U.S. will ascertain facts before reacting to charge: Burleigh

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's charge that civil society groups were misusing funds from America and other western countries to stoke protests at the Kudankulam nuclear plant saw Russia, the joint venture partner, claiming it had suspected this all along, and the U.S. stating it would check whether the allegation was true.

“We have been suspecting it all along, and, I was openly saying this, because it was very strange. Six months after the Fukushima tragedy [in Japan], all those protesters raise their voice. They were sleeping for six months, and then, all of sudden, they raise their voice against the most secure, the best and the safest station in the world,” Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin told journalists.

“We were perplexed, but now we stand vindicated,” said the veteran India hand.

U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Peter Burleigh wanted to ascertain facts before reacting to Dr. Singh's observations made in an interview to Science magazine. In principle, Washington had no issues with India pursuing civil nuclear projects, he said in Guwahati, while pointing out that U.S. firms were also pursuing civil nuclear opportunities in India

“The government of U.S. has certainly no objection with regard to nuclear programmes. [The] U.S. is also involved in potential participation in the civilian nuclear programme. Indo-U.S. relationship is growing in every sense at all levels. [Our] Relationship has been cordial. We want American companies to be here,” added Mr. Burleigh.

Dr. Singh's observations, which appeared on Thursday, were amplified the next day by Minister in-charge of the Prime Minister's Office V. Narayanasamy, who said the licences of three NGOs were cancelled following reports that they had diverted funds to fuel protests against the nuclear project. “The people who are agitating near the plant are being brought there in trucks from various villages. They are being given food,” he said.

What Mr. Kadakin and Mr. Narayanasamy left unsaid was they suspected that the Kudankulam plant was being targeted by the West because similar projects by American companies in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat have not taken off while two units of the Russian technology-based plant are on the verge of being operationalised.

Two of the six units at Kudankulam are nearly ready and four more are in the works. Each will be India's largest civil nuclear power plants until they are overtaken by larger French and American units. The site of the French units is under siege by civil society protesters, while plans of the U.S.-based companies have been stymied by an Indian law that holds equipment suppliers as well as operators liable for compensation in case of an accident.

However, the Russian plant is in a category very different category from the French and U.S. projects. It was conceived at a time when a West-dominated cartel was bitterly opposed to transferring nuclear technology to India until it rolled back its nuclear weapons programme. But the Russian project meandered along for over a decade until the U.S. quarterbacked India's entry into the nuclear commerce mainstream with active assistance from other civil nuclear heavyweights such as France and Russia.

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