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Critics Worry Nuclear Reactor Deal With India Has A Dark Side


And it was earlier this week that President Obama announced what he called a breakthrough that might pave the way for new American nuclear reactors in India. The White House says the reactors are good for the climate, good for American industry and good for strengthening ties with India. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports on what some see as the deal's dark side.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: India is hungry for electricity. Right now, it uses a lot of dirty coal. As it grows, it wants cleaner nuclear. Tanvi Madan tracks India at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

TANVI MADAN: India has a state-owned company that produces nuclear power, but it's actually fallen behind targets for decades.

BRUMFIEL: And that's where this U.S.-India nuclear deal comes in.

MADAN: There's a sense that India needed foreign technology and foreign suppliers.

BRUMFIEL: To bring a new generation of plants online. Seems like a win-win, U.S. companies sell reactors, India gets lots of clean energy, and that's the way it was sold back in 2005 when President George W. Bush first announced this nuclear deal with India. There's just one small problem, says Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. The last time the U.S. sold India nuclear technologies...

DARYL KIMBALL: India used those technologies to produce plutonium for its first nuclear weapon test explosion in 1974.

BRUMFIEL: So this time around, the deal has moved at a crawl. Congress approved it in 2008, but only if India told the U.S. how it used everything it bought from America. India resisted until this week. Speaking at a news conference in Delhi yesterday, U.S. Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes says India's now cooperating.


BEN RHODES: The Indians are providing us with information. We have lines of communication open that meets our concerns that we will have, again, a sufficient understanding of how India is approaching nuclear security.

BRUMFIEL: But arms-control advocate Daryl Kimball isn't satisfied because even as it plans civilian reactors, India is also enlarging its nuclear weapons stockpile.

KIMBALL: India continues to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. It continues to build up its nuclear weapons arsenal with increasingly sophisticated ballistic missiles.

BRUMFIEL: Kimball says even with the new assurances, this deal sends mixed messages, and it sends them at a time the U.S. is trying to negotiate with Iran over how to expand its nuclear power programs without building nuclear weapons. The deal does look set to move forward, assuming one final problem gets solved. U.S. companies are afraid they might be sued if there's a meltdown in India. The two governments say they have a plan to protect foreign companies building reactors in the country. But U.S. firms say they want to read the fine print before construction begins. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.