NPCIL set to ink deal with US firm for Guj N-plant

Row over govt move to dilute liability clause

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is set to sign the early works agreement with the United States firm Westinghouse Electric Company LLC for a proposed atomic power plant in Gujarat, despite row over the Centre’s alleged move to bypass Atomic Energy Commission and dilute the liability provision to clinch the deal.

“We are close, yes,” National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon said on Friday, in response to a query if the NPCIL and Westinghouse would ink the deal before or during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington DC from September 26 to 27 next.

Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh too said discussions between the NPCIL and Westinghouse were going on. “It is our hope that these discussions will be closed successfully,” she told journalists.

Both Menon and Singh, however, clarified that all contracts with foreign companies for peaceful uses of nuclear energy would be subject to Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Act of India and the rules framed under the law.

They said all civil nuclear projects would be subject to Indian laws, including Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act. All contracts have to be consistent with the laws of India, they added.

The NPCIL’s $15.16 million “Early Works Agreement” with the Westinghouse is going to be the first significant move towards commercial implementation of the India-US civil nuclear cooperation deal, which was inked five years ago.

The Centre was keen to conclude the NPCIL-Westinghouse agreement before Singh meets US President Barack Obama on September 27. The deal will cover preliminary licensing and site development works for the proposed atomic power plant at Mithivirdi in Gujarat.

The Westinghouse has been in talks with the NPCIL for construction of up to six AP1000 reactors at the proposed plant in Gujarat.

Noting that the 2008 civil nuclear deal was a symbol of the “transformed relationship” between New Delhi and Washington, Menon on Friday said it was a significant part of India’s strategy to meet long-term power demand in the country which would grow four times over in the next two decades.

“The two governments (of India and the US) have resolved government-to-government permissions and understandings necessary to enable commercial negotiations between NPCIL and Westinghouse, and for the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board to begin its independent evaluation of the safety of the power plant,” said Menon.

“It has been our consistent stand that the power plant should meet the highest standards of safety delivering power at a price that is competitive vis-a-vis other sources of energy,” he added.

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