India debates, but IAEA cool

It turns out that while the Indian government has tied itself into knots explaining the Indo-US nuclear deal to Indian political parties, and is seeking a vote of confidence in the Parliament right now, at least some International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials seem to be a little more relaxed.

“I have not yet read the document,” commented Diane Fischer, senior safeguards analyst at IAEA, after a presentation on Monday (July 21) at the Euroscience Open Forum on how the agency tracks nuclear smugglers. A bit surprising given that entire rules are being re-written in the deal, and one would have expected at least some passing academic interest from IAEA officials in the matter.

Fisher was asked by Indian journalists about whether certain IAEA conditions on broader access to nuclear facilities apply to India-specific safeguards in the nuclear deal signed between the two countries in March 2006.

Since then, and even weeks before the signing, there has been much debate in the country about India-specific clauses in the deal, which basically allow India, which has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to buy nuclear fuel from the US for its civilian reactors. This would normally have not been permissible under the US Hyde Act.

After many a hand-wringing among strategic and nuclear science analysts over the India-specific clauses and umpteen changes in the text, officials from India’s Department of Atomic Energy went to IAEA headquarters in Vienna last week to seek approval of the deal. The board of governors at IAEA will meet on August 1 to decide on the issue.

Back home, the coalition government in India tottered, with the Communist parties withdrawing support to the coalition government.

At the time of writing the blog, the result of the Indian parliamentary debate and vote of confidence is yet to be out. And looks like not all IAEA safeguard officials are aware of what the document holds.

T V Padma, South Asia Coordinator, SciDev.Net

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