India seeks nuclear pact with Japan

Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI: India wants Japan to shun its apprehensions and join hands in the atomic energy sector. This would stimulate the Japanese economy as well as provide muscle to the bilateral strategic partnership, said former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who was the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Indo-U.S. nuclear issues.

“We see Japan as a strategic partner contributing to India's economic and social development. It is against this background that we must explore the prospects for civil nuclear energy cooperation,” Mr. Saran observed at a seminar on Indo-Japan cooperation in peaceful use of nuclear energy organised by the influential International Friendship Exchange Council (FEC) in Tokyo. He was fielded as part of the Foreign Office's recent approach of asking veteran diplomats to articulate India's position internationally on various issues.

Acknowledging Japan's political sensitivities concerning nuclear weapons, Mr. Saran pointed out that India had been accepted as a responsible nation that eschewed proliferation and was committed to total disarmament. India has signed seven civil nuclear cooperation pacts and two more are in the pipeline. In global R&D on nuclear energy, India is part of the International Thermal Energy Research project in which Japan is the lead country.

He then spelt out areas where both countries could cooperate — reprocessing, R&D and setting up nuclear plants. Japan has a closed fuel cycle in which it reprocesses spent fuel and has set up Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs). India too would reprocess spent fuel for second generation FBRs. “It would be worthwhile if we could engage in a collaborative effort [in FBRs],” Mr. Saran observed.

The other area for cooperation was reprocessing. Japan has been in reprocessing for 18 years while India recently signed a pact with the U.S. in the same sector. Mr. Saran wanted Japan to share its experience in this area which could also give its nuclear industry a major boost when the country is facing depression.

Clean energy

On the move to adopt clean energy options, Mr. Saran referred to Japan's cooperation with China and wanted to know if the time had not come to do so with “a fellow democracy and strategic partner as well.”