Thursday, June 29, 2006

To sum it all up - where are we going with the Indo-US nuclear deal

The inability of people in the US to make cheap enriched Uranium (without the indirect government subsidy) or to make cheap (and safe) MOX fuel rods on an industrial scale - represents the biggest bottleneck in the future of nuclear energy in the United States. Removing this bottleneck is the key to improving the investment climate for nuclear energy in the US. If DCS suceeds in producing low cost fuel rods - we will see the biggest thing in American industry since the invention of the Ford Model-T.

The NPA are slowly going to abandon the sinking ship that the ONG guys are on and jump over to the side of the US nuclear industry.

Right now the US nuclear industry is going to need investment. It is going to have to project a rosy future to attract that investment - otherwise the transition out of dependence on ONG will be very very difficult. In order to maintain a positive investment climate - it is very helpful if you can pretend for the gullible US investor that you are going to sell 125 nuclear reactors to India and possibly even 700 reactors to China. Does that make sense to you? - do you get my drift?

I expect that the NP Ayatollahs will soon change their tune on MOX fuels. They will do everything in their power to enhance the attractiveness of the US nuclear fuels industry to investors. To that end - they will conduct a ruthless psywar campaign against other countries that attempt to develop competing fuel solutions. We in India have for the past fifty years investigated U-233/Th, P-241/Th and U-238/Pu-241 MOX assemblies for use in our (INDU) PHWR reactors . These are very different from the U-235/Pu-239 assemblies the Americans are planning to use in their BWR or LWR or PWR designs. We can't really use their technology in our reactors.

In my opinion the NPA will soon unleash a psywar aimed at India's thorium exploitation scheme. By running down India's attempt at Thorium utilization the NPA will hope to enhance interest in India towards US style light water nuclear reactors. Any apparent interest in these systems will most likely be used by unseen hands in the US to generate investment in the US nuclear industry.

We in India can look forward to more abuses from the NPA - because if they dont abuse us - then we will look better than they are. Yes - that is correct - a third world country with 250 million poor people is going look better than the US - because the third world country has technology which appears superior to the US. You know - just like Pakistan's Pak-2 centrifuges are far superior (in terms of energy consumption) to any Uranium enrichment the US has right now.

There may however be a silver lining to this cloud after. It may be that the US nuclear fuels industry will have to outsource production of certain things to reduce operating costs. This should be a market that India aims to exploit. India will be more than happy to meet these outsourcing requirements.

In the spirit of equal equal - I think the Americans should send all Uranium enrichment technology related outsourcing to Pakistan - to Abdul Qadeer Khan labs - where I hear they make a centrifuge that is superior to anything the Americans have right now.

So - where does that leave the nuclear deal?

It leaves it dead in the water. The re-wording of the deal in Congress is the kiss of death for the deal on the Indian side. The deal is unlikely to be well recieved in India even if the US congress approves it. It is very difficult to imagine anyone in India will want to have anything to do with an American supplied reactor after the way in which the HIRC reworded the deal.

American Porblems with MOX fuels

MOX (Mixed Oxide) Fuels are generally used to recycle radioactive wastes from a once-through fuel cycle.

You have a reactor that "burns" Uranium - say enriched Uranium, i.e. a nuclear reaction occurs which causes the Uraniun in your fuel rode to split up into other elements. This splitting releases energy, you use that energy to heat steam and turn a turbine which makes electricity. After the fuel rods "burn" for a little while inside your reactor - other elements like Plutonium are formed due to several other nuclear reactions occurring inside the fuel rods.

At this point you have two choices - you can either take your fuel rod out of the reactor and bury it in a deep hole for about 100,000 years or you can mix it with a "fertile" element like Uranium-238 or Thorium and then use it to fire up another type of nuclear reactor and make more electricity with it. One technique for mixing involves mixing the oxides of these materials - this kind of fuel is called a Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel. It is possible to load MOX fuels into pre-existing reactor core designs. This saves a lot of money that is otherwise spent on designing a new core with all the new control mechanisms and safety features. MOX technology is currently used in commericial reactors in France.

The age of oil and natural gas is ending - if the United States would like to shift from oil and natural gas based energy to nuclear energy - it has to have a very reliable and robust option to produce MOX fuel. The main problems with MOX fuel are that fabrication of fuel rods is an expensive business. The French have proven teachnology that can do it but the Americans would probably prefer a way of making MOX fuel rods that they can use in their *existing* reactors. Also the United States would probably prefer a MOX fuel rod that burns military plutonium (Pu-239) along with enriched Uranium. Therein lies the problem - the Americans simply do not have a facility capable of producing this kind of MOX fuel rods at a low price in numbers (i.e. at an industrial scale).

And this is why Duke Energy in collaboration with Cogema (France) and Stone and Webster (DCS) are busy setting up a setting up a plant to make precisely this kind of fuel rod.

