Science - March 9, 2006

In the News / Nuclear offer to India

While the West is still fretting about nuclear issues in Iran, president Bush last week promised to help the booming economy of India with nuclear resources and technology. Critics say Bush’s offer is ambiguous, but what are an Indian’s concerns when it comes to the development of nuclear power in his country?

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Anand Gavai comes from Mumbai, India’s biggest city. Having grown up in the constant presence of 16 million others, he now is truly enjoying low-profile rural Wageningen. For the last three years he has been working on Bio Informatics, first doing his MSc in Wageningen and now a PhD here as well. With a smile he tells how the Dutch taught him to cook, how he enjoyed some Dutch friends coming over to India and how he loves travelling too. Despite his Southern origins, his travel passion drove the Indian last year as far as the Arctic Circle, where he spent his time backpacking among the rural Swedes.

Anand watches CNN and gets most of his news from online newspapers. ‘What surprises me is that Bush’s visit to India and the negotiations on nuclear issues have become such a hype in the news. In fact these negotiations on nuclear developments have already been going on for a long time. In India energy is simply a problem, we need more energy for our rising economy and until now we have not had access to enough reliable energy sources. In the past America had guaranteed resources for nuclear technology but did not live up to its promises. What is new in these negotiations is that, this time round, the International Atomic Energy Agency is acting as a mediator.

‘In terms of nuclear weapons, I understand the threat of bringing nuclear technology into the region. Take the exchange of nuclear technology with Pakistan – this might result in uncontrolled trading with who knows where, maybe even with North Korea. On the other hand, I have to say that I fully trust India. In the end India is a democracy, which will safeguard the use of these weapons. And remember that America has traded weapons of mass destruction in return for resources before, even with rulers with no democratic basis at all.

‘However, this does not mean that Bush’s visit to India is widely accepted by our people. There are some groups that are strongly opposed to his visit, mostly communists and strong religious groups with their own particular sentiments. And when it comes down to it, the man in the street in India won’t have cared much about his visit either. Which is maybe why the enormous security commotion surrounding the visit is what struck me the most. What I discussed a lot with my Indian friends in Wageningen, was how Bush’s visit hampered so many people in going about their daily work, simply because whole areas of the city were cordoned off. For them a day without work is a day without food.

‘In the end I do not know whether I trust Bush, since everything seems to be a business deal to him, even if he claims to be offering you something. But I do see the current nuclear developments as positive. At present three percent of our power comes from nuclear sources; for Belgium this is around forty percent. If we want to develop our economy, and especially if we want to develop the rural areas, we truly need new nuclear power plants. I do fully understand the Dutch doubts on nuclear power in the Netherlands, but in India the majority of the one billion population still do not even have access to a reliable electricity supply. On top of that, we do not have the alternatives like gas or neighbouring energy-producing countries that you have.’

Martijn Vink

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