The Indo-French Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, signed by the two countries in Paris on September 30, 2008, explicitly allows for reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from French nuclear reactors under safeguards, and gives assurance for lifetime supply of nuclear fuel for these reactors.

Significantly, the agreement also does not explicitly bar the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies, the so-called ENR technologies or Sensitive Nuclear Technologies. Transfer of these to India from the United States requires a special amendment to the India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (the 123 Agreement) and Congressional approval of the same.

French nuclear supplier Areva has been allotted the nuclear project site at Jaitapur in Maharashtra to initially build two power plants based on Areva’s EPR1600 light water reactors. The India-specific waiver to the nuclear transfer guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was issued on September 6, 2008.

These aspects of the Indo-French agreement have now become clear after the document became public subsequent to its approval by the French Senate (the upper chamber) on October 15, 2009. The agreement still needs the approval of the Parliament’s lower chamber, the National Assembly, for its final ratification. The Assembly, according to the French Embassy’s press information officer Allen Perier, has taken up the review of the Agreement on October 28. It is hoped that this should happen by the end of November and the agreement should enter into force by the end of the year.

Now that India has unconditional reprocessing rights both from Russia and France — except for requiring that reprocessing be done under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the U.S. would seem to be at a disadvantage vis-À-vis these two. Under Article 6 (iii) of the 123 Agreement, reprocessing rights over spent fuel from a U.S. facility may be granted only after “subsequent arrangements and procedures” are worked out. These are at present under negotiations between the two countries.

It is, therefore, not clear as yet if such rights would be granted at all and, even if granted, whether they would be unconditional. Moreover, the 123 Agreement requires a new reprocessing facility under IAEA safeguards to be built, which is not the case for the Russian or the French grant of reprocessing rights.

Article V (3) of the Indo-French agreement says: “Reprocessing and any other alteration in form or content of nuclear material transferred pursuant to this Agreement and nuclear material used in or produced through the use of material, nuclear material, equipment or technology so transferred shall be carried out in a national nuclear facility under IAEA safeguards. Any special fissionable material that may be separated thereby may be stored and utilised in national facilities in the recipient country under IAEA safeguards.”

Article I (2) that describes the ambit of cooperation includes the following: “…Full civil nuclear cooperation activities covering nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel supply and other aspects as agreed between the parties; nuclear fuel and nuclear fuel cycle management including through the development strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply over the lifetime of India’s safeguarded nuclear reactors.

Article V (1) elaborates on this as follows: “The party supplying nuclear power plant shall facilitate reliable uninterrupted and continued access… nuclear fuel supplies, reactor systems and components for the lifetime of the supplied nuclear power plant. In respect of supply of nuclear fuel for the lifetime of India’s safeguarded reactors, long term contracts… will be established between respective designated entities of the parties.

Article V (2) further adds: “To further safeguard against any disruption of supply over the lifetime of India’s safeguarded reactors, France will support an Indian effort to develop a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel. This support includes France convening a group of friendly countries or joining such a group convened by others to pursue such measures as would restore fuel supply to India in the event of fuel supplies to India.”

As regards technology or equipment transferred, Article I (3) of the Agreement says without any qualification: “Cooperation under the Agreement may take the following forms: …Supply of material, nuclear material, equipment, technology, facilities and services including setting up of nuclear power projects.” The Article significantly also includes “Nuclear cooperation projects in third countries.”

However, the Agreement requires the establishment of a civil nuclear liability regime, as has been insisted upon by the U.S. as well. Article VIII (2) says: “The Parties agree that, for the purpose of compensating for damage caused by a nuclear incident involving nuclear material, equipment, facilities and technology [transferred under the Agreement], each Party shall create a civil nuclear liability regime based on established international principles.” It is known that a draft Indian bill for a civil nuclear liability law is ready and is under inter-ministerial discussions before it comes up before the Parliament for its enactment.

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