India, US speed up talks on N-plants

Written by Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 2 2013, 03:16am hrs
Reaffirming their commitment to the timely implementation of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement, India and the US are pushing the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and Westinghouse to expedite their consultations for a plant.

India is planning to add 30,000 MW of nuclear generation in the public sector in the next 20 years, which means business worth $100 billion for reactor suppliers and civil construction firms.

The NPCIL and Westinghouse are currently having commercial discussions for setting up a nuclear power plant at Mithivirdi in Gujarat. Similar discussions are on between General Electric-Hitachi and NPCIL for a plant in Andhra Pradesh.

According to sources, India and US are keen that both NPCIL and Westinghouse arrive at an early commercial agreement preferably before PM Singhs visit to the US in September. "This will be the tangible takeaway during Singh's visit to the US."

Singh will visit the US in September for a bilateral meeting with President Barack Obama, said government sources , but before that though, as secretary of state John Kerry announced, Joe Biden will come to Delhi in July.

The agreement is important for site development work and preliminary licensing for construction of reactors in Gujarat by Westinghouse. And with the US government finally allowing Westinghouse to share confidential technical information with Indian nuclear authorities - Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) New Delhi is getting ready to start a technical evaluation of Westinghouse's reactor that it wants to sell in India.

US nuclear firms Toshiba-owned Westinghouse Electric and GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy have been tentatively allotted sites by the government at Mithivirdi and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh to build NPPs, each having six 1,000 MWe or larger capacity reactors. While Westinghouse has offered its 1,000 MWe AP1000 Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) design, GE-Hitachi is expected to offer its 1,550 MWe Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) technology.

Although the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act, which came into effect in 2010, has left the India-US nuclear agreement in limbo, the commercial agreement between Westinghouse and NPCIL would be a tangible step toward ultimate implementation of the agreement.

The civil nuclear energy cooperation was the transformational point of the India-US relationship under former President George Bush. India and the US finally worked out the Part 810 Assurances after several years of negotiations.

These are non-proliferation assurances required by the US Department of Energy to authorize firms to participate in civil nuclear activities with India.

According to Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "India's foreign partners seem to have a different kind of issue with this legislation (nuclear liability). The Russians are looking to escape the law's burdens by claiming that the reactors they sold India should be treated as exempt because the contract predated the legislation. The French have reluctantly acquiesced to the Indian liability law, but the cost of French reactors is prohibitive. US firms, especially Westinghouse, remain deeply concerned about their financial exposure."