India and the U.S. on Friday evening signed the much-debated agreement on modalities for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, under the civilian nuclear deal between the two countries.

The agreement on arrangements and procedures for reprocessing was signed at a State Department ceremony by Indian ambassador Meera Shankar and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns.

Pursuant to Article 6(iii) of the bilateral ‘123 Agreement' on civilian nuclear cooperation, the agreement was hailed as “a significant step which highlights the strong relationship and growing cooperation between India and the U.S.,” by the Indian embassy here. Upon entry into force, it will enable reprocessing by India of United States-obligated nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

The State Department in a statement said that as per the agreement the reprocessing would be undertaken at a new, safeguarded national facility to be established by India, and that it would be dedicated solely to this.

Speaking on the occasion, Ms. Shankar congratulated negotiators on both sides of the agreement for bringing it to completion well ahead of the stipulated period of one year. “This early completion in some sense reflects how our two countries are increasingly getting into the habit of working together,” she said.

She further reiterated that the Government of India had an ambitious programme for development of civil nuclear energy to meet its growing energy needs, noting that its target was “to increase our installed capacity more than seven fold to 35000 MWe by the year 2022, and to 60,000 MWe by 2032.”

In this context the government had already designated two sites for nuclear power plants to be established in cooperation with the U.S. and the companies of the two countries were now engaged in discussions, she noted.

The State Department corroborated this commitment on the U.S. side, noting that the reprocessing arrangement, negotiated and concluded under President Obama, reflected the administration's “strong commitment to building successfully on the landmark U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative.” It was also a prerequisite for U.S. nuclear fuel suppliers to conduct business with India, a spokesperson noted.

Officials also sought to underscore the rarity of such agreements between the U.S. and other nations, emphasising that on previous occasions, the U.S. had extended such reprocessing consent only to the European Union and Japan.

Hinting at some of the key factors driving this agreement on the U.S. side the State Department spokesman said that the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative had facilitated “significant new commercial opportunities across India's multi-billion dollar nuclear energy market, including the designation of two nuclear reactor park sites for U.S. technology in the States of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.”

He added that increased civil nuclear trade with India would create thousands of new jobs for the U.S. economy and also help India to meet its rising energy needs in an environmentally responsible way by reducing the growth of carbon emissions.

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