$100B Business at Stake in US-India Nuclear Deal
The Indian government is pulling out all stops to win this vote to salvage the US-India nuclear deal. In addition to the Indian people, the international community and the nuclear suppliers group (NSG) are also watching the vote closely.
The NSG's interest lies in the estimated $100 billion worth of nuclear business in India over the next two decades. U.S. companies hope to capture as large of a share of that business as possible. Private studies suggest that if U.S. vendors win just two civil nuclear reactor contracts, they would create 3,000–5,000 new direct jobs and 10,000–15,000 indirect jobs in the United States, according to US International Trade Administration.
It has now been three years since the signing of the historic agreement between President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. During this period, political parties and media in India have been debating the merits and pitfalls of the agreement.
India has also asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to place the draft India-IAEA Safeguards agreement before its Board of Governors. After the board's approval, the U.S. will seek an exemption from the international Nuclear Suppliers Group that would allow the deal to proceed. The final step will be a vote in the U.S. Congress on the so-called 123 Agreement.
As the deal makes its way through the Indian parliament, the IAEA, the NSG and the US Congress, there is heavy lobbying taking place on all sides. The US nuclear suppliers lobby is actively pushing for passage in the US Congress, even if it requires a lame-duck session after the November elections. Some nonproliferation advocates in the U.S. have also stepped up their campaign against the deal. They claim the agreement will facilitate a new nuclear testing by India, and thereafter will allow India to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. Non-proliferation advocates have also argued that India could expel IAEA inspectors in the future and thwart the IAEA inspection regime.
The US legislation passed in 2006 -- the so-called Hyde Act -- that gave preliminary approval to the U.S.-India agreement, requires that Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider it. Congressional aides said that clock can begin to tick only once India clears two more hurdles -- completing an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and securing approval from the 45 nations that form the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which governs trade in reactors and uranium. Because of the long August recess, less than 40 days are left in the session before Congress adjourns on Sept. 26, according to the Washington Post.
India is said to be running short of uranium needed to fuel its reactors. It is anxious to win "clean" agreements with the IAEA and the NSG that would not result in fuel cutoffs if it decides to resume testing nuclear weapons.
Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, is a strong supporter of the agreement, but Sen. Barack Obama, his Democratic rival, is more skeptical. During the congressional debate on the Hyde Act, Sen Obama added language in the bill limiting the amount of nuclear fuel supplied to India from the United States to deter nuclear testing. Though proliferation is a constant concern raised in the US, there has not been much discussion of the implications of this deal for other nations in the neighborhood: Pakistan, Iran and China.
Pakistan's nuclear fuel needs are currently very modest and they currently are met by China. China has promised to help Pakistan achieve its target of generating 8,800 MW of nuclear power by 2030 by speeding up the delivery of the six nuclear plants and supply the necessary fuel, according to various reports. At the same time, Pakistan is building a $1.2 billion facility to develop the capability to manufacture full-cycle nuclear fuel and power plants. The Iranian situation is currently very murky with the US and EU threatening sanctions if Iran continues to enrich uranium.
If India wins the IAEA and the NSG approvals that would not result in fuel cutoffs in the event it decides to resume testing nuclear weapons, it could easily bypass any US restrictions and obtain needed nuclear supplies from other nations eager to do business with India.
Here's a brief video clip with Dr. Leonard Weiss, an NPT expert, explaining the US-India nuclear deal: