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US Energy Secretary Seeks Progress in Peacetime Nuclear Deal with India


The United States and India agreed a year ago that the U.S. would supply the Indians with civilian nuclear technology, but the deal still faces significant obstacles. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi, where a U.S. delegation is trying to work through the obstacles.

The agreement would clear the way for U.S. sales of nuclear reactors and fuel to India for the first time in more than three decades, and India needs the technology. The country is faced with a critical shortage of electricity at a time when its economy is growing by about nine percent a year.

Still, an influential group of Indian nuclear scientists and leftist politicians does not like some of the terms the U.S. insists on.

These include no reprocessing of spent fuel by India, and no diversion of materials supplied by the United States to military use. The critics say the U.S. terms infringe on Indian sovereignty.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told Indian business leaders Tuesday that the critics are wrong.

"This should not be viewed as a threat in any way to India's sovereignty or its national [nuclear] program," said Samuel Bodman. "The opposite is true. It is a major opportunity."

The agreement was a major step for Washington, which had cut off all nuclear cooperation with New Delhi after India tested its first nuclear device in 1974.

Relations between the two nations have improved markedly over the last several years, however.

President Bush, eager to support the development of the world's largest democracy, pushed hard for the deal, as long as it only involved peacetime nuclear power.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also eager to make the deal. There was domestic opposition from the start, however, and Mr. Singh vowed not to agree to any terms that would violate India's sovereignty.

Coal is currently the major fuel source for India's power plants, while nuclear power supplies less than four percent of the country's energy.

India hopes the U.S. agreement, combined with private investment, can nearly double the percentage of nuclear-based power over the next 25 years.

The U.S. energy secretary was meeting Tuesday with Indian officials, including his Indian counterpart, Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, and with Prime Minister Singh.

On Wednesday, Bodman will take his case to one of India's most influential scientists, Anil Kakodkar, the chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission.

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