“We have not really decided whether to start negotiations”
India has opened talks on civil nuclear energy with Japan and both sides have decided to set up a working group to examine the possibility of cooperation during an extended interaction between Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Masayuki Naoshima and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia recently, said highly placed sources.
Japan is the most reluctant among countries with either uranium reserves or nuclear reactors to enter into cooperation with countries reluctant to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)
The working group was formed under the rubric of the energy dialogue between the two countries. “We discussed responsible nuclear energy policies. You could say this is the first step towards cooperation,” said the sources.
There was need for both sides to ink a bilateral inter-governmental agreement to operationalise the cooperation and there were a few “hurdles” that needed to be sorted out. In case that happened, vistas would open for partnership ranging from not just setting up nuclear reactors but fast breeder reactors and reprocessing, the sources said.
Japan has expertise in advanced uranium mining techniques, which it now shares with Kazakhstan that has emerged as the world's biggest supplier of uranium and which, like Japan, is reluctant to enter into nuclear cooperation until some of the hurdles are crossed.
“We need to conclude a bilateral agreement. We have not really decided whether to start negotiations,” said the sources. Japan, they said, recognised India's contribution to nuclear disarmament and also took note of the positive movement towards this trend such as the U.S. posture review, which envisaged a kind of diminished role of nuclear weapons.
India's refusal to sign the NPT might not be a major obstacle to civil nuclear cooperation with Japan but Tokyo expects New Delhi to take some concrete steps such as signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
In this respect, the sources pointed to the December visit to India by Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama when he indirectly mentioned the importance of India signing the CTBT given that China and the U.S. agreed to ratify the treaty.
More than signing the NPT, Japan's cooperation will depend on how India plays a role in world politics on nuclear weapons and how it abides by the action and commitments made in September 2008 in a letter written to the Nuclear Suppliers Group by then Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The letter had assured the world community of India's commitment to sticking to a moratorium on nuclear tests, cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Additional Protocol and the separation plan for civilian and strategic use reactors.
The path to initiating talks on civil nuclear cooperation is credited to the former envoy of the Prime Minister on civil nuclear energy, Shyam Saran. He had engaged energetically with the Japanese on the issue. This was followed up by talks with Foreign Office officials.