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[NEW DELHI] Indian-US plans to cooperate on nuclear energy have drawn public criticism from eight of India's top scientists in the field.

They say that recent US changes to the text of the deal are "unacceptable to India" and would limit its independence in nuclear research and its right to a nuclear deterrent.

The scientists, who include three former chairs of India's Atomic Energy Commission, voiced their concerns yesterday (14 August) in a letter to Indian parliamentarians due to debate the deal in coming days.

The agreement was signed in Washington on 18 July 2005 by India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh and US president George Bush. Further details were worked out during Bush’s visit to India in March 2006 (India and US sign milestone nuclear deal).

Under the deal, the United States agreed to sell nuclear reactors, fuel and equipment to India to build power stations. In return India agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its civilian reactors.

The letter's signatories say that while they welcome the agreement, new clauses proposed by the US House of Representatives last month would limit Indian research and development in nuclear science.

They are also concerned at the prospect of external supervision or control of India's nuclear activities. "This is especially true when they concern strategic national defence and energy self-sufficiency," says the letter.

It adds: "The lawmakers of the US congress have modified, both in letter and spirit, the implementation of such an agreement."

The letter warns against decisions that inhibit India's "future ability to develop and pursue nuclear technologies for the benefit of the nation", and says that it would be diplomatically very difficult to change such decisions in the future.

Ashok Parthasarathy, former science advisor to India, says that, "if the conditions unacceptable to India are not removed, it is better for India to do away with the deal".

The agreement has prompted criticism from atomic scientists before but this is the first time they have made a unified, public stand.

Ahead of Bush's visit to India in March, the Atomic Energy Commission's chair Anil Kakodkar told the Indian Express newspaper that the US government had been constantly 'moving the goalposts' during the deal negotiations.

Link to full text of the letter  [26KB]

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