The U.S. and India announced on Jan. 25 that negotiators had reached an agreement resolving the impasse over India’s nuclear liability law that had prevented U.S. companies from supplying reactors to India out of fear of potentially unlimited liability in the case of an accident.
Details of the agreement, which would create a government-sponsored insurance pool that would cover companies that supply parts to nuclear reactors in India, were not formally released. The announcement came on the occasion of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India and meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The impasse had frustrated hopes that a 2008 agreement allowing India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group would open India to U.S. nuclear companies such as GE and Westinghouse. Any progress was stalled after the nuclear liability law was passed in 2010.
Modi, who was elected on a promise to accelerate electrification of the country—one quarter of Indians have no access to electricity—is eager to expand India’s options for increasing its generation capacity, especially through carbon-free sources.
One major sticking point for India was a U.S. insistence on tracking nuclear material imported by India even from third parties. India had viewed this request as an infringement on its sovereignty. Under the deal, the U.S. will follow the lead of other countries that agreed to accept International Atomic Energy Agency supervision of India’s civilian nuclear industry.
Though details still need to be hammered out, U.S. companies were optimistic. “The nuclear energy market in India is among the largest in the world, and Westinghouse looks forward to supporting it,” Westinghouse CEO Danny Roderick said in a statement. “We are already in discussions with potential partners within India as part of our effort to provide nuclear energy plants in a manner that is mutually beneficial.”
A similar agreement was reached between India and Russia last year. Russia is now planning to build up to 20 reactors in India, though its ability to do so may be hampered by the contraction of its economy following the drop in the price of oil and Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. The Russian-supplied Kudankulam plant in Tamil Nadu (a 2014 POWER Top Plant), which finally came online last fall, was plagued with delays, many of them reportedly resulting from problems with Russian designs and components
—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).