NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A “breakthrough understanding” to open India’s nuclear power sector to US firms reached during President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi last month could be finalised this year, Indian officials say.
The Jan 25 announcement by Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed six weeks of intensive talks, but few details were released beyond a framework based on India’s acceptance of the principle that plant operators should bear primary liability in the event of a nuclear disaster.
Significant work remains on the fine print of a deal aimed at unlocking projects worth tens of billions of dollars that have been stuck the drawing board for years. India wants to nearly treble its installed nuclear capacity, which would make it the world’s second biggest market after China.
US officials say details of an insurance scheme to protect suppliers from crippling lawsuits need to be thrashed out and India still has to ratify a UN nuclear convention. Indian officials do not rule out completing the process this year.
“We are committed to moving ahead on all implementation issues at an early date,” said Syed Akbaruddin, chief spokesman at India’s Ministry of External Affairs. “There are no policy hurdles left.”
General Electric and Westinghouse, a unit of Japan’s Toshiba, were fully briefed on the meetings of a nuclear “contact group” that hammered out the nuclear compromise in London, say sources with direct knowledge of the talks.
Bringing them into the mix was crucial because the prospect of huge lawsuits, like those against Union Carbide over the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, has until now kept US and other foreign firms on the sidelines.