Talks on spent fuel reprocessing to begin in Vienna next week

The negotiation, which under the 123 Agreement has to be completed within a year it begins, is slated to be launched in Vienna next week, authoritative sources said.

The US delegation would be led by Richard Stratford, Director of the Office of Nuclear Energy Affairs in the State Department and Washington's point man for nuclear negotiations with India.

Vienna has been chosen as a venue, instead of India and the United States, to begin the talks because of the scheduling problem, officials said, adding top negotiators from the two countries were available at this time to attend a conference in the Austrian Capital.

This reflects the keenness between the two governments to accelerate the process of implementation of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, which was inked between the two countries last year, they said.

The 123 Agreement on bilateral nuclear cooperation gives New Delhi prior consent to reprocess.

However, it stipulates that this right would come into effect only when India establishes a new national facility dedicated to reprocessing safeguarded nuclear material under safeguards of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and reaches an agreement with the US on "arrangements and procedures under which such reprocessing will take place in this new facility."

In February this year, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon wrote to Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns invoking the provisions of the 123 Agreement with a formal request to negotiate the "arrangements and procedures" under which American spent fuel would be reprocessed in India.

The Department of Atomic Energy also sent a similar formal request to Richard Stratford.
Under the 123 Agreement, Washington has six months to begin consultations and one year after that to reach an understanding with India.

India has been seeking speedy negotiations of reprocessing arrangements.

"We are looking at the speedy negotiations of reprocessing arrangements to facilitate this process," the Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar said at a reception hosted by the US India Business Council on May 21.

"Both sides have agreed to commence this process and have identified their nodal points. "So we expect to pursue this very  expeditiously," Shankar had then said.

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