Prelims 2020

Q. In India, why are some nuclear reactors kept under “IAEA safeguards” while others are not ?

a) Some use uranium and others use thorium
b) Some use imported uranium and others use domestic supplies
c) Some are operated by foreign enterprises and others are operated by domestic enterprises
d) Some are State-owned and others are privately-owned
Correct Answer : b) Some use imported uranium and others use domestic supplies

Question from UPSC Prelims 2020 GS Paper


India’s Approach to Nuclear Energy and Safeguards

India’s approach to nuclear energy and the associated safeguards is shaped by its unique position in the international nuclear community. India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but it has nuclear reactors that are subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

IAEA Safeguards for Imported Uranium Reactors

Reactors that use imported uranium are placed under IAEA safeguards to ensure that the imported nuclear material is used exclusively for peaceful purposes and not for the production of nuclear weapons. This is a condition imposed by the countries and international consortia that supply India with uranium, as they require assurances that their supplied materials are not diverted to military uses. The safeguards involve regular inspections and monitoring by the IAEA to verify that the safeguarded nuclear material is accounted for and is being used as declared by the state.

Domestically Sourced Uranium Reactors

On the other hand, reactors that use domestically sourced uranium are not automatically placed under IAEA safeguards. India has the discretion to decide which of its domestically-fueled reactors, if any, it places under safeguards. The decision to place certain reactors under IAEA safeguards, even if they use domestic uranium, is often part of broader nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries. For example, as part of the India-US nuclear deal, India agreed to place a number of its reactors under IAEA safeguards, including some that use domestically sourced fuel, in exchange for access to nuclear technology and fuel from the United States and other countries.

The other options provided do not accurately describe the criteria for placing Indian nuclear reactors under IAEA safeguards:

a) The use of uranium or thorium as fuel is not the determining factor for IAEA safeguards. India is developing thorium-based reactors as part of its long-term nuclear strategy, but the key factor for safeguards is the source of the fuel (imported or domestic), not the type.

c) The operation of reactors by foreign or domestic enterprises is not relevant to the application of IAEA safeguards. The safeguards are applied based on the source of the nuclear material and the agreements India has with other countries and international bodies, not on the ownership or management of the reactors.

d) The ownership of reactors (State-owned vs. privately-owned) is also not a criterion for IAEA safeguards. Currently, all operational nuclear power plants in India are owned and operated by the government or government-owned corporations. The application of safeguards is based on the source of nuclear material and international agreements, not on the ownership structure of the reactors.

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