It is important to note that the Americans have in the past experimented with MOX fuels. There have been a number of cases where MOX assemblies were used in reactors, and at least one case where a commericial power reactor in the US used a MOX fuel. Other countries like Japan have gone much further and large utility companies in Japan purchase electricity made from burning MOX fuels.

Given the fact that the foundations that pay for all the Non-Proliferation Ayatollahs were all close to the Oil and Natural Gas industry, the NPA have have traditionally been hostile to MOX fuels. The NPA have raised a number of concerns about the MOX fuel used in reactors - most notably they term it a proliferation risk and say that it poses a higher risk of an accident. Given the rising concerns over the cost of ONG fuels - the NPA's wailing is unlikely to stop DCS from trying out MOX fuel.

As the ONG companies slowly become less and less profitable - the NPA tune will change - reflecting a change in their sugar daddies.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Crisis in American Uranium Enrichment.

We have heard endless tales about India's lack of Uranium enrichment skills and facilities. We are all well versed with M. V. Ramana's articles.

But what is the story in the US?

As you all know that Uranium production is measured in terms of something called "separative work units (SWU)". The more enriched the uranium you want - the more SWU it needs.

Enrichment in the US was the effective monopoly of the US Enrichment Corporation (USEC). This Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) (originally under US DOE) used to operate plants at Paducah (Kentucky) , Portsmouth (Ohio) and Oak Ridge (Tennessee). The USEC's had a total capacity of about 27 Million SWU all based on gaseous diffusion plants.

The USEC represented about 40% of the world's production of enriched Uranium. The USEC was identified by the George H. W. Bush administration as an ideal candidate for privatization. However the privatization process faltered in the Clinton era and it took ten years after the idea was first mooted to actually privatize the corporation. Though it was privatized, it still retained many of the privileges enjoyed by its parent entity. The most glaring of these was that its plants used to get free electricity (approximately 3GWe at peak capacity) for running gaseous diffusion processes. This indirect subsidy ensured that the cost of producing Uranium at USEC facilities was about $ 60/SWU. To give you a number to compare that with - Reliance Corporation's proposed Natural Gas fired power plant at Dadri will produce about 3 GWe. The USEC sold its enriched Uranium at the market price - about $100/SWU - a tidy ~ 80% profit. USEC was also involved in an intitiave pioneered by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. This initiative ensured that Russia downblended some 500 Metric tonnes of its Highly Enriched Uranium (used in nuclear weapons) and supplied it to the USEC as feedstock for its enrichment lines. The USEC would "purchase" this stuff from the russians at ~ $88/SWU and complain endlessly about the loss of profit margin. They even wanted to be re-imbursed by the US taxpayer - talk about a scam.

By comparison Urenco's gas centrifuge plants consume about 5% of the electricity that the diffusion plants consume. Just recently on June 24, 2006, the US NRC finally gave Urenco the license to build a Gas Centrifuge plant in Eunice NM. This is despite the fact that USEC has control over the AVLIS technology developed at LLNL. This technology is supposed to be superior to Urenco's stuff but the fact is that Urenco's gas centrifuges are now more/atleast as reliable as AVLIS. Bear in mind that the diffusion plants were chosen because they were reliable while Urenco's centrifuges were slandered for being "unreliable" and "sporadic" in their functioning. I bet a month's pay that is complete BS.

The US reactor industry produces a sizable fraction (~ 30%) of America's energy needs (I don't know if this number includes the reactors that the US armed forces use). These reactors need about 14-15 million SWU per year. And one of the reasons why new reactors weren't constructed is because oil based energy was far cheaper to exploit. Now ofcourse everyone wants to move to nuclear power and that means someone has to make more Uranium - and that too cheap. A drag like USEC's gas diffusion methods - no matter the excess capacity that they have - is simply not worth the expenditure.

So today USEC market share is shrinking. Urenco is expanding rapidly to seize the US market - and oh those Pakistanis - who stole Urenco designs and made Pak-1 and Pak-2 centrifuges are actually making a Uranium enrichment machine that is superior to the ones the Americans have!

I can't imagine that Americans who think of themselves as world leaders in technology feel very happy about being less advanced than the Pakistanis. Maybe A Q Khan can redeem himself by selling America Pak-2 centrifuges?

Is it any surprise that the NPA are clamoring about the RMP-Rattehalli enrichment facility?

India's so-called Uranium Shortage

Henry Sokolski wrote this masterpiece in the National Review.

