Nuclear Debate Spreads Across Asia

“In the wake of the nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and spokesmen for its nuclear industries rushed to reassure the country's citizens that its nuclear industry was safe. No other country in the world has as much national pride wrapped up in nuclear power than India. Of necessity, India painstakingly built up its nuclear capability, civilian and military, largely on its own. The ambition of India to achieve total energy self-reliance for a rapidly industrializing economy via thorium-fuelled reactors seems on the verge of being realized. India is no more likely, whatever the risk, to abandon nuclear power than China, the United States, Russia or France,” says Asia Society Associate Fellow Mira Kamdar.

“At most, India may be forced by public worries to make a few compromises, such as abandoning the highly unpopular and expensive Areva nuclear park in Jaitapur, or leave standing the liability rule under which nuclear suppliers remain vulnerable in case of a catastrophic accident. But France and the United States will put tremendous pressure on India to keep the former on track and to change the latter: their profitable nuclear sales to India depend on it.

“The 2008 U.S. nuclear deal with India was the global nuclear industry game-changer. Potential profits -- $100 billion for U.S. corporations alone – were incentive enough to pour millions of dollars into lobbying for the deal. In India, the Congress-led government pulled out all the stops to secure its passage. The Obama administration has strongly reiterated its commitment to the nuclear deal in the wake of the Fukushima accident. Meanwhile, a WikiLeaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008 when the nuclear deal awaited approval by India's parliament recounting an eager Congress operative showing off boxes of cash, and boasting of the money the party had at its disposal to buy the needed votes, has been published in India by The Hindu and Outlook magazine. This latest revelation adds further injury to India’s government, already reeling from a series of spectacular corruption scandals, leaving it with little credibility left with citizens. Its reassurances about India’s nuclear program sound hollow before the evidence of Fukushima.

“Countries and corporations around the world want in on the global nuclear boom. India’s major business houses are no exception, from Larsen & Toubro, to Reliance and Tata, India Inc. sees the nuclear boom as a tremendous profit-making opportunity and a chance to become global suppliers themselves. Japan succumbed to this temptation as well, signing on – over the vehement protests of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors – to civil nuclear agreements with Vietnam and India. In fact, among the more cynical Indian responses to Fukushima were worries the meltdown would adversely affect India’s nuclear deal with Japan.”


"Australia has the largest uranium deposits in the world but stubbornly refuses to export the resource to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the case of India which plans to expand its nuclear power tenfold by 2050, Australia is shooting itself in the foot given the country already possesses nuclear weapons. Australia's ban on uranium exports has now become a bad symbol of its foreign policy attitude towards India. And it is an issue that shows no signs of going away not least because of its hypocritical attitude,” says Asia Society Associate Fellow Thom Woodroofe, who is based in Melbourne. “In 2008 Australia supported the Indian-US nuclear deal through the Nuclear Suppliers Group. We have also stood idly by as Canada and even those countries with less rigid oversight such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Gabon and Mongolia line up to sell their own uranium. For India the supply of uranium is about energy not security and has the potential to raise millions out of poverty and reduce their carbon emissions dramatically. In the wake of the Japanese crisis, the Indians are determined to push ahead with their nuclear expansion. While it is likely to push Australia's desire to sell uranium backwards, particularly as domestic fears of nuclear power remain rife, it shouldn't. Ultimately Australia has a great opportunity to leverage its uranium to project better safety standards in nuclear power across the world and to catalyze nuclear disarmament."


“A rising Asia needs energy and faces uncertainties of fuel oil supply especially in the wake of events in the Middle East. Countries have set plans for nuclear power to ensure their energy security. … The Japanese situation is a sharp reminder to be humble in the face of the risks and to bring a pause to breakneck ambitions. Countries that have been exposed to earthquakes -- especially Indonesia but also some provinces in China -- would be well served to re-look at safety issues. Even for countries without active seismic activity, there are cautionary lessons about risk management. This is especially as many do not have the high safety culture that Japan has,” says Asia Society Global Council Co-Chair Simon Tay in a recent column. “The Japanese have lived with energy insecurity and nuclear power for many decades. In tandem with establishing Japan as a world leader in energy efficiency and alternative energy, they have developed their nuclear energy capabilities over the decades with what appear to be the strictest safeguards -- although fresh doubts are being cast by the Japanese media and international groups. In the wake of the tragic quake and unfolding nuclear concerns in Tokyo, other Asian countries that wish to pursue the reward of nuclear power must be advised to take the time to ensure they meet the highest standards. Even if they do, they and their people must also understand, and be prepared, that even the highest standards may still not prove to be enough.” Simon is based in Singapore.

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