Perceived Impact of the India-Sri Lanka Nuclear Deal

Perceived Impact of the India-Sri Lanka Nuclear Deal

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Perceived Impact of the India-Sri Lanka Nuclear Deal

The landmark civilian nuclear deal with the US and the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 paved the way for India to commence international nuclear trade with the rest of the world.

Consequently, India signed similar deals with countries such as, France, United Kingdom, Canada, South Korea and others. India's reluctance to pass laws to protect the suppliers from liability in case of a nuclear disaster had held up the trade between India and the US.

However, in the backdrop of the recent understanding achieved between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, India signed a civil nuclear deal with its neighbour Sri Lanka on 16 February 2015.

Purpose of the deal

The two countries began talks on a civil nuclear cooperation pact back in 2012. There was no headway as former President MahindaRajapaksa expressed concern over the possible impact of radiation from India's nuclear reactors located at Kundankulam in Tamil Nadu. Seen in this light, the agreement with newly elected President Sirisena is a breakthrough as it strengthens ties between the two countries as well as balances China's influence. The new President is keen to bridge the gap and assure India that Sri Lanka values India's support.

Prime Minister Modi, too, insisted that the deal will open "new avenues for cooperation, including in areas like agriculture and healthcare" and establish mutual trust. However, there is more to it than meets the eye. Given that Sri Lanka does not have an aggressive nuclear programme and aims for just 600 MW of nuclear power by 2031, the rational for such a deal might seem weak.

Effort to contain China's influence

Growing bonhomie between China and Sri Lanka, especially during the rule of President Rajapaksa, was a cause of great concern for India. China has wooed the island nation with multi-dollar investments (around $4-6 billion), for instance, it has signed a deal to develop a $1.5 billion port in Colombo and also allowed its submarines to dock in its waters, a strategic scare for India. This seems to have woken up India to mend ties with its neighbour.

The nuclear deal, more than anything else, aims to counter China's increasing proximity to Sri Lanka. It seems to be a part of the strategy adopted by Prime Minister Modi to reach out to India's neighbours, helping them to build power stations and ports, to counter China.

Perceived Benefits

As part of the deal, the two countries have decided to transfer and exchange knowledge, share their resources, help in training and building capacity for peaceful use of nuclear energy, work towards nuclear safety, radioactive waste management, nuclear and radiological disaster mitigation and environmental protection. Subsequently, India can sell light small-scale nuclear reactors to Sri Lanka.

The deal is also likely to provide for bilateral cooperation between India and Sri Lanka for research and development works exploring power generation using thorium. Indian nuclear scientists may help their Sri Lankan colleagues to conduct feasibility studies on use of thorium deposits, found in abundance along the southern coastal belt of the island nation, to generate atomic power which will also help India.

It is India's first such agreement with any of its neighbours and is likely to have a positive impact on the relations between the two countries.
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