Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Column in New Indian Express titled New Five Make Right Noise
April 27,2011

Brick By Brick- India in New Five to Assert Independence

By T.P.Sreenivasan

India appears to be building a wall between itself and the Unites States brick by brick after five years of building bridges with Washington. The BRICS summit in Sanya in China was the latest instance of the demonstration by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his strategic partnership with the US does not preclude other coalitions of convenience.The Libya vote in the UN Security Council, friendly gestures to Iran and cricket diplomacy with Pakistan were the other signals.The BRICS summit did not advance any of India's vital interests, but provided another forum for India to assert its independent foreign policy.

Diverse as they may be, with little political glue, the BRICS states made tentative steps towards a common position not only on economic matters, but also on some sensitive political issues. China characterised it as "a defining force to shape the new international political and economic order." But the US, like Banquo's ghost, hovered around the room in Sanya and moderated and diluted the outcome. Each one of the New Five has more to gain from the US than from each other, however keen they are to find a common cause. The presence of two of the P-5 in the New Five makes it a strange mix.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have more things that divide them than those that unite them. Russia and China and China and India are more adversarial than comradely.Brazil and South Africa have their own grievances against India as they had voluntarily given up their nuclear option, while India gained the best of both worlds by testing and later signing the nuclear deal with the United States. Brazil and South Africa are bitter about Chinese economic policies, which have impacted them adversely. There is no precedent to a name coined by a private financial institution becoming the nomenclature of an international economic or political grouping. The term, BRIC was coined by Goldman Sachs to characterise the phenomenon of four large and emerging economies, not to turn them into power brokers. The Chairman of Goldman Sachs has noted that the five countries do not have same interests, their wealth per head is different and their politics and philosophy are different.

Another grouping, India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) is already in existence with democracy and development goals as a platform and the emergence of BRICS is likely to weaken this useful association. As the largest developing countries with global aspirations, the three countries have a clear political and economic agenda, which must be pursued.

Although the initial steps to turn BRIC into a viable grouping were taken by Russia, China has now taken charge by first inducting South Africa and then hosting the first BRICS summit.With the addition of South Africa, BRIC not only became BRICS, but also a new reality with representation from all continents. Two of them are permanent members of the Security Council and three are non-permanent members with aspiration for permanent membership. Such a group as this cannot but command attention.

What transpired in Sanya was no less impressive. Apart from the expected call for reform of global financial and monetary institutions, the New Five decided to take law into their own hands by deciding to use their currencies for the transactions among themselves, though it will not amount to more than 1 percent of world trade. China extracted its pound of flesh by getting the five to endorse its own agenda of seeking Yuan to be in the basket of currencies for SDRs even though it is not fully convertible. China's currency revaluation, a matter of urgency for the other participants, was not on the agenda. China, however, agreed to import more value added products from the other four states. Russia gained support for its membership of the World Trade Organisation. India did not get much except vague support for Security Council reform without any mention of expansion of permanent membership, despite the fact that four out of the five are committed to it. Even the lukewarm US support for India goes beyond "comprehensive reform of the UN, including its Security Council" advocated by BRICS. As the host, China has orchestrated the outcome to its advantage.

Russia and China were in a position to veto the Libya resolution in the Security Council, authorising humanitarian intervention in Libya, but chose to abstain, thus enabling the US and NATO to have their way. South Africa had actually voted for the resolution. India and Brazil, which abstained more to distance themselves from US interventionism than to support Gaddafi, found some consolation in the group favouring a negotiated rather than a forced settlement in Libya. "We share the principle that the use of force should be avoided", they said, extending support for the efforts of the African Union.The clear signal from Sanya was that BRICS will be a pressure group within the G-20 and the Security Council to counter the US. But care was taken not to be provocative or confrontational as they have to gain much from their partnership with the US.The P-5 spirit may well remain intact even after the Sanya summit.

India found another brick for its wall by mending fences with China. India announced resumption of defence exchanges with China without a solution for the issue which prompted the suspension of the exchanges in the first place. China has not yet withdrawn its practice of issuing residents of Jammu and Kashmir "paper visa" for China. India made another concession by accepting unwritten conditions on the composition of defence delegations, which will visit China.Even the formation of a new mechanism to tackle issues arising on the border was no concession by China. If anything, it recognised the Chinese position that the border issue was too complex to be resolved in a hurry.Improvement of relations without any notable change in the Chinese assertiveness is of no value except as a signal to the United States.The Chinese encouragement to Pakistan's belligerence and its border claims remained untouched.

