India and US sign milestone nuclear deal

The new Indo-US fund will support a range of basic and applied research projects Copyright: IRD

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[NEW DELHI] India and the United States have reached agreement on the specific details of a deal that signals the end of decades of India being isolated from the international nuclear community.

They will also create a new joint science and technology fund and a bilateral commission to promote technical cooperation.

The announcements were made yesterday (2 March) during US president George Bush’s three-day visit to India.

Under a deal signed in July 2005, the United States agreed to sell reactors, fuel and equipment for India to build power stations with. The materials were previously off-limits, as India has not signed the UN’s nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

In return, India agreed to give inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its civilian reactors.

Under that agreement, India committed to identifying of its reactors were for civilian or for military use. It has now identified 14 reactors, either existing and under-construction, as civilian.

Together they will produce 65 per cent of India’s total nuclear power, and will now have to adhere to international safeguards.

But India will not give the inspectors access to eight other reactors, which it has designated as being for military or research purposes, and will be free to decide the purpose of any future reactors.

India’s separation of the civilian and nuclear reactors will be completed by 2014.

Bush said the "historic" deal would help India meet its growing energy needs and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

The US Congress must, however, approve the plans before they can be enacted. And if approved, new guidelines will need to be adopted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group — the group of countries that sell nuclear technology for civilian use.

Also announced yesterday, a new Indo-US commission will promote public-private research partnerships and serve as a forum for dialogue between the government agencies in both countries.

The commission will foster exchange programmes between governments, universities and the private sector, and encourage research on technologies with commercial potential.  

The commission, which will comprise senior government officials, scientists, and industry representatives, will also oversee the new Bi-national Science and Technology Endowment Fund.

Valangiman Ramamurthy, secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, told SciDev.Net that the fund’s size and organisation would be decided next month.

Government agencies and the private sector are expected to contribute to the fund, which will support basic and applied research in biotechnology, health and infectious diseases, advanced materials and nanotechnology, climate science and renewable energy, among others.