest move is being seen as a game changer that will end strategic discrimination against India and signal Australia’s willingness to shed its Cold War blinkers and come to terms with the end of India’s nuclear isolation. It is unfair, however, to expect a dramatic improvement in the India-Australia relationship as a consequence of lifting the ban.

Behind Gillard’s India uranium sale decision November 19, 2011

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

This article first appeared in The Australian on 18 November. The Australian is no longer available on the internet except on subscription.

Julia Gillard would have been more politically comfortable had she left the issue of uranium sales to India rusting in the ‘parking lot’. The pressing questions is therefore: why now?

There are obviously a number of factors involved, but it is clearly no accident that her announcement was made on the eve of the visit of President Obama, who came to announce a new US engagement in Asia and an enhanced role for Australia.

The new US strategic thrust is mainly about the rise of China and relative decline of the US.  With bin Laden dead and after years of US ‘boots on the ground’ in the Middle East and South West Asia, Washington has concluded that its wars are now providing security for others such as China to ‘free ride’, while America pays a price it can ill afford in blood and treasure.  All this saps America’s capacity to play in the real game, which has now shifted to Asia.

Gillard and Obama at APEC – next stop for India?


India’s reprocessing revisited: the NSG’s new guidelines July 21, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

The forty-six member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) agreed on 24 June to strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies (ENR) that, at first glance, may affect India’s nuclear agreement with the United States.

The NSG aims to prevent nuclear exports for commercial and peaceful purposes being used in nuclear weapon making.  To this end a raft of regulations bar the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology to states that have not signed or do not comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and do not allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) full inspection rights and safeguards to be put in place.  India has IAEA approval for its commercial nuclear program, but remains outside the NPT although its nonproliferation record has NSG recognition.

Then US Secretary of State Rice introducing the 123 Agreement


The future of nuclear energy in India March 24, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

From mining to waste disposal, the nuclear energy industry faces hazards at every step. The recent nuclear accidents in Japan following the massive Tsunami have shaken any confidence we may have had in viewing nuclear energy as a safe alternative to hydrocarbons. These accidents raise serious questions regarding the ability of developing countries like India, which have weak regulatory bodies and dysfunctional disaster management systems, to deal with nuclear accidents. There is very little scope for public scrutiny of the nuclear energy industry in these countries due to “national security” considerations.

Let us focus on a specific problem highlighted by the Japanese accidents, namely, uncertainty associated with emergency cooling measures. A large number of nuclear power plants across the world are located near the sea to ensure adequate supply of coolant in emergencies. Tsunami is, however, just one of the numerous threats to the safe operation of coastal nuclear power plants. Rising sea levels and the increasing frequency of high intensity weather events like cyclones due to climate change means that such plants will increasingly face emergencies of the kind seen in Japan. The alternative is to locate plants inland. But climate change has also made that option unattractive in two ways. Firstly, inland water bodies are warmer than ever before. Secondly, such water bodies are prone to dry up in summers. So, switching to nuclear energy cannot be a reasonable answer to climate change. Nuclear power plants are, in fact, sitting ducks for nature’s fury. (more…)

India’s nuclear energy future – a positive outlook? March 22, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

Amid media comments on nuclear energy post-Japan’s earthquake and tsunami such as labeling it a pariah in supply terms, latent fears of uranium use have re-emerged with nations assessing their nuclear energy plans.  India however, has strong reasons to continue its commitment.

On 14 March, three days after the start of the emergency at Fukushima, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament that the safety of all India’s nuclear power plants would immediately be inspected. Reuters reported the following day that India’s nuclear program was on track, there would be more stringent controls and, quoting the Prime Minister, “The department of atomic energy and its agencies …  have been instructed to undertake an immediate technical review of all safety systems of our nuclear power plants … with a view to ensuring that they would be able to withstand the impact of large natural disasters such as tsunami and earthquakes”.

On 16 March the Hindustan Times editorial enlarged on the Government’s underlying concerns; that no technology is without risk and that India’s safety procedures are less than well-rehearsed, but that nuclear power remains “the only economically viable renewable source of energy”. The editorial concluded that nuclear power has a relatively good safety record and that “India must not take nuclear power off the table”.  (more…)

How to count nuclear installations November 10, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

India’s civil nuclear liability legislation (The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010) has been controversial ever since the draft Bill was introduced to the Parliament in May 2010. In a hurry to get the Bill passed in the Parliament before the US President’s visit to India, the government did not even check if it dovetailed with existing legislation and case law. In fact, the Act abounds in internal inconsistencies. For instance, the Act caps the total liability in respect of a nuclear accident in terms of Special Drawing Rights whereas the cap on the operator’s liability is expressed in Rupees. Since the residual liability rests with the state it has to bear the cost of currency fluctuations. Thanks to this inconsistency the state is expected to take care of its nuclear liabilities at the cost of its fiscal responsibilities and development commitments. Between December 2007 and August 2010, when the Bill was passed, SDR appreciated by 15 per cent in comparison to the Rupee. A similar currency fluctuation in future would raise the public share of the total liability for each nuclear accident by Rupees 3182 million, equivalent to the annual budget allocation for smaller provinces under the Education for All program.

Map showing India’s nuclear power plants – Source, Official Indian map as at mapsofindia.com.