India's nuclear agreement with IAEA has loopholes

Thursday, July 10, 2008

VIENNA, Austria -- India's agreement with the U.N. atomic watchdog agency contains restrictions that could limit international oversight of its civilian nuclear program, according to a confidential document obtained today by The Associated Press.

The accord is meant to open the way for India to do business with a group of 45 states that export nuclear fuel and technology, but the deal first has to be approved by the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Much of the 23-page document is in line with similar agreements the IAEA has with other countries. But a key clause appears to call into question the effectiveness of any IAEA effort to ensure India's civilian nuclear activities do not aid its military's atomic weapons program.

The draft says India "may take corrective measures to ensure uninterrupted operation of its civilian nuclear reactors in the event of disruption of foreign fuel supplies."

While ambiguous, the phrasing appears to open the door for India to end IAEA oversight of some facilities, potentially allowing it to shift those sites from manufacturing fuel for atomic reactors that generate electricity to the production of fissile material usable in warheads.

"The board should ask what 'corrective measures' are supposed to mean," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington. "It could mean, 'We will withdraw from safeguards those facilities that we need to withdraw from and we will use in those facilities other, unsupervised fuel sources."'

Without the board's approval of a safeguard agreement, India will not be able to do business with countries that export nuclear technology, which are grouped in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

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