Atoms for War? U.S.-Indian Civilian Nuclear Cooperation and India's Nuclear Arsenal

Ashley J. Tellis Report June 27, 2006
 
One of the main criticisms of the proposed U.S.-India nuclear deal is that it would allow India to rapidly expand its nuclear arsenal. India, however, is not interested in building the largest nuclear arsenal possible, and its capacity to produce weapons-grade plutonium is not affected by prospective U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation.
 
 

Among the most serious criticisms leveled at the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation initiative agreed to by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is that it would enable India to rapidly expand its nuclear arsenal. This criticism rests upon two crucial assumptions:
 

  • that New Delhi in fact seeks the largest nuclear weapons inventory its capacity and resources permit; and,
  • the Indian desire for a larger nuclear arsenal has been stymied thus far by a shortage of natural uranium.

Atoms for War? US-Indian Civilian Nuclear Cooperation and India's Nuclear Arsenal by Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggests both these assumptions are deeply flawed. The study concludes that:

  • India is currently separating far less weapons grade plutonium annually than it has the capability to produce. The evidence, which suggests that the Government of India is in no hurry to build the biggest nuclear stockpile it could construct based on material factors alone, undermines the assumption that India wishes to build the biggest nuclear arsenal it possibly can;
  • Further, India's capacity to produce a huge nuclear arsenal is not affected by prospective U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation. The research in this report concludes that: India already has the indigenous reserves of natural uranium necessary to undergird the largest possible nuclear arsenal it may desire and, consequently, the U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation initiative will not materially contribute towards New Delhi's strategic capacities in any consequential way either directly or by freeing up its internal resources; that the current shortage of natural uranium in India caused by constrictions in its mining and milling capacity is a transient problem that is in the process of being redressed. The U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement proposed by President Bush does not in any way affect the Government of India's ability to upgrade its uranium mines and milling facilities—as it is currently doing. As such, the short-term shortage does not offer a viable basis either for Congress to extort any concessions from India in regards to its weapons program or for supporting the petty canard that imported natural uranium will lead to a substantial increase in the size of India's nuclear weapons program.

 

 


 

 

The following is a summary by Ashley J. Tellis. Click on the icon above for the full text of the report.

Among the most serious criticisms leveled at the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation initiative agreed to by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is that it would enable India to rapidly expand its nuclear arsenal. This criticism rests upon two crucial assumptions: that New Delhi in fact seeks the largest nuclear weapons inventory its capacity and resources permit; and, the Indian desire for a larger nuclear arsenal has been stymied thus far by a shortage of natural uranium.

Atoms for War? U.S.-Indian Civilian Nuclear Cooperation and India’s Nuclear Arsenal by Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggests that both these assumptions are deeply flawed. To begin with, the study concludes that India is currently separating about 24-40 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium annually, far less than it has the capability to produce. This evidence, which suggests that the Government of India is in no hurry to build the biggest nuclear stockpile it could construct based on material factors alone, undermines the assumption that India wishes to build the biggest nuclear arsenal it possibly can.

Further, India’s capacity to produce a huge nuclear arsenal is not affected by prospective U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation. A few facts underscore this conclusion clearly. India is widely acknowledged to possess reserves of 78,000 metric tons of uranium (MTU). The forthcoming Carnegie study concludes that the total inventory of natural uranium required to sustain all the reactors associated with the current power program (both those operational and those under construction) and the weapons program over the entire notional lifetime of these plants runs into some 14,640-14,790 MTU—or, in other words, requirements that are well within even the most conservative valuations of India’s reasonably assured uranium reserves. If the eight reactors that India has retained outside of safeguards were to allocate 1/4 of their cores for the production of weapons-grade materials—the most realistic possibility for the technical reasons discussed at length in the forthcoming report—the total amount of natural uranium required to run these facilities for the remaining duration of their notional lives would be somewhere between 19,965-29,124 MTU. If this total is added to the entire natural uranium fuel load required to run India’s two research reactors dedicated to the production of weapons-grade plutonium over their entire life cycle—some 938-1088 MTU—the total amount of natural uranium required by India’s dedicated weapons reactors and all its unsafeguarded PHWRs does not exceed 20,903-30,212 MTU over the remaining lifetime of these facilities. Operating India’s eight unsafeguarded PHWRs in this way would bequeath New Delhi with some 12,135-13,370 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, which is sufficient to produce between 2,023-2,228 nuclear weapons over and above those already existing in the Indian arsenal.

The research in this report concludes that the total amount of natural uranium required to fuel all Indian reactors, on the assumption that eight of them would be used for producing weapons-grade materials in 1/4 of their cores, would be crudely speaking somewhere between 26,381 and 35,690 MTU over the remaining lives of all these facilities—a requirement that lies well within India’s assured uranium reserves howsoever these are disaggregated. In sum, India has the indigenous reserves of natural uranium necessary to undergird the largest possible nuclear arsenal it may desire and, consequently, the U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation initiative will not materially contribute towards New Delhi’s strategic capacities in any consequential way either directly or by freeing up its internal resources.

This conclusion notwithstanding, India does face a current shortage of natural uranium caused by constrictions in its mining and milling capacity. This deficit, however, represents a transient problem that is in the process of being redressed. It should be borne in mind that the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement proposed by President Bush does not in any way affect the Government of India’s ability to upgrade its uranium mines and milling facilities—as it is currently doing. All this implies that the shortages of uranium fuel experienced by India presently are a near-term aberration, and not an enduring limitation resulting from the dearth of physical resources. As such, they do not offer a viable basis either for Congress to extort any concessions from India in regards to its weapons program or for supporting the petty canard that imported natural uranium will lead to a substantial increase in the size of India’s nuclear weapons program.

Ashley J. Tellis is a senior associate specializing in international security, defense, and Asian strategic issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is co-author of Strategic Asia 2005-06: Military Modernization in an Era of Uncertainty.

 

End of document

About the South Asia Program

The Carnegie South Asia Program informs policy debates relating to the region’s security, economy, and political development. From the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s internal dynamics to U.S. engagement with India, the Program’s renowned team of experts offer in-depth analysis derived from their unique access to the people and places defining South Asia’s most critical challenges.

 
Source http://carnegieendowment.org/2006/06/27/atoms-for-war-u.s.-indian-civilian-nuclear-cooperation-and-india-s-nuclear-arsenal/3j4h

More from The Global Think Tank

In Fact

 

45%

of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.

30%

of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.

140

charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.

2.5–5

thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.

92%

of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.

$2.34

trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.

37%

of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.

72%

of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.

90%

of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.

13%

of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.

17

U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.

40%

of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.

120

million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.

60–70%

of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.

58%

of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.

67%

of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.

50%

of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.

18%

of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.

81%

of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.

32

million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3

Syrians

now needs urgent assistance.

370

political parties

contested India’s last national elections.

70%

of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.

70%

of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.

20%

of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.

58%

of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.

$536

billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.

$100

billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.

4700%

increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.

$11

billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.

2%

of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.

78

journalists

were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address in the field below to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
 
 
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
 
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.

请注意...

你将离开清华—卡内基中心网站,进入卡内基其他全球中心的网站。