US-India nuclear deal condemned as 'reckless'

Posted: 4 March 2006

The nuclear co-operation agreement reached this week between US President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been welcomed by some US Congressmen of both parties but is being heavily criticised by environmental groups who say it promotes a dangerous technology, instead of clean renewable ones, and increases security risks because it does not hold India to a non-proliferation regime.

These risks far outweigh the energy benefits of the deal,according to researchers at the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute. Spending the same money on new, clean energy options would provide energy without increasing the risk that terrorists will get their hands on nucleararsenals.

Under the agreement India will be able to buy atomic technology and fuel, provided this is approved by the US Congress. In return it has agreed to separate its nuclear programme from its military nuclear one, and will place its civilian nuclear facilities - two-thirds of its reactors - under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The head of the Agency has expressed support for the deal.

Proponents claim that nuclear power will be India's ticket to economic prosperity in this energy-starved country of 1.1 billion people. Butaccording to Worldwatch's State of the World 2006 report, "Renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, and biomass are far more practical energy options for China and India. Both countries have vast land areas that contain a large dispersed and diverse portfolio of renewable energy sources that are attracting foreign and domestic investment as well aspolitical interest."

'Dying industry'

Nuclear power provides only 3 per cent of India's electricity today, and even if the 30 new nuclear plants the government hopes to build are actually completed over the next two decades (India has consistently fallen short on its past nuclear ambition), nuclear would still provide only 5 per cent of the country's electricity and 2 per cent of its total energy, Worldwatch says.

"It would be ironic if Congress were to support this agreement, given the scrutiny that has been given to the Dubai ports deal," said Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin. "The security vulnerabilities that would be exposed by undermining non-proliferation at a critical time are unacceptable. It's going to be tough to argue that Iran and North Korea should be denied nuclear technology while India - which has failed to even join the Non-Proliferation treaty - is given the same technology on a silver platter."

"Nuclear power is a high-cost technology with limited ability to meet the electricity needs of either India or the United States," continuedFlavin. "Nuclear power is a dying industry, and this latest effort to prop it up with government support is unlikely to overcome growingresistance by Wall Street investors and the bond market."

Globally, the nuclear construction business has been in decline for more than two decades. Worldwide, nuclear power is growing at an average rate of less than 1 per cent per year. By contrast, renewable energy - wind,solar, and biofuels - is on a growth surge, averaging annual expansion rates of 25-35 per cent, as President Bush noted enthusiastically inspeeches in Colorado and Michigan last week.

Total investment in the world's renewable energy sector reached $30 billion in 2004, according to the Renewables 2005: Global Status Report.

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