In the article Henry says-

This sounds persuasive until you realize that the uranium reserves they are talking about are not in some neat pile above ground and ready for use, but locked instead in very low concentrations well beneath the earth’s surface in strata that have yet to be mined and milled to produce usable yellowcake. Indian uranium is notorious for its poor quality. India has had great difficulty in expanding its uranium production beyond its miserly 300 tons mined and milled per year, largely because its uranium mines are so uneconomical and their possible expansion has drawn fierce environmental protests. It costs India approximately five times as much to mine and mill its domestic ore as it does simply to buy uranium on the international spot market.

Thank you Henry for pointing that out to us. As long as the international Uranium market remains closed to India - thanks to people like you - the Indians have no choice but to mine their own Uranium. The "expensive" Indian Uranium is still cheaper than the unavailable uranium which the NSG cartel has. The only thing holding India back from the exploitation of its Uranium reserves is the "environmental protests".

That seems odd - considering how poor and infrastructurally deprived India is - why would Indians place environmental costs over an improved standard of living? Every Indian wants electricity - and the DAE promises to deliver it without the accompanying pollution from carbon dioxide or ash emissions - why does the Indian environmentalist community feel compelled to oppose Uranium mining?

Actually who are the stalwarts of this anti-Uranium mining struggle? are they the same people who led the environmental charge to save India's biodiversity? Are these the same guys who invested their lives in protecting Indian forests and indigenous people? -- it seems they are not.

Most of the people in this anti-Uranium mining in India struggle are completely new faces we have never seen before. Folks like Sudhindra and Sanghamitra Gadekar, and others who are friends of organizations like WISE and ANAWA. There are a few familiar faces like Buddhi Kota Subbarao in the opposition, whom we all know by now. And yes there are atleast a few very familiar faces in the opposition like MAPW.

Some questions that can easily come to mind:-

1) Why are so many of these groups based in Europe or Australia or Canada (home to Cogema and Cameco - the producers of 80% of the world's supply of Uranium)?

2) Why are there so many American "foundations" keen to fund the Indian anti-Uranium mining groups?

3) Why do American Non-Proliferation think-tanks provide so much footage and focus so much media attention on unverified claims made by these Indian groups?

4) How is that in parts of India where there is no tapped water, no schools, no concrete for construction, roads or phone lines, and bare enough food to eat - the residents manage to come up expensive well typed reports containing detailed accounts of their illnesses due to Uranium mining? also how is it that these "poor disenfranchised tribals" can build up flashy websites and make movies about their plight?

5) Why is that whenever a medical or survey team from the government visits the "affected belt" - the locals demand money to produce "people suffering from radiation sickness"?

Perhaps the answer can be found again in Henry's article which states,

What’s blocking India from importing foreign ore? The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), of which the U.S. is a member. This control cartel prohibits nuclear suppliers from selling uranium to any nation that did not have nuclear weapons prior to 1967 unless it opens all of its nuclear facilities to international inspections—something India refuses to do.

Ah- ha... so that is what the real deal is.

The international Uranium control cartel uses proliferation concerns to limit access to technologies it deems "harmful" to "world" (i.e. its own) interests.

Would it be fair to say that the Uranium mining cartels have price fixed the market?

Would it be fair to say that the Uranium mining cartels in Australia and umm... elsewhere have a desire to see India not exploit its known reserves of Uranium - to the fullest.

In the 80s every Non-Proliferation theologian was busy telling the world that India did not have the capability to produce heavy water and as a result of this inability - India's nuclear power program was simply a fantasy. Ofcourse few Non-Proliferation Pundits care to tell you that today India is one of the world's largest producers of heavy water.

Today - Non-Proliferation expert after expert is lining up to tell India that it does not have the Uranium needed to make its nuclear power program suceed. Lets see where things stand in a few years.

I guess the bottom line - as I see it - is that the Indo-US nuclear deal isn't so much a nuclear deal between the US and India. It is more a strategy for reaching a modus vivendi with the Uranium mining cartels which seem to have a vested interest in ensuring that India's domestic energy resources remain overpriced.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

President Cheney: India-US Nuclear Deal

Many of us were surprised to hear that Vice President Cheney has overtly supported the India-US nuclear deal. It came as quite a surprise to Indians who felt that Cheney's loyalty to Enron, and Enron's interests in India. Most of us cannot forget the famed Dabhol Working Group set up to strong arm India and Maharashtra to pay an exorbitant amount of money for Enron. Actually most of us have a detailed memory of events at Dabhol. So with all that in the background - why is Vice President Cheney changing his tune?

Hollywood hates Dick Cheney, they have done a lot to give him a bad name. All those liberal reporters in those blue-state newspaper, those folks think of Dick Cheney as the devil himself. The left wing lunatics in the press - they simply demonize him for the fun of it - I mean, look here is an article accusing the Bush administration of being "too busy" extorting money from India to pay attention to Richard Clarke's memo about Bin Laden planning to hit the US.

