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THE Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is unlikely to have a consensus on admitting India, unless New Delhi comes up with a clear plan for the separation of current and future civilian nuclear facilities from non-civilian nuclear facilities, experts warn.

Currently, the NSG is considering India’s application for membership and member states are reportedly discussing membership criteria for states not party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). The discussion focuses on the requirement for clear and strict separation of current and future civilian nuclear facilities from non-civilian nuclear facilities.

To widen the discussion on this key issue, Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs released a paper this week, which warns that admitting India without proper safeguards would have serious implications for countries like Pakistan.

The author, John Carlson, a former director general of Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, examines India’s Separation Plan and safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and shows that they do not meet NSG standards.

He argues that current arrangements create an unverified grey zone between military and civilian material, and are not sufficient to verify that India is not using safeguarded material to benefit military purposes.

“The situation also has implications for Pakistan, which has raised concern about the strategic threat posed by India’s unsafeguarded materials and facilities and is also seeking to join the NSG,” the author observes.

The paper says that a state seeking to join the NSG not only need to demonstrate a clear separation between civilian and non-civilian nuclear programmes but also need to apply safeguards to the civilian materials and facilities to verify they are not being used for military purposes.

“The current India-IAEA safeguards agreement is not an appropriate model to apply,” says Mr Carlson, adding that if India is reluctant to amend its safeguards agreement, “perhaps Pakistan can lead by example by concluding an agreement that avoids these problems.”

The paper notes that “India’s continued operation of dual-purpose facilities is strategically provocative — for instance Pakistan views India’s fast breeder reactors, and other unsafeguarded materials and facilities, as part of the military programme, posing a strategic threat.”

The paper claims that India, far from assuming the same responsibilities as other leading nuclear countries, is “operating a fuel cycle model —civilian and military programs closely linked—that was abandoned by the nuclear-weapon states decades ago.”

In light of the deficiencies in India’s current Separation Plan, exacerbated by the problems in the 2009 safeguards agreement, “it seems unlikely there will be consensus within the NSG to admit India, unless these concerns are addressed,” Mr Carlson adds.

According to the paper: India’s 2006 Separation Plan committed to place under IAEA safeguards 14 out of 22 power reactors then in operation or under construction, together with nominated upstream and downstream facilities — 35 facilities in all. For the future, facilities would be placed under safeguards if India determines that they are “civilian.”

India will include in the civilian list “only those facilities ...that, after separation, will no longer be engaged in activities of strategic significance.

The overarching criterion would be a judgement whether subjecting a facility to IAEA safeguards would impact adversely on India’s national security.

A facility will be excluded from the civilian list if it is located in a larger hub of strategic significance, notwithstanding the fact that it may not be normally engaged in activities of strategic significance.

A civilian facility would therefore, be one that India has determined not to be relevant to its strategic programme.

Currently, India has three classes of nuclear facilities: facilities that are declared as civilian and designated for IAEA safeguards; facilities that are functionally civilian but can be dual-use; and facilities that appear to be purely military. Facilities not designated for safeguards include eight out of the 22 heavy water power reactors), fast breeder reactors, and enrichment and reprocessing facilities. All of these facilities can be operated to produce weapon-grade materials.

Mr Carlson argues that in the separation plan, the relationships between the civilian safeguarded, dual-use unsafeguarded, and military programmes are opaque.

Under the India-IAEA safeguards agreement, civilian facilities that are unsafeguarded can be transferred into safeguards and out again on a temporary or “campaign” basis, safeguarded material can be used in normally unsafeguarded facilities, and unsafeguarded material can be used in safeguarded facilities.

India has the flexibility to use both safeguarded and unsafeguarded programmes to optimise fissile material production. The flexibility of these arrangements contradicts the international assurances IAEA safeguards are intended to provide.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2018