Officials try to break nuclear logjam ahead of Obama visit

December 18, 2014 01:01 am | Updated November 16, 2021 10:29 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

U.S. President Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama

Officials of the “India-US contact group” on civil nuclear cooperation met in Delhi this week to try and break the logjam between both countries ahead of U.S. President Obama’s visit to Delhi on January 24. While officials would not confirm the details, a media statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said the discussions were “positive and forward-looking.” In an indication that they are trying to find a way around U.S. concerns, the statement said the contact group would meet again in “early January.”

Significantly, the contact group included private industry representatives, along with the officials at the negotiation, namely U.S. companies Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi, and Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) on the Indian side. It is the objections by these U.S. companies over India’s nuclear liability act that have held up nuclear business being transacted between the two countries, despite the government allocating land in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Their objections are to their financial liability stipulated in Sections 17(b) and 46 of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (2010) that they say runs against the International Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. While Section 17 (b) says the operator (NPCIL) has the right to recourse against suppliers in case of a nuclear accident, clause 46 says suppliers can be sued under other Indian laws as well.

In an exclusive interview to TheHindu in November, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal had said “no breakthroughs were expected,” but insisted that India would have to come up with a solution to the concerns. “This isn’t just about U.S. companies, but it affects all major international companies hoping to work in this sector. So this is something that is being watched very carefully around the world,” she said. The nuclear contact group meeting comes a few days after Russian President Putin’s visit, where he announced that Russia would build at least 12 more nuclear reactors in India. While it is still unclear if that indicates an acceptance of the Indian law, it gives India some breathing space with the Russian assurance that they are “willing to do business with us, even if other countries aren’t,” a senior official told TheHindu . However, the U.S.’s green signal will ease the way for India to conclude other negotiations on reactors with countries like France, or on nuclear fuel with Japan and Australia.

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