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CONTACT: John Buell, 822-8444

Tuesday, June 21, 1983

Washington, June 21 --- The Reagan Administration is about to approve the export of nuclear reactor components to India, waiving prohibitions in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act against these exports that were prompted by India's 1974 test of a "peaceful" nuclear explosion, Nuclear Control Institute disclosed today.

The Reagan Administration has decided to approve the export of these components only after failing to persuade Japan to export Japanese-built, General Electric-type nuclear components to India. The Japanese refused, according to informed sources, after chiding the United States for acting in obvious contradiction of U.S. policy barring export to nations like India that refuse to take a no- explosion pledge or to place all their nuclear facilities under international inspection. The United States currently is urging the Japanese to adopt such a policy with regard to their nuclear exports.

The State Department is now readying the necessary papers to inform Congress that the President will waive restrictions under existing law on nuclear trade with India and to recommend to the NRC that licenses for exporting nuclear components to India be approved. The papers may be ready by the time Secretary of State Shultz leaves for a trip to East and South Asia, including India, later this week. The Administration also is considering proposing an amendment to permit exports of components for health and safety reasons despite a recipient nation's refusal to accept full-scope safeguards or to take a no- explosion pledge.

The components have been urgently requested by Indian officials for safety reasons at the Tarapur nuclear power stations, which use two General Electric light-water reactors exported to India in the early 1960s. Enactment of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act in 1978 required the United States to cut off enriched-uranium fuel exports until India agreed to place all its nuclear facilities under inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). President Carter, in 1980, overruled the NRC's refusal to issue an export license for fuel for Tarapur and ordered the fuel to go forward --- a decision that was sustained by a two-vote margin in the Senate.

The Reagan Administration has not ordered more fuel be sent to India, fearing that Congress would refuse to sustain such a decision a second time. The Carter Administration had argued that continued supply of nuclear fuel would bring non-proliferation concessions from India --- an outcome that was never realized in the face of India's staunch refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to accept full-scope safeguards, or to pledge not to set off more nuclear explosions.

Instead, the Reagan Administration arranged for France to replace the United States as a supplier of fuel for the Tarapur reactors. Under the arrangement, the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement for Tarapur remains in force until expiration in 1993, including provisions for safeguarding the approximately one ton of plutonium produced thus far as a byproduct in the spent fuel of the Tarapur reactors. Using a conservative estimate of 15 pounds of plutonium required for an atomic bomb, India has produced enough plutonium at Tarapur for about 130 weapons.

Also remaining in force in the U.S.-India agreement is another provision giving the United States a veto over India's reprocessing of the Tarapur spent fuel to separate out pure plutonium --- a nuclear weapons material. India, however, refuses to acknowledge the U.S. veto, asserting that any right of the United States to withhold approval of Indian reprocessing vanished after the IAEA certified the plant recently built by India to reprocess Tarapur fuel can be safeguarded. (The reprocessing plant, located next door to the Tarapur powerplant, is now being safeguarded by the IAEA during separation of plutonium from the spent fuel of Canadian-supplied reactors. Many experts believe, however, that the IAEA safeguards are inadequate at this and other reprocessing plants).

During the dispute over Tarapur, India has operated the plant at reduced power to extend the fuel supply and to cope with safety problems causing high radiation exposure to plant workers. One reactor is now shut down and the other is operating at about one-third to one-half of capacity. Indian reports reaching U.S. government officials indicate that scores of Indian peasants have been brought in from the countryside to run through high radiation areas of the plant to turn valves and to help with repairs, during which time they get a maximum lifetime radiation dose.

The Reagan Administration will cite humanitarian reasons for proceeding with the export of components that are essential for safe operation of the plant. The items include pump seals and valves and other spare parts including instruments to show the intensity of neutrons produced by the chain-reacting core of each of the powerplant's reactors.

The Reagan Administration will waive the prohibition in Section 129 of the Atomic Energy Act (as amended by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act), requiring a cut-off of nuclear exports to nations "engaged in activities involving source or special nuclear material and having a direct significance for the manufacture or acquisition of nuclear explosive devices..." The waiver takes effect unless Congress votes to override it within 60 days. In addition, the Administration will request that the NRC approve the export of components under Section 109 of the Act despite India's refusal to certify that safeguards on the Tarapur nuclear plant and materials will remain in perpetuity --- that is, after the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement expires in 1993. The Administration's rationale is that safeguards on Tarapur will extend at least for the remaining ten years of the agreement, which also happens to be the projected life span of the components.

Nuclear Control Institute, a Washington-based non-profit watchdog group that develops studies and strategies for stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, announced its opposition to the export and its determination to try to stop it. Paul Leventhal, president of the Nuclear Control Institute, noted that components that permit the plant to operate safely also permit the plant to continue producing plutonium.

"If the Indian government wants to risk the lives of its own citizens to make a point about its right to proliferate, that is its own business," Leventhal said. "We should not permit India to lay the blame on the United States. If Indian citizens become sick and die as a result of a nuclear power plant that is needlessly operating in an unsafe manner, the Indian government, not the United States government, is the guilty party."

Leventhal continued: "India and the world community must come to realize that the United States deems nuclear non-proliferation to be as important an objective as nuclear safety. The United States should make the present ban on nuclear exports to India stick in the greater interest of the safety and security of all people of the world. If India flaunts its peaceful-use obligations on nuclear materials, who will be next and where will it end?"

Leventhal cited a recent Nuclear Control Institute study to show that if reprocessing goes forward as planned throughout the world, there will be 600 tons of separated plutonium in commerce by the year 2000 --- enough for 88,000 Nagasaki-type nuclear weapons.

The State Department argument that the components should go forward because safeguards on the plant would last as long as the components is without merit, Leventhal added. "The matter of concern is not safeguards an components, but safeguards on plutonium produced over the next ten years thanks to these components," he said. "India refuses to certify that this or any plutonium produced at Tarapur will be safeguarded after the U.S.-India agreement expires in 1993. If India insists that it has the right to use this plutonium to set off nuclear explosions with devices that are indistinguishable from nuclear weapons, then it should not look to the United States for assistance in such a flagrant violation of the basic peaceful-use understanding that applies to these reactors."

Other nuclear suppliers like Japan should be encouraged to join in the ban, not to serve as an alternative supplier of embargoed parts and materials, Leventhal continued. He said Germany and Italy, as well as Japan, have been approached as possible alternative suppliers. "If India cannot operate the plant safely without the embargoed parts, it should either shut the plant down or make the non-proliferation commitments necessary to assure immediate shipment of the parts by the United States," Leventhal said.

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