Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US for the Nuclear Security Summit, Japan has softened its stance on nuclear co-operation with India.

A senior Japanese diplomat recently said that his country has always considered India as a sincere partner, as far as nuclear co-operation is concerned. The diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, also said that Tokyo signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with New Delhi on civil nuclear co-operation after considering India’s commitment to adhere to the “control of nuclear material, traceability (of nuclear fuel) and consequence in case of a nuclear accident”. According to the senior Japanese official, the MoU, signed during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India in 2015, would certainly boost bilateral nuclear co-operation in the coming years.

Although the agreement left out the South Asian country’s military nuclear programme, the diplomat stressed that the agreed principles applies to India’s independent nuclear programme because “they imply intrusive inspection of civilian nuclear reactors as warranted under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)”. In the past, the international community had no other option, but to rely on India’s verbal commitments on nuclear non-proliferation. However, the Indo-Japanese MoU brought India (in a rare first) under a legal obligation to uphold non-proliferation concerns, he told the press. The diplomat further explained that India’s commitments were proof of its peaceful and transparent intentions in using nuclear reactors exclusively for energy generation. If India violates the principles, it will be financially accountable, stressed the Japanese official.
However, India refuses to accept the Japanese diplomat’s view. An Indian official opined that the principles, cited by the Japanese diplomat, were nothing extraordinary, but part of the “standard template for civil nuclear deal” signed by India and some other countries in the past. He also rejected the Japanese official’s claim that New Delhi would have to financially compensate Tokyo for violating the principles.
Earlier, Indian experts on nuclear affairs had expressed serious concern over the MoU, saying that it was Japan’s “backdoor attempt to draw India into the NPT”. Ashok Parthasarathi, the Scientific Adviser to former Indian Premier Indira Gandhi, stressed: “The principles of traceability and control over nuclear material are highly intrusive measures that will be used by the Japanese to trace the nuclear fuel that Japanese-origin reactors sold to India will contain.” He also warned the Modi government, saying that the MoU might destabilise India’s established nuclear deals with Russia and France by encouraging Moscow and Paris to demand similar commitments from New Delhi.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]