India, US putting finishing touches to reprocessing pact

India, US putting finishing touches to reprocessing pact


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his arrival at Geneva International airport on Saturday. PTI

A team of senior nuclear officials led by RB Grover, head (technical) in the department of atomic energy, began a final round of talks with an American team headed by Richard Stratford, the US pointperson for reprocessing negotiations, in Washington Saturday that continued to Sunday.

The sticking points, such as the American insistence on a scrutiny of the security of the reprocessing facilities, the number of these reprocessing facilities in relation to the nuclear power plants and the issue of compensation are being addressed in the last-minute talks.

"We hope that before the joint statement is completed, it will be done," official sources said. There are only one and a half steps left, they said. "We are finalising the last stage of the nuclear deal. What we are looking for are upfront reprocessing rights."

Manmohan Singh, whose July 2005 summit with then President George Bush set the nuclear ball rolling is keen to see the deal implemented as early as possible.

As he told Newsweek-Washington Post ahead of the visit: "We have a watershed and landmark agreement with the United States on nuclear cooperation. We would like to operationalise it and ensure that the objectives for the nuclear deal are realised in full."

He also expressed the hope that India can persuade the Obama "administration to be more liberal when it comes to transferring [nuclear] technologies to us."

Under the 123 bilateral implementing agreement inked by India and the US last year, the two sides had agreed to conclude an agreement for the finalisation of arrangements and procedures for India to reprocess spent fuel at a dedicated national facility under international safeguards.

The conclusion of the reprocessing pact, a key US commitment under the 123 agreement, will finally set anxieties in India at rest about the commitment of the Obama administration to the deal.

With the reprocessing deal out of the way, the only step left to operationalise the nuclear deal will be the approval of a civil liability legislation by India that seeks to limit compensation by American nuclear companies operating in India in case of nuclear accidents.

The cabinet has cleared the civil liability legislation this week and a bill is likely to come up for passage in the winter session of parliament.

New Delhi also needs to give an "assurance" to the US government of its non-proliferation commitments, meaning the nuclear technology given to India will not be passed on to a third country or entity.

Under US law a US company seeking a licence to either export or set up a nuclear plant abroad needs such an assurance from the host nation. The provision applies to technology transfers and technical assistance to all activities of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The Obama administration is also seeking greater safeguards for the handling of enriched uranium, and needs a guarantee from India that the fuel won't be used for military purposes.

India, which already has 17 nuclear plants, plans a major expansion of nuclear production by 2020 as part of a broader plan to meet rising energy demand.

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