Thursday, October 11, 2007

Indo-US nuclear deal - Good for India; but for others?

Till yesterday, Indo-US nuclear deal had my full support. Knowing the energy woes in India and having experienced uninterrupted energy supply in the US, I could confidently say that nuclear deal will be big step towards India's energy security.

Nuclear deal is good for India. OK! But, Does it affect other people around the world? This question never occured to till yesterday and I realised how selfish I had been while analysing this nuclear deal issue. Yesterday evening, My friend and I went to a free screening of a couple of environmental related feature films organised by the Sierra Club. One of the films (called Homeland) focussed on 5 remarkable native-american activists in 4 communities who are fighting to preserve their land and their culture against multinational corporations looking to extract the mineral wealth of their reservation.

One of the reservations - The Navajo community in New Mexico, is very rich in Uranium reserves. It is one of the bigger known reserves of uranium in the US. In the past, there has been traditional mining of uranium in this area and the native-americans were used as labor to do it. No safety and health norms were followed then and the effects of which are still being felt in that community. After a lot of struggle by the local people, the uranium mining was stopped in the Navajo community in the 1960s. The mining had caused lung diseases in the community and there are still many suffering from it. After the 3 Mile accident in 1979, the nuclear industry slowed down in the US. The energy policy of the current Bush administration promised to revive it. So the Indo-Nuclear deal. So Why should we worry about this and what do we Indians have to do with these native-americans?

Below are some salient points from the Indo-US nuclear deal:
1. Washington will support New Delhi develop strategic reserves of nuclear fuel to guard against future disruption of supply.

2. In case of disruption, US and India will jointly convene a group of friendly supplier countries to include nations like Russia, France and the UK to pursue such measures to restore fuel supply.

3. Both the countries agree to facilitate nuclear trade between themselves in the interest of respective industries and consumers.

4. India and the US agree to transfer nuclear material, non-nuclear material, equipment and components.

5. Any special fissionable material transferred under the agreement shall be low enriched uranium.

6. Low enriched uranium can be transfered for use as fuel in reactor experiments and in reactors for conversion or fabrication

In simple words, the above points mean India will have uninterrupted supply of Nuclear Fuel for its US-made nuclear reactors.

Where will US get this uranium at the cheapest price?- From its own land and places like the Navajo Valley. The US administration had given approval to do solution mining of Uranium in the Navajo Land in 1990s. The local people have fought against this for more than a decade now. Though this method of Uranium mining is safer than the traditional ones, research has shown that this pollutes the ground water for ever. Small amounts of uranium is still left in the ground water which is used for solution mining of Uranium. This will affect the poor community of Navajo in drastic way and they might run out of safe water in a few year. The nuclear deal will make it more imperative that mining resume in the Navajo Vally.

My point here is that India should find out where it is getting its uranium from. If we are getting the uranium from areas like the Navajo valley, India is directly responsible for the drastic effects of uranium mining on this community. That makes India no different from the US that attacked Iraq and Afghanistan for Oil without caring about the people there. They have affected the lives of millions of people just so that US can have its energy security and the oil-giants can make money. India is not attacking anybody but it is indirectly supporting the uranium mining. I am sure our Indian politicians have not thought about this nor do they care. But I think we should. India should never be - directly or indirectly - be responsible for any community getting affected anywhere in the world.

US needs to get this deal through. It will create thousands of jobs in the US and will revive the ailing nuclear industry in the US. India can make sure that we get the uranium we want, from the place we want without having adverse effects on other peoples' lives

I still support the deal. India will benefit a lot from it. But India has to make sure that the deal that will help us, does not affect others around the world like the Navajo community.