Kudankulam clouds PM's Moscow visit

Kudankulam clouds PM's Moscow visit

India not keen on acceding to Russias demand for exempting its reactors

Differences over the ambit of the nuclear liability regime have resulted in uncertainty over the techno-commercial deal that Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL)  and Russia’s JSC Atomstroyexport are expected to clinch during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s three-day visit to Moscow from Thursday.

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai on Wednesday told journalists that the negotiations for the techno-commercial deals for the third and fourth reactors for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant were in an advanced stage. “There are good prospects of taking it (the deal on the new reactors) forward soon,” he said. He  declined to set a time-frame for its finalisation.

The prime minister, who will leave for Moscow on Thursday, will hold the 12th annual summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The two leaders will have an interaction with business leaders from both countries.

Singh will also meet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The two countries are expected to sign eight to nine agreements during Singh’s visit to Moscow.

Russian envoy to India Alexander M Kadakin told a news conference here last week that Moscow would expect that the NPCIL and JSC Atomstroyexport to strike a  deal for the third and fourth reactors at Kudankulum under the same terms and conditions as the ones applicable to the first and second.

Moscow pointed it out to New Delhi that India had no legal regime for nuclear liability, when the intergovernmental agreement was signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 or when the JSC Atomstroyexport and NPCIL clinched the deal for the first two reactors in 2002.
“The first and second reactors of the KKNPP came during a particular time-frame. Now, there is an existing law,” said the foreign secretary, when he was asked to outline India’s stand on the Russian demand for exemption of the all the existing and future reactors in the atomic power plant at Kudankulam.

India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill was passed by Parliament in June 2010.The government notified the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules 2011 in the Gazette of India on November 11, this year.

India agrees with Russia that the first and second reactors will not be covered by the liability regime, which came into force last month, but is not keen to grant the exemption to the third and fourth as well as for all future units.

New Delhi is also understood to be keen to tread cautiously on the issue of additional reactors for the KKNPP, in the wake of the strong protests by people in and around Kudankulam.

 The local villagers were concerned over the safety of the nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu, particularly in the wake of the mishap at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan following a quake and tsunami on March 11 last. The protests delayed the commissioning of the first reactor, earlier planned to take place by the end of the current year.

Mathai quoted from the prime minister’s interview to Russian media to acknowledge the assistance Moscow extended to New Delhi in the development of the atomic power programme even during the difficult times, when the rest of the nuclear world had isolated India after the first test in Pokhran in 1974.

Singh, however, made it clear that the government would ensure not only the highest safety standard for all the nuclear power plants in India but also address people’s concerns.

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