Russia announces its intention to sell nuclear fuel to India

Russia has informed the United States that Moscow intends to supply nuclear fuel for India's Tarapur reactor, a State Department official said. Critics worry the action will erode further international rules governing nuclear proliferation.

Opponents say Russia's decision was spurred by a U.S. determination last year to share civilian nuclear technology with India and signals a coming flood of countries looking to trade nuclear goods outside international treaties.

"This is the first salvo," Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Monday. "China could be next in trying to propose a similar loophole for Pakistan."

U.S. President George W. Bush decided last year to change decades of anti-proliferation policy and negotiate a deal to supply nuclear technology and fuel to India. The deal was completed just this month during a visit to India by Bush.

The State Department official, who spoke Monday on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, disagreed that Russia's decision could be linked with the U.S.-India agreement.

India, the official said, is short of fuel needed to power a civilian reactor that provides crucial energy. "A serious need exists independent of the U.S.-India arrangement," said the official, who has direct knowledge of Russia's dealings with the State Department.

During a visit to Moscow in December, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the resolving the situation at Tarapur was not linked to the India-U.S. nuclear deal.

Analysts say that India would be forced to shut down operations at the Tarapur plant by June or July if it does not get supplies from Russia.

Russia told U.S. officials that Moscow's planned export of 60 metric tons of fuel for Tarapur would be "safety related," the official said. In Russia's view, that would make the sale permissible under guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an assembly of nations that export nuclear material, reports the AP.

I.L.