India-Japan Civil Nuclear Deal: A historic step towards an effective global nuclear system


Following seven years of tough negotiations, the landmark India-Japan civil nuclear agreement finally entered into force in July 2017. Inked in November 2016, the civil nuclear agreement underwent several rounds of diplomatic exchanges that addressed many sticky issues. The civil nuclear agreement finally paved the way for deeper bilateral cooperation in the political, economic and strategic interests of both India and Japan. The deal heralds an enduring basis for a long-term partnership that addresses several global issues like climate change, disaster risk reduction and management, countering cross border terrorism and strengthening the non-proliferation regime. The India-Japan civil nuclear deal is a “historic step” towards fostering fundamental transformation in global issues.

The India-Japan civil nuclear agreement is similar to the landmark 2005 U.S.-India civil nuclear initiative, in which Washington agreed to supply nuclear technology in exchange for New Delhi’s commitment to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and to place all its civil nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The India-Japan nuclear agreement is significant as it is Tokyo’s first civilian nuclear cooperation pact with India that has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty nor is it a signatory to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Notwithstanding, the controversial nature of the bilateral agreement, it is in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “initiative to help Japanese companies export non-military nuclear technology” to India for non-military and non-explosive purposes. In reciprocity, India has committed to build 10 nuclear power reactors with indigenous design in what is the largest such construction decision in the world since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The deal constitutes a legal framework whereby India reiterates its perseverance to promote cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and strengthen the Non-Proliferation regime.

Why is the India-Japan Civil Nuclear Cooperation important?

The India-Japan deal is a significant initiative to reduce energy dependency in the country. India aims to generate 63,000 MW (megawatts) of nuclear power by 2032 and that could be ratcheted to yield potentially 470,000 MW of power by 2050. With the India-US nuclear deal yet to provide significant yields, the import of Japanese nuclear materials and technology is expected to boost India’s energy capacity and accelerate economic development in the country. As part of the deal, India has sanctioned plans to build ten indigenous Pressurised Heavy Water reactors with a combined capacity of 7,000 megawatts (MW) that will result in a significant augmentation of nuclear power generation capacity. This will radically reduce dependence on fossil fuels and suitably address climate change concerns. At a time, when the Paris Agreement is facing uncertainty with the withdrawal of the United States, the July 2016 nuclear energy initiative is a reaffirmation of India and Japan’s commitment to jointly work for the successful implementation of the Agreement. The deal is also expected to “generate more than 33,400 jobs in direct and indirect employment [that] will be a major step towards strengthening India’s credentials as a major nuclear manufacturing powerhouse.”

The recently concluded civil nuclear deal is cardinal in several other ways. Known for its sophisticated nuclear technology, Japan has agreed to assist India in managing radioactive waste processing and management and cooperate in all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle including nuclear fuel fabrication. India has also agreed to undertake joint research and development and foster scientific and technical cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. An equally important area where both nations have agreed to cooperate and share best practices is in the area of nuclear safety matters of mutual interest, including radiation and environmental protection, and prevention of and response to nuclear accident and radiation emergency. India is consistently making efforts to strengthen the national implementation of physical protection and observes the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Series for ensuring highest physical protection standards. In March 2015, the IAEA conducted the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) Mission to review India’s nuclear regulatory agency, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). The IRRS in its report assessed that India has “an experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated regulatory body for the protection of the public and the environment”, and recognised several ‘good practices’ in India’s nuclear regulatory framework. The IRRS team had also suggested “certain issues warranting attention or in need of improvement” to improve the overall performance of the regulatory system. India has already implemented some of these suggestions like creating a network of 23 Emergency Response Centres for detecting and responding to any extreme nuclear or radiological incident, anywhere in India. India has made several efforts to improve radiation safety and undertaken measures to prevent nuclear accidents. India’s nuclear centre of excellence – Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership – is periodically holding symposiums, workshops and training modules to sensitize first responders and other stakeholders on various aspects on radiation safety and detection and response to radiological emergencies. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster once again warned the world about the importance of consistently improving radiological safety. India is cognisant of the impact of any radiological accident upon human life and environment. There are several potential areas where India and Japan can share their knowledge, skills and best practices in capacity building for averting and radiological disaster.

The Nuclear Security Summit process concluded in 2016 with significant accomplishments. The Summit process was instrumental is building dialogue among the summiteers that helped raise awareness and political support for strengthening nuclear security. The six-year long process (2010-2016) has laid the bedrock for developing global responsibility and international confidence through continuous sharing of best practices, exchange of experiences to prevent the misuse of nuclear or radiological materials. India-Japan civil nuclear deal is a reiteration to continue the legacy of the Summit process wherby both Parties have agreed to exchange experiences in nuclear security matters of mutual interest. The two nations have recognized the importance of effective national export control systems. In 2005, India passed the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems Act that symbolises India’s commitment to prevent proliferation of WMD at the operational level. The WMD Act supplements the already existing framework of legal and administrative controls and reiterates India’s obligations under the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1540 to prevent proliferation of all WMD. Japan has welcomed India’s recent accession to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC) and it’s intensified engagement with the export control regimes.

Some Concerns

Despite the pledges undertaken by India and Japan for enhanced cooperation to help develop a more rules-based international order, critics have raised concerns on the impact of the nuclear deal on non-proliferation regime. Critics expressed scepticism over the credibility of the landmark civil nuclear deal to safeguard the effectiveness of the NPT regime. They contend that in the event of India conducting a nuclear test, as per the nullification clause Japan will terminate the agreement but it would be impossible for Japan take back its materials and equipment. Such concerns must be put to rest. Immediately after the May 1998 tests, a moratorium on future conduct of nuclear tests was announced, a stand which India adheres to till date. Any change in this position can only occur only if any of the existing nuclear powers conducts any nuclear tests themselves, which will strategically challenge India’s security environment. In September 2009 a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India, Anil Kakodkar, stated that “the 1998 tests were fully successful and had achieved in toto their scientific objectives”. This is indicative that there is no existential cause for India to conduct additional nuclear tests unless there is a substantial deterioration in its security environment. India has acknowledged, Japan’s emphasis upon the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the November 2016 India-Japan Joint Statement. This is indicative of India’s undiminished commitment to continue de facto observance of the spirit of the CTBT by maintaining its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. Earlier, as part of the 2005 Indo-US civil nuclear deal, India has further expressed its principled support to the test-ban treaty.


As emphasized by the Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, the civil nuclear agreement is a reiteration of India’s perseverance to strive towards responsible nuclear behaviour and this will lead to “effective participation” of India in the NPT system. The Japanese official stand communicates a message of confidence that Tokyo reposes in New Delhi regarding peaceful use of nuclear energy by India. As a re-emphasis of its confidence, Japan has assured support to India’s entry into the NSG and the remaining two international export control regimes – Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group, with the aim of strengthening the international non-proliferation efforts.

The India-Japan civil nuclear deal upholds the importance of global nuclear disarmament. The two Prime Ministers reiterated their joint commitment to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Alongside Japan, India called for an immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) on the basis of Shannon Mandate. India and Japan also expressed their determination towards strengthening international cooperation to address the challenges of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. The India-Japan civil nuclear deal between a NPT and a non-NPT country is an affirmation of the belief that India is a responsible nuclear nation that can manage peaceful uses of nuclear energy despite its strategic concerns. It also conveys that the existing NPT regime needs cooperation of India for sustaining and strengthening the global nuclear system. India has reiterated its commitment to uphold its obligations towards these objectives in the July 2017 enforced civil nuclear deal with Japan.