For a clean pursuit
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pitch for India's membership to the Nuclear Supplier's Group (NSG) is a well-timed move as climate concerns and erratic weather events have pushed countries to go beyond routine talks and make efforts to devise a concrete plan of action. Given that the concern for climate change, in spite of its gravity, cannot put on the back burner the numerous other issues that nations remain engaged with, it needs to be reiterated, acknowledged, and established time and again that the key to sustainable progress is striking that very delicate balance between ecological sensitivity of an environment and developments intended there. While delivering the keynote address in New York to a business gathering per se in the Bloomberg Global Business Forum, Prime Minister Modi made a pitch for India's entry in NSG in New York. The Nuclear Suppliers Group is a multilateral export control regime and a group of nuclear supplier countries that seek to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. The NSG is thus an international group that watches out for nuclear proliferation and ensures that nuclear technologies are used for only peaceful purposes. While the possession of nuclear weapons is a deterrent in many respects owing to the capacity thus acquired to cause irreversible damage to life in all forms, being in a position to exploit nuclear power for peaceful purposes brings many advantages that are specially valuable in the times of toxic levels of emissions. The electricity generated from nuclear fuel is significantly cleaner compared to the traditional and still popular method of generating electricity from coal. India is in an unfavourable place since it is not an NSG member and cannot get fuel for producing nuclear energy. For India to move towards climate sensitive solutions, discounting nuclear energy as a source of clean energy and a green alternative will not be good. What unfolds now is that with a source of potential energy which has the capacity to wreak more havock in case of an accident, the responsibility that comes with this development manifold. One may ask outright if education, healthcare, eradication of poverty are secondary to the concern of a clean fuel that will drive development and widen the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The fact is that both the pursuits are equally important and it is a matter of time, circumstances, and priority to select development in each field. The Prime Minister is right in expressing that "If we were to get that opportunity, we could perhaps be a model in this area for the world".
With control over the export of nuclear materials, NSG controls most of the world's nuclear trade. While the US and other countries support India's entry into the NSG, China remains at variance on the grounds that India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The support of the US for India has been formalised with the announcement in March this year that six US companies would set up nuclear power reactors in India. India has presented to the world the ambition it nurtures to orient economic development in a climate-safe manner with the 450 GW target for solar energy and a water project that includes rainwater harvesting and river management, along with restrictions on the use of single-use plastic. Taking Swachh Bharat Mission to glorious heights, Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary on October 2 will be commemorated with the grand nation-wide movement to stop the use of plastic. It is not pragmatic for a developing country like India to shun the use of coal in spite of all the emissions—India has the third largest coal reserves in the world, but there is a need to make mining more environment-friendly; coal gasification technology is a step in this direction. Besides, the amount of employment that is thus generated and the number of livelihoods that are thus supported are a concern that cannot be ignored. This is a situation that can best be gradually altered with the steady coming in of nuclear technology as a replacement to any extent. What stands in the way of India at this juncture is the rival Asian giant, China, which has kept India out of the 48-member NSG. India being the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide can favourably switch to alternate means and reduce dependency on coal. As a matter of strategic concerns, China objects to India's nuclear empowerment. India is thus left in a position to decline commitment to a reduction in coal usage because it is essential to ensure electricity to millions of citizens. What might be concluded is that climate concerns, as much as they may be the pressing need of the hour, does not tide over the Asian story of establishing power and dominance. India is systemically denied access to nuclear fuel for the fear that it might develop technologies and use it against neighbours. In the high-level talks of climate change and green fuel for peaceful purposes, the persisting aspect is that peace must be ensured in the neighbourhood in the most basic sense first so as to eradicate any insecurity standing as an impediment.