It is important to note that we in India do not share these views. To us Dick Cheney is merely another in the long line of gentlemen to visit India since Robert Clive and the East India Company. We in India realize that he has commercial interests to protect - don't we all? - you might very well think that - I could not possibly comment.

America today is in a jam - as Al Gore would have us believe in his movie, "The Inconvenient Truth".

Americans are simply producing too much carbon dioxide - unless they do something to stop that - they are going to see unpredictable weather patterns that wipe out their extremely lucractive coastal economy and they are going to suffer from pandemics due to ecological changes arising from a gradual increase in global temperatures. If the Americans don't stop carbon dioxide production and more importantly do not stop the Chinese (and India) from producing carbon dioxide - well then - something much worse than a few katrina type hurricanes will manifest - the polar ice caps will melt.

Ofcourse - as with so much else Al Gore proposes that the Government take an interventionist role - the parliament step in and make laws, the executive implement them and the judiciary protect the rights of citizens under those laws. All of which sounds good in theory - but as we all know - it will *all* be completely ineffective in doing anything to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

In order to achieve any meaningful change in carbon dioxide emissions - US based groups trading in carbon fuels and energy are going to have to be given huge subsidies. In time this will enable them to transit out of the carbon fuels trade to more lucrative trades in carbon dioxide sequestration technology and other low emissions energy technologies like nuclear, solar, winid, hydel etc... The huge economic and financial infrastructure setup to trade in carbon fuel will slowly have to shift to trading carbon dioxide credits. This restructuring represents the largest known economic transition in human history and if carried out improperly will result in a global economic upheaval the likes of which the world has never seen.

To manage such a huge transition - the US needs a man who can command the respect and confidence of the energy industry, someone who the carbon based fuel suppliers feel is above board and clearly works in their favor. This is the only way to ensure that these extremely rich individuals do not do something unpredictable. Only if such a man is President of the United States can we expect to see any meaningful changes in the carbon dioxide emission levels.

At the present time given his long experience in government and the energy industry, only Dick Cheney fits this bill.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The B K Subbarao Espionage Case

Finally we find a public admission of the role of the US in the B K Subbarao case. From the notes of Amb. John Dean - US Amb. to India at the time.

In 1987. the Indian Navy had leased a Soviet nuclear submarine. The purpose of the lease was to train the Indian navy in the use of such a technically advanced naval vessel. The reactor unit was sealed and the spent fuel was to be returned to the Soviet Union. Mr. Gandhi had assured President Reagan that "this specific submarine on lease from the Soviet Union would not be used in any manner in the event of any hostilities." Prime Minister Gandhi had assured President Reagan in writing that there was "no ground for any apprehension". Naturally, our navy wanted to know more about the submarine leased from the Soviet Union to India, and this led to a covert operation to obtain detailed plans and drawings of this vessel. The incident occurred when an Indian Navy Captain was arrested at Bombay International Airport before boarding a flight for the United States in possession of detailed technical data on the Soviet nuclear submarine. Apparently, Indian Intelligence had tracked the Indian naval officer - or was he a double agent - and, in any case, I was asked to meet with the Prime Minister who confronted me with the facts. I did my best to smooth ruffled feathers, and fortunately Mr. Gandhi was sufficiently experienced in international relations to know that information on the Soviet vessel was a legitimate target for our Intelligence agencies. I urged that the apprehension of the Indian officer before leaving India with the drawings should not adversely impact on over-all U.S.-Indian relations. At the same time, I protected vis-a-vis Washington the American official who had been in charge of this case at the Embassy. He left the post quite rapidly, but has enjoyed an interesting career after his service in India.

So the only open question left here is - was B K Subbarao, a double agent?

I think the answer to that question is - no - he was not.

So why then have several people including a retired high-ranking officer of the DAE and several supreme court judges gone to such extraordinary lengths to absolve Dr. Subbarao of wrongdoing?

I know the answer to this but I will wait for another American observer to comment on that.

The DAE and the Sahar Police had said very clearly that they had their man, but many Indians on the internet seem to be more keen to think that the Sahar Police and the DAE were wrong and they improperly imprisoned Capt. Subbaro. All this was carefully regurgitated before a friendly Indian media audience by the Non-Proliferation experts after the 1998 tests to "prove" GoI's incompetence. Ofcourse Capt. Subbarao himself went on to make allegations of DAE's involvement in criminal activities like smuggling and black marketeering. Not long after that he went on to talk about the incompetence of the DAE and the Indian establishment on every fora that the Non-Proliferation community could lend him.

