President Bush faces an uphill fight to get Congress to approve his nuclear deal with India. But this is one case where lawmakers should cut the president a little slack. He showed vision in negotiating the pact. It will be good for both the United States and India, good for the environment, and a good precedent for developing peaceful nuclear energy all around the world.
Critics have charged that the president was so eager to sell the Indians nuclear fuel and technology that he caved in to all their demands, permitting them to maintain an uninspected nuclear weapons program along with the civilian program to be supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Other critics warned that Iran and North Korea would use the deal as an excuse for pursuing their own nuclear weapons programs as though either nation needed any further excuse to pursue its nuclear ambitions.
But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has convincingly argued that there's no comparison between the two rogue nations and democratic India. She says clean nuclear energy could cut India's emissions of carbon dioxide by 170 million tons a year, as much as the Netherlands produces. She points out that satisfying much of India's "massive appetite for energy" with nuclear plants will make the country less dependent on imports of oil and gas (read Iran). It is India's ambitious goal to generate 25% of its vastly larger electricity needs in 2050 through nuclear power, from its current 3% The deal could create thousands of jobs in the United States, she says, and India's technological talent can help develop sophisticated new solutions in the global push for safe, clean nuclear power. It would be harbinger of a new and meaningful cooperation between the two largest democracies in the world.
Rice is right on all counts, and the U.S.-India pact has been endorsed by no less a skeptic than Mohamed El Baradei, director general of the IAEA, and in principle by Senator Richard Lugar, among the most knowledgeable, if not the most knowledgeable person in public service on the issue of nuclear proliferation. It is also in line with the new long-range "action plan" of the G-8, the group of eight industrial nations that review economic conditions and set optimal goals for the world economy. A draft of the plan, to be adopted in July, states flatly that "We believe that the development of nuclear energy would promote global energy security." The logic is inescapable: With the industrialized world continuing to grow and China and India exploding into economic powers, demand for energy will inevitably grow for decades to come. If the world is not to be held for ransom by the OPEC oil cartel and its cronies, a massive expansion of nuclear power development is the core choice, combined with viable programs for alternative energy and conservation.
France has shown the way on this course. Over the past 30 years, Paris has pursued an unrelenting drive to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Now, 78 percent of the country's electricity is produced by nuclear power -- and as one byproduct, France has one of the lowest rates of greenhouse-gas emission in the industrial world.
Nuclear power is not without its concerns. There is an urgent need to safely store or dispose of nuclear waste. But these are not insoluble problems. The sooner we take them on seriously, the better for the world -- and President Bush deserves credit for starting the debate with his nuclear deal with India. Now, if only the oil patch and concerned environmental groups would respond to the greater national interest, and give him leeway to craft a proportionally ambitious program here.