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Russia, France eye nuclear power deals

St. Petersburg, May 31: France and Russia want to enhance cooperation with India in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and want a review of the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which prevent them from doing so.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin told Atal Bihari Vajpayee that India and Russia were cooperating in “most sensitive areas”, he did not mean military technology and space alone.

The two 1,000-MW units of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant have been built with Russian assistance. India would like to continue cooperation with Russia and France in the field of nuclear power. However, the guidelines of the NSG come in the way.

The NSG prohibits its members from supplying nuclear technology to any country which does not accept full-scope safeguards. This means transparent accounting of all the nuclear fuel used and the nuclear waste generated with inspections to prevent diversion for nuclear weapons.

Only those countries which have renounced their nuclear option, like South Africa and Brazil, have subjected their nuclear power facilities to full-scope safeguards. The attempt of the NSG is to prevent nuclear proliferation. However, India has not been accused of proliferation and wants to be recognised as such through an exemption of the full-scope safeguards provision.

The memorandum of understanding for the Koodankulam nuclear power plant was signed in 1988 — before the full-scope safeguards guideline of the NSG was introduced. While India may be willing to subject Koodankulam to full-scope safeguards, it would not want its other plants built earlier (say, the one at Tarapur, for example) to be opened up for inspection and full-scope safeguards.

Before Putin met Vajpayee here, the Russian released a statement on the plenary session of the NSG held at Pusan in South Korea (May 19-23). The operative part of the statement was music to India’s ears: “We believe that the activities of the NSG should not of course create obstacles for international cooperation in the field of peaceful use of atomic energy and take into account new realities in this field in an adequate and timely manner.” It was against this backdrop that Putin was lauding cooperation with India in “sensitive areas”.

The NSG guidelines were also discussed by Vajpayee with President Jacques Chirac when he met him here. France has been openly asking for a review of the NSG guidelines.

France believes that “nuclear power is a realistic and feasible option for India and the door (for cooperation) should be opened”, foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said briefing reporters on the bilateral meeting between Chirac and Vajpayee. He said both leaders expressed “satisfaction over our defence relations”.

Vajpayee has managed to meet four out of the five permanent members of the Security Council here over the last two days — Chirac, Putin, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chinese President Hu Jintao. He is expected to be at a small dinner where President George W. Bush will be present with some other world leaders. That would technically complete the tally — as no substantive discussion with Bush will be possible.

Putin’s birthday bash for his home town has been used by India to exchange views with these world leaders on the Iraq question, the role of the UN in determining the future of Iraq, the developing situation in Iran and on India-Pakistan relations.

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