No Red Lights for Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal

Staff Writer

A nuclear deal signed between the United States and India last fall is on track to be implemented despite a leadership change in the United States and a possible change in government on the horizon in India. That was the message from James Steinberg, the United States's new deputy secretary of state, and Shyam Saran, the Indian Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Nuclear Issues and Climate Change, at an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., today.

The United States–India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act allows India to import nuclear technology and fuel in exchange for opening up most of its nuclear facilities to international inspections. But some arms-control groups have been opposed to the agreement, arguing that it increases the risk of nuclear proliferation. And the regime changes in both countries are cause for concern in some quarters, which fear that the deal may face stiff challenges when it comes to implementation.

Before the agreement is translated into action—that is, before U.S. companies can begin to sell nuclear equipment in India and possibly build nuclear reactors there—both sides have some issues to resolve. The United States wants India to enact a legislative measure limiting the liability of foreign companies in the event of a nuclear accident. And India wants the United States to grant the Indian government the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel sourced from the United States.

"India plans to increase substantially its nuclear power production capacity," Saran said, citing a plan for the setting up of U.S.–built nuclear reactors to generate up to 10,000 megawatts of power. "We see joining the international nuclear liability convention as being in our interest and hope to do this soon."

Steinberg said the Obama Administration intends to go forward with the next steps in implementing the agreement, although "there are still some technical issues to be worked out," including whether India can reprocess spent fuel that originated in the United States.

Posted in Asia