India and the United States have agreed to the arrangement and procedures under which the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel will take place at two stand-alone safeguarded sites. New Delhi also retains the right to make additions and modifications.
This will allow India to retrieve recyclable material found in spent fuel from U.S.-origin nuclear plants for further generating electricity.
The reprocessing plants would operate under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) procedures, the U.S. State Department and the Indian Department of Atomic Energy simultaneously announced on Monday.
This is only the third pact signed by the U.S., the earlier ones being with Japan and Euratom, a European consortium.
Until the final round of talks earlier this month, the principal sticking points revolved around the number of facilities that the agreement would cover, and the conditions under which the U.S. could suspend the operation of arrangements and procedures, thereby bring a halt to the reprocessing of U.S.-origin spent fuel in India.
The U.S. wanted the agreement to cover only one reprocessing facility, while India felt the 123 agreement envisaged multiple facilities. In the end, the final text says the pact will apply to two facilities, with India allowed to make additions and modifications.
This clause, Indian officials say, will allow the country to augment its reprocessing capacity without going back to the negotiation table if the need arises for more plants.
As for suspension, Indian officials say the final agreement now allows Washington to suspend the arrangements and procedures only if there is a threat to physical security or to U.S. national security. Earlier, the U.S. wanted this kept very open-ended, while India was for restricting it to “exceptional circumstances.”
India is satisfied with the final outcome, officials said, dismissing both scenarios as “highly unlikely.”
Asked whether the U.S. sought “IAEA plus” safeguards, the officials acknowledged that the agreement had some “padding,” but claimed that this was not “prescriptive.” The implementation of safeguards was entirely the responsibility of the IAEA, they said.
The U.S. State Department said the completion of these arrangements would “facilitate participation by U.S. firms in India's rapidly expanding civil nuclear energy sector.”
With the reprocessing pact out of the way, the U.S. will be “following the progress of [the liability] legislation very closely,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said.
While India has been assured of upfront reprocessing rights by Russia and France, Section 201 of the Hyde Act — an American law prescribing the envelope for Indo-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation — asks the U.S. President to ensure that countries offering similar rights do so under comparable terms.
It also states that the pact will be void if the U.S. Congress disapproves of it, despite the U.S. President reporting in “detail” the reasons, description and text of the reprocessing arrangement.
India claims that the Hyde Act is U.S.'s domestic law and its sole reference point is the bilateral 123 civil nuclear agreement.
“These arrangements will help open the door for U.S. firms in India's rapidly expanding energy sector, creating thousands of jobs for the citizens of both our countries,” U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer said.