Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Where should the lines be drawn on internet discussions of strategic affairs?

Dear Friends,

I have been asked to summarise my views on this topic by an old friend.

What I present here is my opinion alone and not that of anyone I may or may not know.

I feel internet debates tend to get very heated and it is possible for people to lose sight of important things. In the recent fiasco on the forum, we have had a small taste of the kinds of problems this can cause. With this incident in the background and I want to say something that people can remember going into the future.

I think any public discussions which use/provoke the use of unsourced information or invite speculation or comments from non-specialists about the detailed functioning of a nuclear, biological, or chemical device, warhead or delivery system are detrimental to India's national interests.

I say this because I believe such discussions are bad because :

1) they promote personal attacks on the scientists in India,

2) they delve into issues where the GoI cannot respond due to proliferation sensitivity and national security issues, and

3) they make it look like Indian techies in the US are secretly learning how to build a nuclear bomb while dreaming of challenging the US with it.

Recently on the forum, unsourced information was used to attack the credibility of the Indian scientists who made the bomb. While we have no answers to "why this was done" - we do know that this generated tremendous friction inside the forum. A barrage of personal insults and degrading language was used to address the DAE, the PMO and the members of the National Guidance Council and an attempt was made to assault the credibility of the scientists who worked on the bomb in India.

Not long after this assault, a group of people tried to tease out details about India's nuclear options with very leading discussions on the issue of non-explosive testing and weapons related computer simulations.

After watching a number of posters on the forum doing the NPA's work for them, we saw a large number of Indian technolgists talking about knowledge they had gleaned while in the US, about the workings of a WMD and all the while there were a number of posters who simultaneously talked about "360 degree deterrence" and "Agni Long Range". These posters appeared to be completely oblivious to the message such a discussion was sending - that Indian techies in the US on various pretexts were "figuring" out how make big bombs that challenged the US . The implications of such talk for thousands of Indians earning a living in the science and technology sector in the US was completely ignored by irresponsible forum leaders and excitable posters who all claimed to be well-meaning Indians.

Frankly, as an Indian, I found this situation disgusting and shameful.

I attribute the bulk of this mess to a moderation failure on the forum, specifically, the moderation team failed to grasp the damage that this kind of thing does to India's national interests and there appeared to be a lack of checks and balances inside the forum to deal with situations arising from an administrator acting in an imbalanced fashion.

Moderation failures of this kind greatly diminish the forum's value as a place for constructive debate.

I do not know what the future holds. I hope we learn from this mistake - and come up with better ways of debating our national interest.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nuclear Power Options For India

Everyone wants to see nuclear power in India.

It is a known fact that we do not have proven reserves of Uranium to do this even with a closed fuel cycle.

Ultimately anything we do - right now - is going to have to involve import of Uranium.

We have two choices:

- Import LEU from somewhere and they pay for the PWRs to run it. Done this way - everything from the LEU to the PWR will be under international lock-and-key.

- Import Natural Uranium from somewhere and run it in existing/expanded PHWRs. Done this way - the fuel and the spent fuel rods will have to be maintained under lock and key but the technology required to make electricity will be entirely under our control.

At the end of the day, as long as we plan any sort of independence in the nuclear arena, the NPA are going to come after us and there are *always* going to be technology control norms in place.

Today with people from the Carter Adminstration still calling the shots inside the NPA community - outdated ideas like stalling reprocessing projects internationally are still in vogue. As soon as the American reprocessing facility gets off the ground, I imagine these ideas will give way to new thinking in the NPA and a more permissive attitude will emerge towards reprocessing.

We need to be placed to secure international market access at that point. With spent fuel rods sitting in India and with proven FBR and AHWR technology, I think we will be able to offer competitive pricing on reprocessing related services.

It is too late to fix the "temporary short fall" with reactors running at 50% capacity factor - we are bang in the middle of it - led here by the utterly self defeating debate on places like the forum.