Like in the old days of the Non-aligned Movement, the signatories to the declaration will rush to Washington to put the best possible construction on the wording to convince the United States that they did not mean to offend its sensitivities. The old game of public declarations and private confessions will continue. But, for each member of the group, BRICS has its uses.They have to build their defences against the United States brick by brick

Saturday, April 23, 2011

IAEA- The Way to go after Fukushima.

By T.P.Sreenivasan

A distressed Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),who helplessly witnessed a nuclear catastrophe in his own homeland with no authority or capability to help, has invited the foreign ministers of member countries to Vienna in June to devise ways and means to strengthen the safety role of the Agency. Normally, conclaves of the IAEA are gatherings of top nuclear scientists and Vienna based diplomats, who claim monopoly of wisdom on matters nuclear and insist that the greatest danger to the world arises from proliferation of nuclear weapons beyond the designated nuclear weapon powers. But this time, the invitees are policy makers, who have to think out of the box to rid the world of the scourge of nuclear accidents.Safety is too important a subject to be left to those with vested interests.

Perhaps, the June meeting may eventually be attended only by the scientists, now that the horrors of Fukushima have gone off the television screens and comfort is being sought in the thought that no one has died of radiation as against the thousands that perished on account of the earthquakes and tsunami. The two workers who were found dead in the reactors may have, after all, died of falling debris.Like the Three Mile island and Chernobyl, Fukushima will fade into history as another accident that did not need any more attention than its predecessors.But it will be unconscionable for the June meeting to just pay lip service to the safety mantra and move on with the business as usual in the comfort that God is in his heaven and all is well with the world.

The world seems to have long forgotten that the IAEA was created to harness atoms for peace safely without diverting them for military use.The subsequent emergence of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) turned the Agency into a proliferation watchdog, with much of its resources devoted to the safeguards aspect of its activities. Rightly did the Director General lament that the IAEA was not a safety watchdog and it had no choice but to be on response mode when a meltdown took place in Fukushima. It took several days before the IAEA was given any responsibility. It had no source other than the operators to tell them about the seriousness of the situation.

Prevention of accidents should be the highest priority for the IAEA. Its role should start from the designing of reactors and continue through installation and operation. Presently, such responsibilities rest with private companies, for whom profitability is paramount. Even state authorities give importance to efficiency and cost rather than safety. Apart from setting standards, the IAEA should be involved in selecting venues to ensure that the places, which are vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis are excluded. It should be mandatory to involve the IAEA at every stage and the IAEA should, in turn, be given the resources necessary to respond to requests immediately and meaningfully. Peer reviews organised under the aegis of the Agency must also be mandatory for member states to accept.

Should an accident occur, the IAEA should be instantly involved in minimizing the danger of radiation and in defending the population against its evil impact. Questions of sovereignty should be set aside as in the case of humanitarian intervention in the event of internal conflicts.To equip the IAEA to perform such functions, there should be a team at the disposal of the Director General, which can be deployed at short notice, much like the rapid deployment forces maintained by Governments.

When a group of eminent persons formulated a vision for the IAEA in 2020, the focus was on a nuclear renaissance, which seemed to be in the offing. Today, the priority is to restore confidence in the people, particularly in the vicinity of reactors. The Governments have little credibility in this matter and the IAEA should fill the gap.

The June conference should restore the balance originally envisaged between promotion of nuclear energy, safety and safeguards. The overwhelming importance given to safeguards has deprived the Agency of its safety dimension.Nuclear power will inevitably lose much of its sheen in the aftermath of Fukushima. Only after safety is ensured can the IAEA engage in promotion of nuclear power.The IAEA should become as much a watchdog of safety as it is of non-proliferation.

