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The science and politics of nuclear power
SF Alim

          WHAT remains of the much-trumpeted Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after the U.S. and India have reached a nuclear deal though peaceful in intent? What is then the wrong committed by some 187 countries that have signed the NPT and been honouring its conditions? Moreover, why should then other countries committing the same sin of carrying out secret research to develop nuclear technology, whether for peaceful purpose or not, be called into question by the Western powers and their docile nuclear watchdog bodies like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?
These are the contentious points in the nuclear debate since when the major powers of the world became the possessors of the ultimate weapons of destruction. In the beginning, extreme secrecy would shroud the research activities that were being carried out in the laboratories of America, England, Germany, the erstwhile USSR (now Russia) and other advanced countries of the West. But it is the USA that could show its nuclear might before everyone else at the fag end of the second great war after it dropped Atom bombs on two cities of Japan. The entire humanity was shocked to see the power of this ultimate weapon of annihilation. At the same time, the proud owner of that doomsday weapon began to draw a new kind of respect mixed with awe from the rest of the world. Understandably, the newly acquired Atom bomb proved to be another feather in the USA's cap, a country that was already the biggest industrial power equipped with the largest arsenal of conventional weapons. Small wonder, the USA became the first superpower on earth.
Meanwhile, other industrially advanced countries that shared the spoils of the Great War did not also lag behind in the nuclear research to develop their own atom bombs. After America, Russia appeared on the scene as the owner of this super-secret weapon of mass destruction, thereby ending the monopoly of the former over the Bomb as well as the appellation of superpower. Other industrial powers like England and France did also develop their own nuclear bombs. As soon as the privilege of monopoly was over, the possessors of the nuclear bombs, all of whom were basically the traditional western powers formed an elitist nuclear club. The idea behind this nuclear elitism was that this most hazardous technology should not be allowed to leak to groups or countries that are not as responsible as the members of the nuclear club comprising a few western powers. However, Russia's membership of this exclusive club was willy-nilly accepted as a fait accompli. The tacit assumption was that the secret knowledge of nuclear technology should at least be the domain of the Western powers.
Why should a select group have the control over this technology of mass destruction? The argument was that the nuclear technology and the awesome power it held would be safe in the hands of these advanced countries. This in other words means that other countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America are not qualified enough to possess this technology, as they may not behave responsibly once they get their hands on the secret of bomb making. Who are then the responsible owners of the nuclear technology and the bomb it has the potential to develop? Ironically, the first country that used this ultimate weapon of annihilation on bustling cities -- their populations quite unaware of the Armageddon descending on them out of the blue -- was none other the greatest power on earth. Arguably, being the most advanced nation, both in the social and the technological nuance of the term, it was also the most responsible nation to possess the bomb! Well, the world has known that, though at a price. Therefore, all the talk about the qualification for possessing nuclear technology sounds hollow when one recalls the past records of the self-appointed guardians of the world peace as well as the privileged possessors of the nuclear technology. At this point, one must not be forgetful of the fact that the nuclear technology that threatens the world with a doomsday scenario does also hold out the best hope for humanity as a source of inexhaustible source of energy to power the engine of civilisation. The choice lies with the one who have the luxury at the moment to possess the technology. Nevertheless, the technology in question will soon lose its aura of mystery and the false notion of luxury surrounding it, once the oil wells that supply the world with the energy it needs begin to dry up.
Nevertheless, what is at issue at the moment is not exactly the exigency of the situation arising out of the need for the search of an alternate source of energy for the present oil-guzzling civilisation. Rather, it is more a political and an ethical issue about who should or should not possess the nuclear technology than a utilitarian one.
Nuclear technology is still in its infancy. As it usually happens in history, any new invention with the promise of a great source of power in man's possession often finds its use in the making of weapons of destruction. The nuclear technology was no exception to this common trend of history. Some very heavy elements like radium and uranium ushered in the era of nuclear possibility. These heavy elements give off rays containing bits and shards of the basic building block of these materials in the form of powerful projectiles. The phenomenon is known as radioactivity. The elements undergoing this process are in fact breaking up through releasing extraordinary amount of energy. The task before the scientists who first stumbled upon this vast storehouse of energy was to harness it. However, before the right technology to tap this unending source of power could be devised, the military was the first to grab the opportunity and develop the Atom bomb. The tendency to keep the researches on nuclear technology and their findings under a veil of strict secrecy is a disgrace to science. The dreaded bomb is more a product of politics than one of science proper. As always, the politics of power usurped the new power coming out of the heart of matter itself. A vested group is trying to keep the lid on the researches in nuclear science and thereby depriving the rest of humanity from its fruits.
The very concept of creating an exclusive club comprising nations that have made some headway in nuclear research is quite antithetical to the spirit of scientific research. On the contrary, the veil of secrecy should be withdrawn from all nuclear research establishments so that nuclear science may open up its full potential and come to the aid of humanity in a better way. The lure of joining the club of nuclear elites or the intoxication of power that goes with the possession of the bomb must not distract a nation from its immediate task of sharing the knowledge with other nations lagging behind in this respect and use the technology for the greater cause of humanity.
The Indo-American deal on nuclear technology has no relation whatsoever with this greater goal of nuclear research. The nuclear discrimination implied in the accord goes against both the spirit of scientific research and the NPT. It is therefore time countries of the third world developed horizontal plebeian clubs to share the fruits of peaceful nuclear research among themselves and help humanity to progress further.


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