News / Asia

US, India Reach Reprocessing Agreement as Part of Civil Nuclear Deal

The U.S. State Department says negotiations have been "finalized" with India on the procedures for the reprocessing of spent atomic fuel - one of the last unsettled elements of the landmark 2008 civil nuclear energy deal between the two countries.

Despite the nuclear cooperation deal, approved by the U.S. Congress in October, 2008, there have been some loose ends to bundle before American companies can start building nuclear power plants in India.

One of them involved permission for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel that originated in the United States.  This was complicated by the fact that India, which has nuclear weapons, has never signed international nuclear non-proliferation treaties.

No specifics have, so far, been revealed about the reprocessing arrangements and there has been no immediate comment from the Indian government.

The pact between Washington and New Delhi mandates India establish, under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, a dedicated reprocessing facility for the spent fuel.

Nuclear expert Reshmi Kazi, at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, funded by the India's Defense Ministry, tells VOA News the reprocessing agreement means India has overcome a huge diplomatic hurdle.

Nuclear expert Reshmi Kazi of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, 2007 (file photo)
Nuclear expert Reshmi Kazi of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, 2007 (file photo)

"It is important for us because it is a 30-year-old technology denial regime that we were going on with," she said.  "And now this denial regime has been lifted.  It is a huge victory for us."

The agreement lifts a three-decade U.S. moratorium on nuclear trade with India.

Kazi says despite opposition party concerns that India was somehow ceding nuclear sovereignty to the United States there is really no downside for New Delhi in finalizing the pact with Washington.

"This is really going to help us in a lot of way, in terms of energy, in terms of global recognition, in terms of the market we are going to have in India now," she added.  "Because of the deal there is going to be a $150 billion market which is going to attract a lot of investors."

Leftist parties in India had strongly opposed the deal firmly pushed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the leader of the governing coalition.

A statement from U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer says the reprocessing arrangements will clear the way for the creation of thousands of jobs in both countries.

There is still one more major sticking point.  India's Parliament needs to approve legislation granting civil liability protection to U.S. energy companies.  The political opposition here is against this, noting that similar nuclear deals made with Russia and France do not entail such conditions.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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