By IAEA standards, Indian reactors are among the 50 least reliable in the world
Consider the impact of sanctions on civil nuclear energy. With the loss of international collaboration, the program has mutated into a white elephant. Nuclear energy was supposed to produce 10,000 MW of power by 1980. Today, it generates 1,700 MW -- a mere two per cent of the nation's electricity.
When compared to the 1970s, the Department of Atomic Energy's reactors take twice as long to construct and on an average function at 40 percent of their installed capacity. By International Atomic Energy Agency standards Indian reactors are among the 50 least reliable in the world. The performance of this sector has been so dismal that the government has refused to fund the atomic energy program beyond its first stage. Now, India is desperate to buy Russian reactors -- and that too under international safeguards!
India has taken the classical route --the military route to great power status. In the post-Cold War era, not only have nuclear weapons become delegitimised, but military force itself is a declining currency of power. Trade, economics and technology now constitute the foundations of societal power. Regime stability, population explosion, environmental threats, ethnic, sectarian and social mobilisation, and development of human rights on a positivist index are now the vantage reference points against which the security of any society is evaluated. In this context, India's search for great power status through nuclear- military means might at best be difficult and, at worst, an exercise in superfluity.
Of course, the great powers's attempts to legalise nuclear apartheid must be opposed. Who ever argued in favor of signing the NPT or the CTBT? But India must not make the error of pouring resources into a horrendously expensive programme that bears little or no correlation to its real security needs.
The country probably has a few dozen bombs in the basement. Great! These are enough to deter Pakistan. They also generate sufficient uncertainty in China. A sensible policy for India would be to rely on a stewardship "programme capable of producing refined fission weapons, as a hedge against strategic uncertainty. Meanwhile, India must use this capability as a bargaining chip to accelerate nuclear disarmament and resume its historic leadership role in the global disarmament community.
Frankly,in the emerging international environment, only the naive would argue that the road to the Security Council lies through Pokhran.
The author is a Scoville Fellow at the Natural Resources Defence Council, Washington DC