The world, still in the throes of the nightmare of Fukushima, looks to the Vienna conclave with hope and expectations.Its success lies in enabling the IAEA to play its role in preventing nuclear accidents and assisting countries to battle the aftermath of accidents, if any. The future of nuclear power will depend on the confidence that that the IAEA can eventually instill in humanity.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nuclear Power After Fukushima

(An All India radio Talk recorded on April 18, 2011)

The Fukushima nuclear disaster could not have come at a more inopportune moment for nuclear power around the world, particularly in India. The stage was set for an exponential expansion of nuclear power as a source of energy because of the scientific evidence that use of fossil fuels was positively harmful to the environment on account of the emission of greenhouse gases. Nuclear power, on the other hand, was seen as clean, long lasting and economical, compared to the other energy sources.

The world was on the verge of a nuclear renaissance, with nearly fifty new countries opting for the generation of nuclear power. The United States, which had built no nuclear reactors for more than twenty years, began construction of new nuclear reactors. China was poised to expand its nuclear power generation dramatically. India, which had an ambitious plan for generation of nuclear power, but was hampered by shortage of uranium and a ban on exports of nuclear material to India, was ushered into an era of expansion of nuclear power when the India – US civilian nuclear deal opened the option for India to import nuclear fuel and reactors from diverse sources. India saw nuclear power as the panacea for its power shortage and development constraints.

The world was not unaware of the danger of nuclear accidents when reactors were initially designed and built. The locations of reactors were chosen with extreme care to protect them from natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. Heavily populated areas were excluded to the extent possible for fear of radiation in the event of a meltdown. Two major nuclear accidents, one on the Three Mile Island in the United States and the other in Chernobyl in Ukraine shocked the world, but they both turned out to be on account of human error, not design or functional faults. Other minor accidents also did not reveal any fundamental flaws in the science of nuclear power generation. Nuclear reactors withstood the onslaught of earthquakes and tsunamis by shutting themselves down and maintaining cooling systems to contain the generation of heat. There was a sense of comfort that nuclear reactors were safe, as long as normal precautions were taken and strict safety standards were observed.

Fukushima shook us in to the realization that calculations with regard to the intensity of earthquakes and tsunamis could go dangerously wrong and a combination of the two natural phenomena could bring havoc to reactors and endanger humanity itself. The Fukushima earthquake was more than 9 on the Richter scale and the tsunami, which followed, was of unprecedented proportions. Though the safety systems installed in the reactors kicked in as expected, they were knocked out one after the other, leading to a meltdown with grave consequences for human, animal and plant life. The reactors shut down instantly and the cooling systems began working, but both the electric systems as well as the diesel generators were devoured by the high tsunami waves, leaving pumping massive amounts of sea water as the only option to cool the reactor. It took the heroic Japanese workers several days to contain the damage, but not before Fukushima went into history as the worst nuclear accident in history, with consequences, as yet, unknown.

Many years will pass before we realize the full extent of the damage inflicted by Fukushima, but it has shaken the faith in the minds of many about the safety of nuclear power. Whatever may be its other benefits, nuclear reactors have begun to be seen as potential killers with transnational reach. Germany instantly announced its intention to phase out nuclear power as a source of energy. So did Switzerland. Other countries announced thorough reviews of their nuclear installations to reassure themselves of foolproof safety. Construction of new reactors was delayed, pending installation of additional safety features. Regulatory authorities were strengthened and peer reviews were invited. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered its own weaknesses in ensuring safety and called an international conference in June 2011 to take remedial action. Fears of a terrorist attack on nuclear reactors were also revived in the minds of the people in vulnerable countries. The traditional anti-nuclear countries and lobbies began a crusade against nuclear power.

The inveterate optimists, however, began searching for the silver linings on the dark clouds. They argued that deaths caused by the nuclear meltdown were much lower than those on account of fallen buildings and floods. They also took comfort in the thought that earthquakes and tsunamis of Fukushima were unprecedented in scale and might never occur again. The lessons of Fukushima would make the future reactors more safe and secure. It was also pointed out that it would not be easy for countries like France, China, the United States and India to abandon nuclear power for decades to come even if other sources of energy were developed at a fast pace. The only feasible proposition would be to strengthen safety and security to the extent possible and accept the risks.

