NEW DELHI: If the final push towards cooperation with the US in nuclear power generation was the ‘breakthrough’ that helped lift US President Barack Obama’s second visit to India get the billing of success, sources said it did not happen without “give and take from both sides”.
The suppliers of uranium-rich reactors for civilian nuclear generation will now be one of the contributors to the risk premium pool, to be shared by the operator, in this case the Nuclear Power Corporation Ltd, as well as the Indian partners of the US companies, variously Westinghouse and GE.
Next, the issue of the much-talked “unlimited” liability exposure of the supplier - a unique provision included in the Indian legal framework -- which is supposed to have frozen the Indo-US agreement, has also been thrashed out with a written undertaking from the Attorney General of India.
It was on the basis of the undertaking that unhinges the supplier from exposure to “unlimited” liability, or liability, as determined by an Indian court of law in the event of an accident factoring in the extent of damage - that US Ambassador Richard Verma remarked that both sides have agreed that liability would operate within the Indian system and not require any legislative undertaking “at this stage”.
The implication of the understanding, sources explained, “is that at a later stage when” the incumbent “government is in a position to bring an amendment” that can be passed in both houses of Parliament confirming to prevalent international liability regimes, it would do so.
With these two major hurdles removed, the US side agreed to give in to the Indian demand that it cannot allow “tracking” of nuclear material supplied to India and it is only bound by the well-defined agreement which allows inspection by IAEA of 14 plants placed under safeguards. This is being shown as the relaxation from the US side.
Lastly, on the export control regime, the Indian side brought to the negotiation table the US push, “facilitation, for its inclusion in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. This was the last sticking point which was resolved during the Hyderabad House stroll”.
Sources said it was agreed that Obama would make a commitment that the two sides would continue to work towards India’s phased entry in the NSG and it would be put in the joint statement, which interestingly did not give any details of the agreement on the civil nuclear issue.
President Obama also went on to reaffirm the US position that India meets MTCR requirements and India is qualified for an NSG membership. Crucially, it was a commitment that the US will support India’s early application and eventual membership in all four regimes.
Government sources said Beijing’s reaction shows that this is no less of a breakthrough. The Chinese Foreign Office, commenting precisely on this point, said the “inclusion should be conducive to the integrity and effectiveness of the regime and a decision should be made on consensus”.