India, Russia claim progress in K'kulam talks

Moscow and New Delhi on Monday claimed “good progress” in bilateral negotiations for the third and fourth units of the atomic power plant at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, although differences on the applicability of India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act on new reactors from Russia held the two countries back from signing an agreement for them.

“Negotiations for the construction of Units 3 and 4 at Kudankulam (Nuclear Power Plant) have made good progress,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They also agreed to expeditiously conclude negotiations on a techno-commercial deal for constructing the new units of the atomic power plant in Kudankulam.

Putin was on a day-long visit to New Delhi to hold the annual India-Russia summit with Singh. The meeting between the two leaders was followed by the signing of five pacts, including a memorandum of understanding between State Bank of India and the Russia Foundation for direct investment that envisages investments up to $ 2 billion in important bilateral projects or companies as well as for privatisation and other opportunities. They also signed two military-technical contracts and three business deals.  

Moscow on July 17 last inked with New Delhi a protocol on the third and fourth units of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP), with Russia agreeing to provide India with a state credit of $ 3.4 billion for works, supplies and services for construction of the new reactors and related fuel supplies.

The negotiation on the techno-commercial deal for Units III and IV of the KNPP, however, hit roadblocks as Russia argued that India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act would not apply on the new reactors to be installed at the plant. Moscow pointed out that the bilateral civil nuclear cooperation flowed from the agreements the two countries signed in December 2008 and March 2010 before India’s liability law came into effect in November 2011.

Though Singh and Putin reiterated that India and Russia were committed to implementing nuclear cooperation agreements inked in December 2008 and March 2010, the joint statement did not make it clear if New Delhi accepted Moscow’s argument that all future Russian reactors in KNPP would be “grandfathered” by the earlier pacts and thus would not come under the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act.

“The development of our nuclear energy programme has been a key pillar of our strategic partnership,” Singh said while addressing journalists with Putin after the meeting. He also noted that the construction of Unit I of the KNPP had completed and power generation would commence soon. The two leaders “agreed to take necessary steps to expedite the completion and commissioning of the second unit” in the KNPP. An intense anti-nuclear protest after the after the mishap at Fukushima-Daiichi atomic power plant in Japan on March 11, 2011, delayed the construction of Units I and II of the KNPP.

India and Russia on Monday also reiterated commitment to “incorporating the best technology in construction of nuclear power plants with a view to ensuring and maintaining the highest safety standards.”  

Putin is also understood to have taken up with Singh the issue of cancellation of the 2-G telecom licences awarded to Sistema Shyam Teleservices Limited or SSTL, a joint venture of Russia’s Sistema JSFC and Shyam Group of India. While the Indian Government was in the process of seeking a clarification from the Supreme Court on the issue, the Russian side argued that it was not purely a judicial matter, but had political elements in it and sought protection of its investments in India under the bilateral agreement.

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