Now that an American observer - no less than their ambassador in Delhi himself - has indicated that Capt. Subbarao was indeed an American Confidential Informant. I wonder how all those Indians who put their faith in the Non-Proliferation sponsorred lies will feel about their spirited opposition to a government of India that they assumed was incompetent.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My concerns over the current state of the Indo-US nuclear deal

Here is a summary of my concerns over the current state of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

1) Discussions over the deal appears to be wedging into the pro-bush-anti-Bush divide in Congress. The high-volume publicity campaign mounted by the NPA is only possible with the collusion of friendly media groups - hint hint. A likely scenario is a deadlock in Congress with all manner of unsavory characters raising lobbying costs and avoiding any outcome. A cooling off period may be necessary to avoid reaching an unmanageable situation.

2) The current industrial support for the deal comes from the belief that India will eventually purchase existing reactor technology from US suppliers. This is impossible without a complete tech. transfer of Uranium enrichment. Given that the Uranium enrichment market is controlled technology so far and changes in that regime are unlikely. The Pakistanis for one will not permit India to enter their highly lucrative and captive market in Uranium enrichment related products. Pakistan and China's friends in the NPA community will move accordingly.

3) A clear sign of growing pressure on the Bush administration is the prevalence of non-proliferation related agendas in the negotiations. At the present time it is inadvisable to do anything that openly expresses a lack of confidence in the Bush administration's ability to manage its end of the July 18 bargain. Such a move is likely to attract the ire of the Bush family - an event that could have unpredictable consequences. However it is equally unprofitable to be seen as entering into an agreement that does not meet our national interests. We need to politely tell the Bush govt. that it is not in our national interests to be part of a badly scripted American national drama.

4) It may be that Vice President Cheney retains a sense of bitterness over the Enron-Dabhol issue. Perhaps this is prompting Cheney acolytes to create an environment of hostility towards the Indo-US deal. I suspect that given the desire on part of Cheney friendly oil companies to exploit the South Pars field, President Bush may even have a sense of ambivalence towards the deal. I had suggested earlier that the nuclear deal is a pay-off for not acting against Pakistan. I stand by this assessment - the Americans are going to have to do some serious conflict management in Pakistan as the Musharraf regime crumbles. Without India's support there is unlikely to be a resolution that favors American interests. Addressing India's nuclear energy concerns is a good way to ensure that India has no incentive to push Pakistan when it is down.

5) The current formulation of the GNEP is not sensitive to our national interests. It does not even recognize our three-stage fuel cycle which offers the most effective usage of fissile material and the most efficient means of waste and proliferation risk management. I see little point in it going forward. I feel these points should be made clearer as technical discussions on the GNEP are presented to an Indian audience. I welcome the move to ask India to join ITER - but more needs to be done before GNEP actually can be called "Global" from our perspective.

6) It is impossible to achieve any kind of FMCT without a concurrent regime of testing. We have avoided the development of high yeild nuclear weapons thus far and we have also avoided the bulk of weaponization issues thus far. These lacunae will have to be addressed in the testing regime. The Pakistanis are bound to view all this as an escalation. Unfortunately only lip service can be paid to their views as of now. An overt acceptance of this fact is necessary to secure the agreement. How the NPA's feel about is not really relevant and their agreement is not necessary.

7) On PSI - I cannot stress that we offer complete cooperation. Should a nuclear weapon directed at American targets appear on our screens, we will immediately convey the information to American national security agents. I am willing to publicly recognize that we have no way to compel the US to provide similar such information regarding Pakistani attempts to surreptitiously target nuclear weapons at India, though I am quite confident that people in the US will most certainly know about such events.

8) Our non-proliferation policy is simple. We are willing to cooperate in civilian uses of nuclear techology under IAEA mediated arrangements. Should our national interests dictate an independent approach towards any nation, we will keep the IAEA informed of our activities. This approach will find reflection in any special protocols that the IAEA might develop to deal with us. Intrusive surveillance over India's nuclear establishment is unacceptable.

9) India is willing to observe voluntary moratoriums on testing as long as it suits national interests. The greatest national interest is to preserve political space for expediency. It is up to the Americans to recognize that they cannot coax or force India to undermine its national interests.

alls well that ends well.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Flaws in the Non Proliferation Community's arguments

I had earlier posted

What I am saying is that the Non-Proliferation community would like you to think that "Fissile Material Cut-offs" and "Testing Bans" go together and India can be asked to do both things - this is simply not true.

At least some people seem to be keen on confronting this point.

In an article at CFR, if you ignore the nonsense injected into the document to appease the Non-Proliferation idiots like Sokolski, and Perkovich, and the South Asia nutjobs like Steve Cohen, you find the following:

" A return to nuclear testing would be much more likely to spur an Asian arms race than would a modest increase in the size of India’s nuclear arsenal."

I would have been keen to accept this as the definitive guideline for US policy in this context - however there is a major problem in the reasoning presented here. The report alleges India's testing of nuclear weapons would induce the Chinese and the Pakistanis to test and "create a new arms race"

Quoting US Non-Proliferation experts - the report states that

"American analysts believe that a small number of nuclear tests would permit Beijing to perfect warheads that would allow it to target the United States much more effectively."

