Report card of Indo-US civil nuclear agreement

This is mid March 2010, already about 5 years are over since US President George Bush called Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Feb 2005 and mooted Indo-US cooperation for civil nuclear power plants between the two nations.  Rather slow rate of progress experienced in India after the in principle Indo -US nuclear agreement first signed on 18th July 2005 is cause of concern.

US House of Representatives passed the bill on 28th September 2008 that paved the way for US companies to sell nuclear power plants, nuclear related hardware, services etc to Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) . In the meanwhile 45 member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) also gave its approval to let India import nuclear hardware without signing Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). DAE has also secured following milestones with several countries procuring nuclear fuel and signing technology cooperation MOUs.

  • Indo – French nuclear cooperation agreement , 30th September 2008.
  • Opposition parties in the Parliament had nearly ousted the Congress Government on this issue, finally ruling coalition just managed a wafer thin majority and passed the Indo US agreement on 10th October 2008.
  • IAEA and DAE signed India specific agreement on 2nd Feb 2009. It came into force by February 2010.
  • DAE and Kazakhstan signed fuel supply agreement for purchase of Uranium on January 24th , 2009.
  • DAE and Namibia signed Uranium purchase and sale agreement on 31st August 2009. As part of the deal DAE will help Namibia in exploring establishment of nuclear power plant in their country.
  • With Mongolia an agreement for purchase of Uranium was signed by DAE on 14th September 2009.
  • India signed a “Generic Nuclear Cooperation Agreement” with Argentina government on October 14th, 2009.
  •  India signed a comprehensive agreement with Russia on 7th December 2009 for supply of 4×1000 MW reactors and transfer of technology for reprocessing and enrichment.
  • South Korea signed a cooperation agreement with India for development of framework for civil nuclear cooperation on January 25, 2010.
  • UK and India signed on 11th February 2010 an umbrella agreement civil nuclear cooperation.
  • Indo – Russian inter-government agreement on nuclear supply of 6×1000 MW at Haripur in West Bengal state on 12th March 2010.

In the meanwhile Union Government has informally allocated sites for US supplied reactors in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. French supplied EPRs in Maharashtra state and Russians PWR of 1000 MW unit size each in Tamil Nadu ( 6000 MW ) and West Bengal (6000 MW). It is clear that NPC moved quickly to secure Uranium supplies from many countries and fuel grade Uranium supplies from France in 2009. The issue of importing nuclear reactors is still hanging fire. The main challenges are EPR high cost, US-based companies reluctance to move forward till the Nuclear Liability bill is in place. Only Russians are the big beneficiary in the interim as they are immune to most of the issues that bug European and US-based companies before taking steps for negotiating reactor supplies.

View within NPC is that get the fuel security in place as it is least controversial to buy Uranium for its Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) from leading supplier countries  for Indian nuclear power plants already placed under IAEA safeguards. There has been acute shortage of Natural Uranium required to run the indigenous nuclear power program of even a modest 4200 MW of operating capacity.  This way NPC can relieve the shortage by employing domestic Uranium for non-safeguarded reactors only.

Real progress on negotiating  with AREVA for France, GE and Westinghouse from USA and Japan respectively seems tardy. Open war between EDF and AREVA in France , the high cost of EPR in Olkiluoto in Finland , now estimated at 5.3 billion Euros, has not gone unnoticed in NPC.  The budgetary offer price of EPR made to NPC is also cause of concern as the per unit generation cost has to be in league with other sources of power generation such as Coal and Hydro in the country.

 In the meanwhile appointment of new Charmian of NPC  hand in hand with exit of large number of senior NPC experts already working on extension granted to work beyond official retirement age are likely to take place in the coming months or so. The change of guards at highest levels will also slow down the discussions with these lead suppliers for the import of PWRs .

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