U.S.-India Nuclear Deal Moves Forward

Slowly and ploddingly, the United States and India are approaching the grim conclusion of a nuclear deal thatâ''s been two years in the making.

The two countries recently ironed out the grittier details of the agreement, which included allowing India to enrich uranium imported from the United Statesâ''terms that were once not so generous, in earlier drafts of the agreement.

Most problematically, India never became a signatory to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Signatories are allowed to exchange nuclear technology and materials with each other, while those who pursued nuclear programs outside the treaty were shunned. So, as many critics of the deal have noted, giving India preferential status basically strips the treaty of its power.

And, of course, the terms of the deal make it easier for India to pursue nuclear weapons by supplying much-needed fuel for the reactors. Proponents have argued that the deal will provide a much-needed boost to its civilian nuclear energy program. But less closely examined is how this will all play out inside India. As nuclear expert M. V. Ramana wrote in a July Spectrum feature, India has consistently fallen short on its attempts to pursue nuclear energy as an answer to its chronic electricity problems. Despite several decades of government support, a mere 3% of the country's electricity is generated at nuclear plants.

There are still obstacles that could derail the treaty. The U.S. Congress still has to approve it, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group also has to sign off. It is sure to be a bumpy road.

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