If indeed the non-proliferation community's experts are to be believed - then India does not have any weapons that are capable of yeilds sufficient to threaten Pakistan or China. Per the estimates of "experts" in the Non-Proliferation community - India has consistently lied about the yeilds of its nuclear tests and can barely must a few nuclear bombs with about 10-15 Kt yeilds. The non-proliferation community's missile experts routinely tell us that India's missile forces lack the ability to target anything of value even in Pakistan.

Given that background, it seems odd that if the Indians should test a few more small fission weapons - the Chinese and the Pakistanis who share everything - should become so troubled as to test megaton yeild weapons again?

All this simply reflects the problem troubling the US - i.e the bizarre world of Non-Proliferation relies heavily on overprojecting the Chinese threat to the US and on underplaying India's security needs in order to appease Pakistan. Given this background - is it really surprising that the Indians tend to view the Non-Proliferation theologians as hirelings of China and Pakistan?

This is the flaw that kills the credibility of this report from CFR. The report is excessively geared to appease non-proliferation interests. These interest groups are excessively invested in self-preservation at the expense of the security of the US itself. It suits their purposes just fine to base flawed conclusions on even more flawed assumptions. Clearly unlike the political class in the US - the Non-Proliferation pundits are not accountable for their words?

I am well aware that given the NP community's grip over the media - it is highly possible that they could create new obstacles for the Bush adminstration, given the extent of public resentment building against George W. Bush. I also accept that something will have to be done to appease this beast called "Non-Proliferation" - if this Indo-US deal is to move ahead.

But perhaps in the interests of more enlightened debate it may be worthwhile to clear away some of the flawed assumptions.

I sense there is a persistent flaw in the NP argument (I know because I have seen George Perkovich say this time and time again) is

"Indeed, when the nuclear deal was made in March 2006, India was facing a looming uranium shortage. Had the United States withheld nuclear cooperation and had India faced a more acute need to obtain foreign uranium, it might have accepted a deal for nuclear cooperation on terms more favorable to the United States."

George makes it look like the US is doing India a favor by listening to its demands.

This is incorrect -

George Perkovich and his crowd must be made to appreciate that

1) The US has a very small window of opportunity to contain the possibility of having to live in a world dominated by Indian and Chinese carbon dioxide emissions. If the US can influence decisions in India and China on power generation - it can reduce the possibility that India and China will have to burn coal to power their economies. Contrary to whatever George may want to believe - the US needs the economies of India and China to function with minimum disruption - if the global ponzi scheme called the international trade and finance is to work. The sustainability of the "New World Order" rests on the ability of India and China to function as economically viable entities.

2) The US has a very small window in which to determine what to do with its large stocks of nuclear waste. It can either bury it underground for 7000 years or it can use it in breeder reactors to produce electricity. The decision to do either has to be taken fairly soon - once the decision is taken to bury the waste - the US will spend hundreds of billions of dollars transporting the waste to the burial site and once buried the waste will be significantly more expensive to use in any power generation solution.

Unless George Perkovich and company are made to appreicate the exact circumstances driving the US desire to have a nuclear agreement with India - it is unlikely that they will be capable of understanding the need to proceed with minimum disruption.

If George Perkovich and company cannot grasp the importance of this - I think that merely proves their collective irrelevance in the present day world.

As President Bush said, the US is "addicted to oil", but are George Perkovich and his friends- the bulk of whose salaries are paid for by "Foundations" funded with largesse from oil companies - really capable of understanding the damage this "addiction" can do the US?

I would be very surprised if the people at CFR do not understand how their public appeasement of the Non-Proliferation community is going to play in front of an Indian audience.

So given a choice between assuming that the CFR is composed of clueless idiots who don't know what they are doing or assuming that the CFR is deliberately leaking this stuff with the aim of scotching the deal on the Indian side - which would you choose?

Most people in India simply do not see that the Non-Proliferation groups live on media hype and this overprojection is part of their survival strategy. In India the Non-Proliferation groups are seen as a driving force behind US strategy - people actually believe that the US Govt. policy is bound by or atleast deeply influenced by the Non-Proliferation community's views. No one in India sees these guys for the fakes they are.

Do people in the US realize the continous public appeasement of Non-Proliferation groups makes the deal unsellable on the Indian side?

The only thing supporting this sort of BS does is that it makes the Indo-US nuclear deal seem like a bad divorce settlement meeting.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Nuclear Nightmare: It will never end.

A friend of mine told me that he had discussions with the Non-Proliferation people and that he shared their concern over "where the spread of nuclear weapons would end". I told him I did not share their concern. So he asked me where I felt it would end and I replied that the spread of nuclear weapons will not end.