In India, the Fukushima disaster has only caused some ripples, not waves. The official reaction is that Fukushima is a wake-up call and that all efforts should be made to make nuclear power generation safer and more secure. The scientists involved swear that the Indian facilities are safe and that the locations selected for the old and the new reactors are not prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. Further precautions will be taken by building additional features. But reconsideration of the role of nuclear energy is out of the question. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said as recently as on April 15, 2011: “I am convinced that when all is said and done, when cool headed discussions take place about the future of energy, what are the problems with coal, what are the problems with hydrocarbons, in terms of their impact on climate change, there would be no reconsideration about the role of nuclear energy.”

The question, however, is whether Fukushima will fade away into memory like its predecessors did and business will continue as usual, with minor modifications in design and construction of nuclear reactors. Will the people of India, particularly those who live in the vicinity of nuclear reactors, accept the inevitability of living in the shadow of danger? Is it conscionable for us to condemn the future generations to constant fear of another Fukushima? Should we not think in terms of making a long term plan for developing alternate sources to such an extent that we can reduce and eliminate our dependence on nuclear power? India gave to the world a vision of a nuclear weapon free world. Should we not give to the world a vision of a nuclear power free world?

In my view, these questions have to be answered after relooking at the options available to us at this critical time. No doubt, India cannot abandon its path of relying on nuclear power in the short term. But while reviewing its policy, no option should be excluded, not even the option of a carefully orchestrated exit from dependence on nuclear power. Future generations should not challenge our wisdom in dotting our coastal areas with daunting metal domes of nuclear reactors, rather than the soothing windmills that rotate in the breeze and fuel our energy generation. The victims of Fukushima will not have died in vain if the accident leads to a relook at nuclear power policy around the world to ensure generation of power without undue risk to mankind.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Make the IAEA the Nuclear Safety Watchdog.

By T.P.Sreenivasan (From Vienna)

A glaring irony created by the United Nations is that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), its specialised body for promotion of atoms for peace has been located in the capital of a country, Austria, which is opposed to promoting nuclear power as a panacea for global energy shortage. Geneva would have been a natural choice, but Austria's offer of terms for the venue for the IAEA were attractive. The legend also has it that Homi Bhabha's love for western music was also a factor in the choice of Vienna. IAEA's gradual evolution as a nuclear watch dog and a regulatory rather than a promotional agency made it acceptable to Austria, which has been a champion of nonproliferation. The location of the IAEA in Vienna enabled Kurt Waldheim to locate an impressive array of other UN offices on the Danube.

Not only Japan,but also the IAEA is in crisis over the Fukushima disaster, which the IAEA still euphemistically calls a "nuclear accident". Safety,one of the main pillars of the Agency, is badly shaken and its credibility as a crisis management body in the event of a nuclear accident has been called into question. The open admission by its Director General, Yukio Amano, himself a Japanese, that the IAEA is not mandated to intervene either to prevent accidents or to force itself into emergency situations have exposed the chinks in the armour of the agency. The impression on the ground in Vienna is that the Agency has failed to play its role in a nuclear emergency, for which it was supposed to be prepared.

The IAEA has its own alphabetical soup to deal with nuclear emergencies. IEC (International Emergency Centre), ISSC (International Seismic Safety Centre), RANET (Response Assistance Network) and INES (International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) are only some of the acronyms being heard in Vienna these days as the emergency response capabilities, some of which were in existence right from the inception of the IAEA and others added after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents. But a study of the daily updates given on the IAEA website have little to show for action or intervention in Fukushima. The updates simply reproduce the data given by the Japanese authorities, without any interpretation or conclusion on the part of the IAEA. For radiation levels, there are reports from neighbouring countries. Among these reports was one from Singapore, which was subsequently denied. Even the down-gradation of the situation from "very serious" to "serious" is attributed to the Japanese authorities.

The daily updates from March 11, 2011 onwards show that the IAEA went by the book in dealing with an unprecedented tragedy of gigantic proportions. The Director General expressed condolences on the accident and went into "full response mode" and did virtually nothing else. Even after three full days of fast developments of alarming proportions, the the IAEA kept saying on its website that "the IAEA stands ready to provide technical assistance of any kind" The approach was cautious, sensitive and aimed at not causing alarm or loss of faith in nuclear power. IAEA could only offer "good offices" and the Japanese Government took time to assign some responsibilities to the IAEA.

