Talks reach intense phase as NSG plenary has confined transfer to NPT signatories

India's negotiations with Russia on civil nuclear energy are set to enter an intense phase, according to top officials of Russian nuclear giant Rusatom.

Asked if Russia would comply with its promise to transfer enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology to India in view of the 2011 Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) Noordwijk plenary having recently tightened the rules for its transfer to non-NPT signatories, of which India is one, a top Rusatom official told The Hindu: “Russia is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and it intends to comply with its provisions. The transfer of ENR technology will be restrained to countries that want to develop this sensitive technology. Russia will observe all international obligations as per the treaties [it has signed].”

India has been particularly concerned about one clause — 6(a)(i) — which has been amended to state that ENR facilities, equipment and technology will be given only to NPT members which had fulfilled all its treaty obligations. This provision has led to differing interpretations.

The government claims the question of ENR technology transfer will be as per the NSG waiver of 2008 but the Russian statement seems to suggest it will not be as simple.

India will find it difficult to reach the third phase of nuclear technology development without the ENR technology — which would enable it to use its rich Thorium resources.

Another senior official of Rusatom who spoke to The Hindu suggested that though Kudankulam I and II have transcended all difficulties, including a public agitation, there is no finality about starting work on the next two units. Both sides are locked in negotiations over whether the nuclear liability law will apply on these units.

Russia says units III and IV are out of the provision of this law because all the terms are the same as the ones for the first two units. But other potential suppliers — France and the U.S. — bristle at the suggestion and want a level- playing field; they want the law to apply to these units as well as their own units come under the ambit of this law, which makes suppliers of equipment liable for damages in case of an accident.

“There are certain parts I would rather not discuss. We are still negotiating and the talks are at a sensitive stage,” said the official when pressed further.

India and Russia also seem to have different perceptions about how many units will be finally set up. Russia says both sides have agreed on a road map for 18 units while India would like to negotiate two units at a time.

The two sides are also playing a waiting game on the allocation of a second site after Kudankulam. This site, in West Bengal, is also facing civil society protests, as was the case with Kudankulam. “This issue [second site] has to be resolved by the Indian government. We are just the suppliers. As soon as they provide access, we are ready to start negotiations,” said the official.

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