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U.S. firm hails n-deal, but lack of clarity persists

A day after U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a “breakthrough” in nuclear negotiations, one of the U.S. companies that hopes to set up a reactor in India has welcomed it, but many remained wary of declaring the “deal done” without more clarity on the terms.

“The term ‘breakthrough’ is appropriate,” Westinghouse CEO Daniel Roderick said in an interview to Reuters in New Delhi. “We have been in such a logjam for such a long time that making forward progress with a large stride instead of not even a baby step is pretty significant for us.” Westinghouse has been hoping to build an AP1000 reactor along with L&T in Gujarat’s Mithivirdi township.

Mr. Roderick said he still needed to see the fine print on the agreement between India and the U.S. forged by nuclear negotiators in the contact group, but from his understanding, India had assured the U.S. that the immediate liability arising from any nuclear incident would be paid by the plant operator, in this case State-owned NPCIL, and not U.S.-based Westinghouse.

Indian officials who helped in the negotiations told The Hindu that the proposal of an insurance pool of $244 million, half of which is to be contributed by Indian insurance companies run by GIC and the other half by the government, had helped achieve the end to the supplier-liability nuclear impasse that had held up the deal.

Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and other External Affairs Ministry officials have said that no changes to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages (CLND) Act, 2010, have been made, and no assurances given to the U.S. on its contentious Section 46 that opens suppliers to tort liability, either.

But given the lack of clarity on just how the government was able to convince U.S. officials who have held out against the law since 2010, many are sceptical about how viable the breakthrough will be if there is legal or political opposition to the deal in India.

When contacted by The Hindu, former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Chairman A. Gopalakrishnan was doubtful that the deal would benefit Indian consumers or taxpayers, given the cost of setting up the insurance pool of $244 million. “If so, the financial burden of this will eventually be on the Indian tax-payers. It is the foreign reactor manufacturer who escapes payment and the public who suffer from the damaging consequences and end up also paying for all rectification,” he said demanding more clarity from the government.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 2:33:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/us-firm-hails-ndeal-but-lack-of-clarity-persists/article6824223.ece

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