India has completed agreements for civil nuclear cooperation with 11 countries so far, including the U.S., Russia, Australia, Canada and South Korea, but the upcoming agreement with Japan could be the most significant.
Japan is the only country to have been the victim of a nuclear attack, and its decision to sign an agreement with India, a country that has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), would be a first.
Reservations in Japan against nuclear energy have hardened after the Fukushima accident. Tokyo’s support to the deal so far is therefore an indication of the importance it accords to relations with India.
For India, the civil nuclear agreement with Japan is especially important for the message of trust it would convey to Nuclear Suppliers Group members in a year the country hopes to have its admission accepted.
Japan’s support at the NSG has been particularly marked. In fact, India and Japan share many multilateral platforms, including membership of the G-4 group that is knocking at the UN Security Council’s door for reform.
Beyond symbolic reasons, Japanese nuclear energy technology and safety parameters are widely considered to be cutting-edge, and many critical parts needed for Indian reactors are made by Japanese manufacturers. These will not be available to India until the agreement is done.
Although India has even considered trying to manufacture them locally, there won’t be alternatives to Japan for several years. Even the U.S. civil nuclear deal, that is yet to be actualised, is contingent on the deal with Japan, given that the current discussions for six reactors in Andhra Pradesh are with Westinghouse, which is owned by the Japanese company Toshiba.
It may appear baffling why the deal has taken so long to negotiate. The main sticking point has been India’s refusal to sign the NPT, as it considers the treaty unfair to the developing world.
This is why New Delhi is keen on ensuring that in the haste to seal the deal by the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Japan this winter, it doesn’t give in to pressure to adhere to anything more than its own self-declared moratorium on testing.
The Japanese insistence on a “nullification” clause that the agreement would cease as soon as India tests, will be judged with this balance in mind. Particularly post-Fukushima, Japanese manufacturers will also be expected to be more generous with India on the liability issue, given their own experience with the enormous cost of cleaning up. As always, and even more so than with the India-U.S. agreement, the devil will be in the detail of the final draft.