The great Leo Szilard prophetically warned the American national security council before Hiroshima - "The greatest secret is that this can be done. By using the weapon on Hiroshima you let that secret out. Once it is out - there will be no way to stop this."

I agree with Leo Szilard.

Let me further qualify my position.

Technology proliferation is the norm in human societies. The laws of nature are not proprietary and as long as human failings exist - the will to exploit the laws of nature to produce weapons will always exist. The only thing that can prevent the collapse into complete anarchy is to reinforce the idea of rational choice.

Perhaps my friends were just trying to humor the friendly NPA idiot that was talking to them. It is difficult to imagine an Indian taking advice on rationality from the very people who brought this nightmare into reality.

One must never forget that it is the mullah-like obsession with "norm based approaches" by the NP community that has incentivized and legitimized the creation of the nuclear black market.

One has to leave aside the trappings of ideology and look at some cold facts:

1) The poor choices made in the energy field (the emphasis on inefficient use of carbon resources in the West) have imposed a high environmental cost which has to be managed. Even if Americans expect the world to just put up with their high rate of carbon dioxide emission - I don't think Americans will like having to live in a world where India and China pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning coal to make electricity. Neither will the American oil giants be happy to see India and China competitively bidding for control over middle eastern oil resources. A large fraction of the apparent prosperity enjoyed in the US relies heavily on the being able to dictate the price of oil. If that is lost - a bubble will burst with painful economic effects. The US has to change its pattern of energy utilization and it has to ensure that countries like India and China follow in suit.

2) The US (and the Russians) have huge stocks of radioactive waste. Mostly generated in the process of maintaining a ridiculously oversized nuclear weapons stockpile. This waste defies the ability of all known storage technology. The experiments at WIPP and Carlsbad are a sign of the times to come. Without proper storage the risk that this waste will fall into the hands of someone with harmful thoughts is very very high. Higher still is the possibility that the containment on the waste will fail and cause an environmental catastrophe. A rational alternative would be to somehow convert as much of this waste into an energy resource as possible. This would require the use of very advanced breeder technology that is currently unavailable. Also given the size of the waste stockpile - this technology will have to be developed in the US itself.

3) The aforementioned facts predispose us towards the use of nuclear power in the foreseeable future. Other alternatives do not provide the same quality of generation and do not provide an answer to the problem of large stocks of nuclear wastes from the American and Russian nuclear programs. Nuclear power especially the kind that relies on a closed fuel cycle like the one proposed by Homi Bhabha is ideal for reducing dependence on carbon based sources and minimizing radioactive wastes. A gradual shift towards nuclear power in the next 30 years both in the West and in India and China could achieve sharp reduction in global CO2 emissions.

I agree that a reliance on nuclear power presents certain proliferation scenarios, I list them below:

1) The Nuclear Armed State: A nation that adapts civilian nuclear technology for military use and creates a nuclear arsenal which it uses to bolster its international stature. This is *always* going to happen. The international system creates an economic pecking order - and someone has to be on the bottom of it. As long as the top nations weild nuclear weapons - a nation in the dumps will only naturally associate the acquisition of nuclear weapons with international status. Given how fickle the international environment is - it should come as no surprise that at least some nations will act on the impulse to build a nuclear arsenal even if its population has to "eat grass".

2) The Nuclear Armed Non-State actor: An apparently irrational group of people that have access to a weapon or nuclear material which may be used in a dirty bomb. In my opinion this is a fiction i.e. Nuclear-Armed Non-State actors are only created with a bankrupt Nuclear Armed state provides weapons to a group of individuals to act as its proxy in the international arena. The objective behind such a move is to create the grounds for a deniable nuclear strike on any target of choice and to create leverage (with or without international status) .

3) The Nuclear Armed Nutcase a.k.a The "Nuclear Boy Scout": This is an individual who assembles a nuclear weapon without even rudimentary safeguards. The weapon itself has poor yeild and functions as a very effective dirty bomb. The motiviations of such a person are by definition irrational. A scenario in which such an individual makes a working nuclear weapon is largely implausible in the foreseeable future. A more serious risk stems from the potential to make a dirty bomb. This risk is already quite high due to the availability of radioactive sources in smoke detectors, medical waste and other commercially available products. The presence of large stocks of radioactive waste from a weapons program or from a once-through LWR reactor cycle only increases the risks of this happening. By contrast a close loop fuel cycle minimizes the risk.

So that's that.

Lets get one thing very straight - you cannot stop the spread of this knowledge or technology. There are risks and there will always be risks - you just have to learn to live with them.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

On the recent piece by Dr. Bharat Karnad

In ones' haste to present a meaningful summary of things, it is easy to make a remark that might be misinterpreted.

This recent article by Dr. Bharat Karnad suffers from some such likely sources of misinterpretation.

Most notably.

