The Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday refused to issue a license to export 17,000 pounds of uranium to India, the first time the three-year-old regulatory agency has turned down a nuclear export request.
The action came as the result of a tie vote in the four-member NRO, with Commissioners Victor Gilinsky and Peter Bradford voting against an export license and Chairman Joseph Hendrie and Commissioner Richard Kennedy voting for the license. The tie vote means the matter moves to the White Hose, where President Carter can issue an executive order approving the uranium sale to India.
If the president approves the sale, it then moves to Congress where it can be vetoed by a resolution of the Senate and the House any time in the ensuing 60 days, President Carter is expected to sign the order approving the sale because of a pledge he made to Indian Prime Minister Desai last January promising India the uranium.
In a joint statement explaining their vote against the export license, Gilinsky and Bradford explained that they were not telling President Carter that he should deny the Indian license.
"The president's obligations are broader and his freedom to act more flexible," Gilinsky and Bradford said. "The judgment is his to make," based on considerations that are legitimately apart from those imposed on us by the statutes we administer."
Gilinsky and Bradford said they voted to deny the Indian license at least in part because India "has refused to accept comprehensive safeguards" against extracting plutonium from spent uranium fuel to make into atomic bombs. India exploded an atomic bomb in 7314, using plutonium it had secretly extracted from spent fuel originally supplied to it by Canada.
Another reason Gilinsky and Bradford gave for rejecting the Indian export license is the new Non-Proliferation Act, which became law a month ago and forbids nuclear exports to countries that do not put all their nuclear faclities under safeguards. India has at least one reactor and one plutonium extraction plant not under safeguards.
The law gives countries 18 months to put all their facilities under safeguards but Gilinsky and Bradford point out that India has taken the "consistent position" that it will accept such safeguards only when the United States and the Soviet Union agree to a complete nuclear test ban and begin to reduce their nuclear stockpiles.
"The Indian conditions are formidable," Gilinsky and Bradford said. "They present a very real prospect that the continued U.S. export of nuclear fuel to India beyond the prescribed period will be forbidden under the new law."
Chairman Hendrie and Commissioner Kennedy sharply criticized the negative votes of Gilinsky and Bradford, claiming that the commissioners were usurping the roles of the White House and State Department in attempting to shape foreign policy.
"The law did not intend this commission to rule on foreign policy," Kennedy said. "This is not only incorrect, it may even be illegal."
In turning down the export license, the NRC acted against the recommendations of its own staff and the State Department. It is understood that the State Department recommended approval after winning assurances from India that it would not conduct a second test of an atomic weapon.
Rejection of the export license by the NRC means it will be held up at least two more months, even if President Carter approves it. The license was requested almost a year and a half ago and involves the export of 17,000 pounds of enriched uranium to refuel a 200,000 kilowatt nuclear power plant at Tarapur in India.
The Turapur plant will have to be reloaded sometime in the next year. If the fuel is not available in that time, the plant's electrical output will have to be gradually reduced to prolong the life of the fuel generating electricity in it.