N-deal with Japan ‘ready’ to be sealed

The nuclear cooperation agreement is likely to be signed during PM Modi’s visit later this year

October 03, 2016 12:15 am | Updated April 17, 2017 06:27 pm IST - NEW DELH:

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

The India-Japan nuclear agreement, under discussion since 2008, is “ready to be signed” when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Japan later this year, say government sources. This indicated a breakthrough on several contentious issues including a controversial “nullification” clause.

According to the sources, the nuclear cooperation agreement which also needs to be cleared by the Japanese parliament or Diet, could be ready in time for the finalisation of contracts with Toshiba-owned U.S. Company Westinghouse in June 2017.

The deal, according to reports carried in two major Japanese newspapers, Asahi-owned Japan Times and Yomiuri , will be signed during Mr Modi’s visit to Tokyo for the annual bilateral summit, which they said would happen in “mid-November”. However, an official in the Japanese government said the reports were still “speculation”, adding that both sides were still working on the “technical details of the treaty” with no fixed dates for Mr Modi's Japan visit.

One of those details, noted in the initial agreement that was announced during Premier Abe’s visit to Delhi in December 2015, is the need to complete “necessary internal procedures”, which means clearing the deal in the Japanese parliament. For the past few years, this has been difficult given deep sensitivities in Japan on nuclear proliferation, and political instability in parliament.

Diet approval

Government sources told The Hindu that once the agreement is signed by Prime Ministers Modi and Abe, the Japanese government will take it to the Diet in “early 2017”.

However, officials refused to clarify whether India has conceded to Japan on a controversial “nullification” or cancellation clause in case India were to conduct a nuclear test. While India has refused to sign the NPT and CTBT treaties, it issued a unilateral moratorium on testing many years ago. Even so, Japanese officials have been insisting that the nuclear deal include a clause that would cut off nuclear supplies should India test a weapon. India has thus far resisted the move, as this would disrupt its nuclear power programme.

Nullification clause In an article in Japan Times this weekend, however, Japanese government sources are quoted as saying the “the pact will include a clause to halt Japanese cooperation with India if New Delhi conducts a nuclear test,” indicating that India has given in on this point. The report says that for its part, Japan has conceded on India’s demand that it be allowed to reprocess nuclear fuel from Japan, as long as India submits to inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA.

If the deal is signed, in the next few months, as the reports indicate, it will be a big boost for India’s nuclear power industry as the two major U.S. companies planning plants in India — GE and Westinghouse — are both Japanese owned. Japanese manufacturers hold a virtual monopoly on several critical parts and forgings needed by the Indian reactors.

India is also keen on Japanese funding for its clean energy projects, with recent news agency reports suggesting that the plan for the U.S. Export Import bank to fund 6 reactors built by Westinghouse in Andhra Pradesh’s Kovvada nuclear park has run into trouble over liability issues.

Furthermore, officials believe, a deal with Japan, the world’s only victim of nuclear weapons as well a country deeply scarred by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, would be a powerful vote of confidence in India’s nuclear programme, in a year it hopes to push its bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

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