| Mikhail Fradkov
New Delhi, March 18: The first consignment of 30 tonnes of Russian nuclear fuel for the Tarapur atomic power plant reached India on March 16 '- the same day Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov arrived for a bilateral visit to India.
It is the second consignment of 30 tonnes, according to reliable sources, that is expected in Mumbai very shortly. A total of 60 tonnes of fuel from Russia is likely to last five years.
This is contrary to speculation that the Tarapur fuel deal was signed during Fradkov’s visit to Delhi. The deal had been signed and sealed much earlier.
The fuel consignment that reached Mumbai came in the form of low enriched uranium (LEU) pellets flown in a specially chartered freighter from Russia.
The LEU pellets have been manufactured to the specifications precisely laid down in the contract signed in December 2005 in Moscow during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit there, to suit the technical needs of the Tarapur reactors.
The pellets would now be converted into fuel rods. The arrival of the Russian fuel in March was critical, according to the sources, in terms of the time required to manufacture the fuel rods, a process that takes a couple of months.
The landing of the fuel would enable the Tarapur power plant (Units 1 and 2) to be refuelled in time. Otherwise, both units would have had to shut down.
The contract for fuel supply for Tarapur is with Rosatom, the same state-owned company that is building the Kudankulam atomic power plant in Tamil Nadu. Rosatom will also supply the fuel for Kudankulam.
The important thing to note, the sources point out, is that Moscow took a policy decision to supply fuel and also deliver the fuel consignments to India much before the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) met in May. This was deliberate.
The attempt, the sources claim, was to delink the decision from the Indo-US nuclear deal and project it as a bilateral Indo-Russian venture which was not an adjunct to US decisions.
Russia wants to be seen to be scrupulous in terms of its international obligations and is a strong adherent to NSG norms.
However, the sources claim that Moscow decided on a pragmatic view, taking into account its bilateral relations with India, the positive international assessment of India’s conduct in non-proliferation of nuclear technology and the safety clause in NSG guidelines which permits such transactions.
The Prime Minister and the Indian negotiators argued with the Russians last December that Moscow had already supplied the fuel for Tarapur in 2001 when India’s position internationally was very difficult and New Delhi was a focused target of attention, especially of the Americans, because of the 1998 nuclear tests.
If Russia had wanted to “punish” India, they argued, it could have done so in 2001 -- there was less reason now to take a harsh view on Tarapur when all post-1998 sanctions against India had been removed and the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery System (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act adopted by Parliament.
Russia, however, is still not ready to set up new nuclear power plants in India unless the NSG takes a positive decision on international nuclear cooperation with India. However, it has clearly decided to delink the fuel supply to Tarapur from the larger issue of full-scale nuclear cooperation.In effect, then, the sources say, Moscow has not allowed its approach to Tarapur fuel to be solely determined by US preferences and policies.