India Votes For New Nuclear Waste Treaty
India has accepted a new international convention which requires
countries with nuclear facilities to comply with high standards
of radioactive waste management.
Pakistan, South Asia's second major nuclear power nation, voted
against the convention, titled Joint Convention on Safety of
Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste
Management. New Zealand joined Pakistan in opposing the
convention. Russia and China abstained from the weekend vote.
When the treaty was put to vote in Vienna after a five-day high-
level diplomatic conference India, along with 61 other nations,
voted for it.
At the conference hosted by the Vienna-based
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), China had lobbied hard
to curtail Taiwan's rights to export its radioactive waste to
The convention will open for signature by countries at the annual
general conference of the IAEA later this month. The treaty will
come into force after it is ratified by 25 states, at least 15 of
them with nuclear facilities.
Indian officials said they were happy with the outcome even
though their proposals could not be accepted.
The convention says that in principle, the nuclear waste
generated in a country should be disposed of in the same country.
India is already doing this with its nuclear power plants mostly
disposing of their waste near their location.
The convention obliges signatories to maintain high standards in
storing and eventual disposal of wastes from nuclear activities
such as power generation or medical use. Taking the cue from the
1994 Nuclear Safety Convention, the IAEA will hold periodic
meetings where signatories will submit reports on waste
The convention completes the aim of bringing all aspects of
civilian nuclear activities under international norms. The first
step was the 1994 Nuclear Safety Convention, which took effect
last October and obliges signatory countries to maintain high
levels of safety in planning, designing, construction, operation
and emergency preparedness of civilian nuclear facilities.
Both conventions exclude military nuclear establishments.
The vote was preceded by some hard bargaining. Almost all efforts
to change the wording of the draft convention, or introduce new
issues, were thwarted as they did not receive the necessary two-
The title of the convention itself underlines the conflict. First
day of the meeting, Mr Yogesh Tiwari, head of the Indian
delegation, complained that the experts group had drifted from
its original brief of dealing only with waste. India had opposed
the attempt to include spent nuclear fuel in the category of
wastes because it considers this as a resource which can be
reprocessed for reuse as fuel.
India was backed by countries like Britain, France and Japan
which also reprocess part of their spent fuel. The United States,
on the other hand, insisted that spent fuel should be considered
As a compromise, it was agreed to include both issues in the
convention but under separate chapters, and each country has the
right to decide how to define the spent fuel - as a waste or as a
``We would have liked the issue of spent fuel management
negotiated as a separate convention, but the opinion was that it
will take many more years for such a convention to come into
force while here was an opportunity to do something about it,''
said an Indian official.
China had lobbied hard without success, to include a paragraph
declaring that a country may conduct transboundary shipping of
nuclear waste to and from a non-state entity without prejudice to
the sovereignty and safety of the state of that entity.
What China wanted was a clear role in Taiwan's (the so-called
non-State entity) efforts to ship nuclear wastes to North Korea
or to any other country for that matter.
Beijing claimed that even though it had never interfered with any
of Taiwan's transboundary shipping, it is a very special problem
for China, affecting the safety and sovereignty of the mainland.
However, the US objected arguing that China's motives were purely
political, and the proposal did not have any economical or
Unlike most Western nations, Cuba and most of the Asian
countries, including India and Pakistan, backed the Chinese
proposal. Japan voted against while Indonesia abstained.
However, the Western delegates declared that their negative vote
did not mean that they were questioning the policy that Taiwan is
part of China.
Also voted out was a similar proposal by New Zealand and Turkey
to include an assurance that transit countries not only be
informed of transboundary movement of radioactive waste, but also
requested for permission for this. Although there is still not
much nuclear traffic through either the Bosphorus (in Turkey) nor
the South Pacific, both these nations fear this could happen in
the future and want to ensure there are enough safeguards against
accidents, a diplomat said.
Southeast Asian countries too are worried that the Straits of
Malacca might be used for nuclear transport in the future.(IANS).