A brief visit by the DG himself to Tokyo a week after the accident and his report to the IAEA Board of Governors pointed to the limitations of the IAEA in dealing with nuclear emergencies.The IAEA was given only the responsibility to take radiation measurements and the identification of Japanese needs for a future environmental monitoring programme. The Agency neither sought, nor was it asked to do any fire fighting at Fukushima.

Amano's report to the Board on March 21 was frank and forthright. "I explained that we are not a "nuclear safety watchdog" and that responsibility for nuclear safety lies with our Member States. The IAEA acts as a hub for international cooperation, helping to establish safety standards and providing expert advice on best practices. But, in contrast to the Agency's role in nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear safety measures are applied voluntarily by each individual country and our role is supportive", he said. In an atmosphere of overwhelming sympathy for Japan, the Governors did not take issue with the Director General, but it was clear that, for the IAEA, the main priority was safeguards and not safety.

The founding fathers of the IAEA was acutely aware of the safety dimension of nuclear activities and had given considerable attention to safety, together with safeguards and nuclear applications. But over the years, the call for "balance" among the activities of the IAEA became taboo as the IAEA began to stress safeguards to the detriment of its other activities. The situation became more complex after 9/11 because of the new concerns of nuclear security. The new duties of security were assigned to the safety wing of the Agency, with consequent downgrading of safety concerns.

The Three Mile Island accident as well as Chernobyl had prompted reviews of the safety dimensions of the Agency. New institutions were created, but it was left to the initiative of member states to make use of them, subject to the availability of resources.For instance, the Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) Programme set up after the Three Mile Island accident is available for peer review, but some countries, including India, have declined offers by OSART of safety inspections. The former Director General raised this issue with me on my first call on him and reminded me of the importance of India accepting OSART missions in its own interest. But we have remained adamant about not using it on the ground that we have sufficient safety measures and that we are members of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which was established after Chernobyl. OSART missions have been found useful by countries like France and it is time for us to reassess its value.

In response to the criticism that IAEA has been ineffective in dealing with nuclear emergencies, the IAEA has convened a High Level Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Vienna from 20 to 24 of June, 2011. This is indeed a timely and important initiative, bringing together foreign ministers of IAEA member states, the UN Secretary General and the heads of international organisations that are participating in the Joint Radiation Emergency Management Plan, led by the IAEA. The Director General has already indicated the direction the Conference could take on the basis that "nuclear power will remain an important and viable option for many countries as a stable and clean source of energy." The Agency's role in safety will need to be reexamined and safety standards may have to be made more stringent. The current international emergency response framework must be reassessed. A rapid deployment team of nuclear experts may be placed at the disposal of the Director General for emergency consultations and action. The possibilities are endless.

The need for the hour is to make the IAEA "the nuclear saety watchdog", a role which may be more important, in many ways, than being a non-proliferation watchdog. It should be given the authority,the resources, including technical capability to intervene expeditiously as and when necessary. For India, this is a splendid opportunity to make imaginative suggestions and offers, which go beyond our present hesitation to use the IAEA mechanisms for safety. It is not enough for the leader of the Indian delegation to the conference to place his hand on his chest and say that our nuclear facilities are safe. We should open up our reports on previous incidents in our facilities and accept expert opinion, including the services of the OSART programme. With the separation of our civilian facilities for safeguards, there should be no objection to intrusive safety inspections. A large contingent of Indian experts are already in Vienna to attend the fifth review meeting of the contracting parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety.(April 4 to 14).The chance meeting of this body at this time should be fully exploited to test the waters before the June conference.

The IAEA is not the forum to raise issues relating to alternate sources of energy to replace nuclear power. But the reverberations for the persistent calls for the use of other forms of energy will certainly reverberate in the halls of the UN complex in Vienna.The Director General has gone on record as saying that "the worries of millions of people throughout the world about whether nuclear power is safe must be taken seriously." This is more than what some of the members of the IAEA are not prepared to say. The expectation of the nuclear renaissance will elude further as the focus shifts from appetite for energy to safety. The IAEA 2020 will be somewhat different from the picture envisaged in the report by the Eminent Persons Group, (Vision for the Future)of which I was the Executive Director. The IAEA should brace itself for change.