Ahead of US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit, the NDA government is learnt to be working on three specific deliverables as a proof of its commitment to re-engage with the Americans in the atomic energy sector, nearly 10 years since the first announcement on the India-US civil nuclear agreement by the previous UPA administration.
The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has been asked to finalise its negotiating stance for signing an “administrative arrangement” aimed at operationalising the provisions of the ‘Arrangements and Procedures’ inked by the two countries on July 30, 2010, on reprocessing nuclear material.
Indian negotiators have also been told to wrap up time-bound “project proposals” for the two projects involving US reactor vendors — with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy for setting up two 1500 MWe reactor units at Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh, and with Westinghouse Electric Company for two 1100 MWe reactors at Chhaya Mithi Virdi in Gujarat.
On the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act 2010, some provisions of which are being seen as a hindrance for supply of equipment by US reactor vendors and sub-suppliers, the Centre has instructed state-owned General Insurance Corporation to prepare a blueprint for an appropriate product to cover the liability of the operator — state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation or NPCIL — under the legislation.
To address concerns of the suppliers (vendors to NPCIL), an assurance on capping time and cost liabilities under the overall provisions of the Indian nuclear legislation, possibly through amendments to Section 17 (b) of the Act and changes to Section 46 to take care of concurrent liability, is likely to be extended to the American side during the bilateral negotiations.
The CLND Act, a legislation that was enacted to ensure a speedy compensation mechanism for victims in case of a nuclear accident, has been singled out as the biggest reason for the stalemate on the engagement between India and the US.
The two provisions in the law that has been cited by the US as areas of concern for them pertain to the channelling of the operator’s right of recourse on suppliers — Section 17(b) — and the potentially “unlimited liability” under other laws (Section 46).
“There is a view that within the overall framework of the current legislation, the assurances on limiting both cost and time liabilities, alongside provisions to address the issue of concurrent liability on suppliers under other laws such as the general law of torts, is being worked on,” an government official involved in the exercise said.
Currently, pre-project activities such as land acquisition, statutory clearances and site investigations are in progress in the proposed partnership with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy for the Kovvada 1&2 project, where two 1500 MWe ESBWR reactors are to be deployed.
The public hearing process has been completed, apart from the pre-project activities, in the Chhaya Mithi Virdi project proposed in partnership with Toshiba-Westinghouse in Gujarat, where two 1100 MWe AP1000 reactors are to be set up. A pre-Early Works Agreement (EWA) has already been signed between NPCIL and Westinghouse Electric Corporation for study and evaluation of various safety-related documents regarding the AP1000 reactors. Officials said that subsequent to signing of the India-US Agreement for cooperation concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy on October 10, 2008, ‘Arrangements and Procedures’ pursuant to ‘Article 6(iii)’ was signed on July 30, 2010 concerning reprocessing or other alteration in form or content of nuclear material, etc. “The Agreement follows a similar template as in bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreements signed by India with other countries and provides for establishment of an Administrative Arrangement to implement the provisions of the Agreement. Negotiations for finalisation of this Administrative Arrangement are expected to be wrapped up during the visit,” an official said.