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India-Pakistan: Courting yet more nuclear danger?

Eighteen years after it rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Indian government remains implacably hostile to it, and bristles even at attempts to raise the issue of its entry into force (EIF). This was demonstrated again last week when a member of an eminent persons’ group, established by the Preparatory Commission for the CTBT Organisation to promote EIF, visited India. He was given the cold shoulder by the foreign ministry. India professes a commitment to global nuclear disarmament, but doesn’t support an important, indispensable, step towards abolishing these mass-destruction arms — the only weapons which can exterminate all life on earth, and against which there’s no real defence.

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Tame Israel, Normalise Iran Ties, Isolate Saudi: A new deal in W Asia?

Swiss radiation experts have confirmed the worst suspicion nurtured by independent observers of West Asia—namely, that the death of Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat in 2004 in France was not natural. Doctors were unable to specify the cause of Arafat’s death, which occurred barely a fortnight after he vomited during a meeting and then lapsed into a deepening coma. No autopsy was conducted in keeping with his widow’s request.

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Zionism’s alliance with apartheid: Secret Israel–S. Africa N-Deal Exposed

As the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference concludes in New York, there is no expectation that the world will rapidly eliminate these mass-destruction weapons. But the focus has sharply turned on West Asia because the Western powers, led by the United States, are keen that Iran freezes its nuclear activities. Yet inevitably, attention has also got riveted on Israel, the region’s sole nuclear weapons power. In the limelight too is the issue of nuclear material falling into the hands of extremist groups like al-Qaeda.

Against this backdrop comes the hugely important, sensational, but not sensationalist, disclosure that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to South Africa’s white-racist apartheid regime in 1975, and the two states coordinated their military programmes and strategic approaches. This disclosure, contained in a just-released book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, is based on “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior South African and Israeli officials. These were uncovered by a US-based scholar Sasha Polakow-Suransky through documents recently declassified by the South African government. The Israeli government tried hard to stop their declassification, but failed.

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An insecure arsenal

The task of securing Pakistan’s nuclear facilities against an extremist takeover cannot be left to the U.S. alone.

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How many bombs does India need?

India already has more than 100 fission weapons, each enough to kill up to two million people. This is deterrence enough

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H-bomb or a fizzle?

The claim that the May 1998 thermonuclear test failed should not be used to demand further testing. India does not need hydrogen bombs for security

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Sinking billions into nuclear weapons

India's nuclear weapons pursuit is leading to a runaway increase in arms spending, in which its adversaries become the decision maker.

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No Nukes For Peace

The Times of India, 13 August, 2007

by Praful Bidwai

August 9 was the 62nd anniversary of the atomic devastation of Nagasaki. It is an appropriate, if sad, occasion to look at the military as well as energy implications of the India-US nuclear agreement.

The nuclear deal is as much about weapons as civilian power. Not only does it recognise India as a "responsible" state "with advanced nuclear technology"; it specifically distinguishes between India's civilian and military nuclear facilities while placing the former under international inspections (safeguards). Its Article 2.4 affirms that its purpose is "not to affect the unsafeguarded nuclear activities of either party" or to "hinder or otherwise interfere" with any other activities involving "material and technology" acquired or developed "independent of this agreement for their own purposes".

Put simply, India can produce and stockpile as much weapons-grade material as it likes in its unsafeguarded and military-nuclear facilities, including dedicated weapons-grade plutonium producers like Dhruva, the uranium enrichment plant near Mysore, the Prototype Fast-Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction, and the eight power reactors (of a total of 22 operating or planned ones) exempted from the agreed separation plan.

According to an International Panel on Fissile Materials report, the eight reactors alone will yield 1,250 kg of weapons-grade plutonium a year, enough to build 250 Nagasaki-type bombs. In addition, the PFBR and Dhruva will respectively produce 130 and 20-25 kg of plutonium annually. India can use imported uranium for its safeguarded reactors and dedicate scarce domestic uranium exclusively to military uses, generating up to 200 kg of plutonium after reprocessing.

This will each year allow India to more than triple its existing estimated plutonium inventory of 500 kg, itself enough for 100 warheads. The deal leaves India free to build even more weapons-dedicated facilities. Surely, this puts India's potential nuclear arsenal way beyond the realm of a "minimum deterrent". This should put paid to the argument that the deal will cap India's nuclear-military capability. If anything, the deal panders to India's vaulting nuclear ambitions.

Washington made unique exceptions in the global non-proliferation order for India primarily to recruit it as a close, if subordinate, strategic ally for reasons elaborated since 2000 by Condoleezza Rice, Ashley Tellis and Philip Zelikow, among others. A strong rationale was to create a counterfoil to China, and an anchor within a US-dominated Asian security architecture, on a par with Japan and Israel.

There's a price to pay for this. This isn't merely acquiescence in US strategic-political plans, or accommodation to Washington's pressures in respect of Iran. It also, critically, lies in potentially triggering a regional nuclear-arms race and abandoning the fight for global nuclear disarmament. It is sordid that India, long an apostle of nuclear disarmament, should end up apologising for mass-annihilation weapons.

Will the deal help India achieve energy security? Nuclear power is a hazardous and accident-prone energy source. Its radiation is an invisible but deadly poison; it leaves extremely toxic wastes which remain active for thousands of years. No solution to the waste-storage, leave alone disposal, problem is on the horizon.

Nuclear power is costly. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study estimates US unit costs of 6.7 cents for nuclear, 4.2 cents for coal, and 3.8-5.6 cents for gas. In India, power from nuclear plants under construction will cost Rs 3-plus. But the winning bid for the coal-based Sasan project is only Rs 1.20.

Nuclear power has a bleak future worldwide - despite global warming, which the nuclear industry claims it can mitigate. Nuclear power can only make an insignificant contribution to greenhouse gas reduction. A just-published Oxford Research Group study says that for nuclear industry's contribution to be significant, the global industry would have to construct about one reactor a week for 60 years - an absurdity.

Nuclear power in India is less than 3 per cent of its total electricity capacity. Even if its utopian mid-century targets materialise, nuclear power will only contribute 6-7 per cent to power generation. What price are we paying for it?

The writer is a commentator on public affairs.