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Updated: October 22, 2010 19:53 IST

India resists U.S. pushback on nuclear liability

Siddharth Varadarajan
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U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, (centre), comes out of External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi on Thursday. In the run-up to President Barack Obama's visit here in November, the U.S. side is looking for substantive changes in the nuclear liability law.
AP U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, (centre), comes out of External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi on Thursday. In the run-up to President Barack Obama's visit here in November, the U.S. side is looking for substantive changes in the nuclear liability law.

No change in the Act is possible, government tells U.S.

After initially trying to dilute the nuclear liability law at the draft stage to accommodate the concerns of American suppliers, the Manmohan Singh government has told the United States that the Act, as passed by Parliament, is final and that no changes in any of its provisions are possible.

In particular, the Indian side insists that any rules the government might frame to guide the Act's implementation cannot override its provisions, including Section 17(b), which gives Indian operators a ‘right of recourse' against nuclear suppliers in the event of an accident caused by defective equipment.

No voluntary surrender

Indian officials also insist that operators will not be able to “voluntarily surrender” their rights under 17 (b) in any commercial contract signed with foreign reactor suppliers, as allowed, for example, by the nuclear law of South Korea.

In the run-up to President Barack Obama's visit here in November, the U.S. side is looking for substantive changes in the nuclear liability law. American officials, including Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, who is currently visiting Delhi, have told their counterparts here that the law is out of step with the international Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC) — a compact India said it would sign in 2008.

“As far as we are concerned, our law is fully compatible with the CSC, and there is no question of us blinking,” a senior Indian official told The Hindu. “We said we would sign the CSC and our intention is still to do so. But nowhere does the CSC say it will supersede existing national legal remedies such as torts.”

Last month, a delegation from the Department of Atomic Energy met with officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna — which serves as the ‘depository' of the CSC — to convey India's intention of acceding to the treaty.

The IAEA's role is limited to accepting a country's accession to the CSC. Indian officials say it cannot and will not scrutinise or pass judgment on the national liability law of the acceding state. But the IAEA's Office of Legal Affairs apparently did tell the Indian side that lawyers from General Electric and other U.S. nuclear suppliers had told them that the Indian Act was “incompatible” with the CSC.

American companies such as GE and Westinghouse insist they will be unable to supply nuclear equipment to India unless they are fully insulated from all liability claims in the event of an accident. U.S. officials have also latched on to the criticism Indian companies have made of the new law, arguing that it is not just U.S. companies which fear being exposed to “unlimited liability” in the event of an accident.

Under one of the rules the government is proposing to introduce, however, this “alliance” between the Indian corporate sector and American nuclear vendors is likely to fracture.

Apart from the reactor itself, a typical nuclear power plant sources major and minor components from dozens of companies, and many of the latter fear being taken to court in the event of an accident. One option being examined is to define the “supplier” in 17(b) in such a way as to insulate these ‘nuts and bolts' companies from liability. “But there is no way the reactor supplier can be taken out of the definition,” a senior Indian official told The Hindu.

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There cannot be two standards, one for Indian citizen and another for Americans. The leak in The Gulf of Mexico Oil is standing example of how America extracted maximum from British Company. We should follow same with more vigour in the Nuclear Plants as it is located within the coutry with dense population. Let us not ignore pre independence India -- how we Indians were exploited by the British. The pity is we have no another Mahathma Ghandhi to figit for poor Indians

from:  M.MD.JALALUDEEN
Posted on: Oct 28, 2010 at 06:30 IST

Lest there be any doubts, let the government research Westinghouse's performance in the construction and operation of the Fuentas nuclear power station in Brazil: output never exceeded 80%, components prohibited as unsafe in the USA were installed and more. South Korea and Russia offer reactors of competitive pricing and performance.

from:  Arthur Borges
Posted on: Oct 22, 2010 at 22:59 IST

This insistence from the USA and her businessmen,Bhopal notwithstanding,shows:1.The vendors are not confident of their technologies or equipment. 2.A mean-ness from a Humanitarian consideration. 3.The Gulf Of Mexico Oil leak was due to similar laxity and 'deregulation'. Apart from all these a Nuclear Accident will be 10000 or more times more harmful than Bhopal,in which the USA tricked and outsmarted India,and the location will be inhospitable for centuries,like Chernobyl.

from:  sadasivan
Posted on: Oct 22, 2010 at 18:48 IST

One hopes that India's nuclear liability law will not be diluted to meet American demands in the matter. We should rather do without nuclear power generation than go against the vital interests of our people which may be seriously compromised in the event of a nuclear accident. By the way, what were the thousands of engineers and scientists in our atomic energy establishment doing in the last five decades spending thousands of billions of rupees if they have not been able to develop nuclear power technology in all its aspects and help India's robust engineering industry to manufacture the required hardware. Why have they not fully developed the large deposits of atomic minerals during this period? Why is the media, which is so much shaken by a molestation case here and a bribery case there and makes deafening noise about these, not asking the government such questions? If India does not get its nuclear power plants, we and our successive governments will be responsible for it.

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: Oct 22, 2010 at 15:42 IST

I am a no one to comment but I just thought it would be an ok idea to read the investigation reports of nuclear disasters around the world and check the causes for these accidents which would provide more light on who are needed to be included and who are not.However another fact that needs to be mentioned is that when selling a product we confidently endorse its safety but when time comes to take responsibility for any fatality we shudder, I guess they dont trust their quality standards. I have read only parts of the bill online and was wondering if they include under liability the persons involved in the actual set up. Negligence and ignorance can also be a cause, it doesnt always have to be some faulty material.

from:  Deborah William
Posted on: Oct 22, 2010 at 10:00 IST

The nuclear liability bill in it's present form reflects the concern that India has as far as dealing with multinational companies are concerned.Bhopal gas tragedy has left longlasting impact on India and the effected are still fighting it out for their rights.In America the lobbying (corruption in india)that these companies do with the government of US is being reflected in the pressure US is inturn applying on India. India must maintain it's stand and not come under american pressure.India must not only show it's soft power to the world,but also hard power and it's economic strength.

from:  Anuj Singh
Posted on: Oct 22, 2010 at 09:42 IST

so while US can charge BP for Oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, India will not have right to charge American suppliers for defective supplies? Have the Americans forgotten Union Carbide?

from:  Megh
Posted on: Oct 22, 2010 at 01:48 IST

The article states "American companies such as GE and Westinghouse insist they will be unable to supply nuclear equipment to India unless they are fully insulated from all liability claims in the event of an accident." The author may clarify as to the position of Russian and French companies in this regard. Earlier, he had stated that for thr Kudankulam plants, Russia has NOT taken any liability on its part. India should stand firm and apply the liability conditions on ALL suppliers, including France and Russia.

from:  Jay Ravi
Posted on: Oct 22, 2010 at 00:37 IST
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