The ‘Shakti’ series of tests in 1998 proved only that the miniaturized 20 kiloton (KT) fission bomb design, first tested in 1974, is militarily serviceable.

Militarily serviceable - is a strange term. This term is generally used in the context of conventional arms to suggest that the weapon can can be put into military service or even serviced under battlefield conditions. The term cannot strictly be used with nuclear weapons until a "MET" (Military Effects Test) of the weapon is carried out. A MET also includes exposure of troops to the weapon.

All the other weapon designs – the boosted fission and, especially, the thermonuclear – due to their ‘simultaneous triggering’ in Pokhran, produced confused multi-test explosion data sufficient to conclude that the fusion design, for instance, did not work because of partial thermonuclear burn – authoritatively established by crater morphology and excessive traces of lithium in the rock and soil samples extracted from the L-shaped tunnel deep underneath the Thar desert where the devices exploded.

A Fusion-boosted-Fission device is commonly mistaken referred to as a full thermonuclear device and that causes a lot of confusion. A fusion-boosted fission device relies on a fusion reaction sparked with fast neutrons from a fission primary. The fusion reaction simply serves to convert the energy lost in the fast neutron flux into slow neutrons. This increases the efficiency of the fission reaction and enables you to get more bang for the same amount of fissionable material. The intention is never to start a full burn of the fusion reaction as this may release too much energy. A thermonuclear device seeks to most efficiently spark a fusion reaction. The efficiency of the device is not measured in terms of its ability to burn the primary fission core but in terms of the conversion of hydrogen to higher elements.

It is not advisable to use both these terms in the same sentence without qualifying either. A lay reader might confuse one for the other.

The Department of Atomic Energy has repeatedly clarified that no thermonuclear device was being tested in 1998, and that only an FBF assembly was tested. The department also clarified that the FBF yeild was about 40KT and could be scaled upto 150 Kt. The department never claims to have tested a full thermonuclear device. The department has also suggested that there is no question of testing a device exceeding a certain yeild at Pokhran due to constraints on the seismic activity.

Moreover, data from just one, and that too failed, test involving the decisive thermonuclear device is simply insufficient to write a software package simulating fusion reaction, leave alone help in developing new and more innovative designs for thermonuclear warheads/weapons of different power-to-yield ratios to fit varying missile nose-cone geometries.

It is sometimes possible to produce a scaled down version of a larger device to validate key design principles. Generally speaking a test validates the following:

1) The equation of state of the material - something that tells you how the material compresses as a function of the energy released in the conversion of mass.

2) The scattering cross-sections - something that tells you the probability of a particular nuclear reaction occurs. This is something that has to be determined experimentally especially as the reactions depend on the momentum of the incident particles.

3) The reliability of the electronic fuzing systems.

All these things help design and improve computer simulations.

There is some debate on what constitutes sufficient information for simulations. It is highly improper to make a substantive statement about this.

It is incorrect to say that a failed test did not supply data useful for simulation. As long as you have an idea of what elements were produced in the nuclear reaction - there is sufficient information to make the necessary changes to the design. I can very easily term a "sub-critical" test as a "failed critical test" - that doesn't mean that the information collected in a "sub-critical" test is not useful.

I have never heard the term "power-to-yield" ratio. This is most likely a typo in the article, the concern in building warhead is "weight-to-yeild" i.e. warhead weight to warhead yeild. I have no comments on what constitutes sufficent weight to yield in an Indian nuclear warhead. I have nothing to say about missile nose cone geometries.

The article also says

Additionally, Garwin’s suggestion that the nuclear civilian energy sector worldwide be enlarged under strict IAEA supervision, is even more directly fulfilled by the India-US deal with the offer of enriched uranium-fueled 1000 MW light water reactors (LWRs) from the US (Westinghouse 1000), France (Areva) and Russia (VVER 1000) operating in a closed fuel loop, meaning, exhausted fuel bundles will be replaced periodically from international fuel fabrication centres. Should India import these LWRs with installed thermal capacity of 35,000 MW, it will expend some $50 billion, resulting in handing Washington a powerful lever to get Indian compliance with US demands in the nuclear policy realm as well as outside of it. Assuming the loss of $50 billion is absorbable by a burgeoning Indian economy, India may have to contend with the cut-off of contracted fuel, the shutdown of the imported LWRs, and the loss of 35,000 MW in the grid which could prove economically ruinous for the country.

This agrees almost completely with what I had said earlier about the third path which must be taken in the conduct of this deal. I only wish to add that Richard Garwin is one of the high priests of the non-proliferation community. His views on the nature of a global nuclear energy initiative are understandable and in my opinion irrelevant. The reality of global energy use that we are heading for is far in excess of Richard Garwin's ability to comprehend. I mean for God's sake it took 50 years for Garwin to comprehend the utility of a breeder reactor.