Special Correspondent

Ready for “comprehensive nuclear cooperation” with India: Ambassador

“We believe India has the capability and the right to reprocess spent fuel”

France developing a new generation of nuclear reactors

New Delhi: Even as controversy continues to bedevil the terms of India’s proposed bilateral nuclear commerce with the United States, France stepped forward Friday to declare it was ready and open to engage in “comprehensive nuclear cooperation” with the Indian side.

Unlike the U.S., which does not wish to make binding commitments on fuel supply or grant irrevocable reprocessing rights to India, France has made it clear that the provision of fuel for any reactors it sells as well as reprocessing are not issues. “We believe India has the capability and the right to reprocess spent fuel,” French Ambassador Jerome Bonnafont told reporters here.

But in line with the apparent political commitment India has made to not ink deals with other suppliers until the ‘123 agreement’ with the U.S. passes through Congress, the ambassador was unwilling to say when the framework agreement for bilateral nuclear cooperation initialled during the visit to Delhi by President Nikolas Sarkozy this January would finally be signed. “We have to complete some procedures for it to be signed and we are presently discussing with India this issue in terms of timing.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be in Marseilles on September 29 for the India-European Union summit and in Paris on September 30 for a bilateral summit with Mr. Sarkozy. But it is far from clear whether India will be ready to sign its agreement by then.

Asked what these “procedures” — whose completion was holding up the actual signing — were, Mr. Bonnafont gave, as an example, the preparation of “an official Hindi translation” of the Indo-French draft agreement. (Indian officials say a Hindi translation is needed because the English original has also been translated into French. A second procedure to be completed, they say, involves France securing clearance for the agreement from Euratom).

The ambassador said the passage of the Indian waiver at the Nuclear Suppliers Group last week marked the culmination of a process that “[France] had initiated in a way” when Jacques Chirac, who was the French President at the time, came to India in 1998 and suggested “a special status needed to be created” for India to enable it to access nuclear supplies from abroad.

France has a “specificity in the world” as far as the capability of its nuclear industry was concerned, he said, and its national company, Areva, was currently developing a new generation of nuclear reactors - the EPR.

“This new generation will be proposed to India”, he said, adding that France envisaged cooperation in four distinct areas: scientific collaboration and research, training, safety and industrial collaboration.

Including Areva, there were 35 French companies which were looking to get involved in different aspects of the nuclear power generation sector in India, the ambassador said.

France currently has 58 nuclear power plants in operation which collectively generate 80 per cent of the country’s electricity production.

More In: Today's Paper