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Russia hitch holds up nuke reactor
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Chennai, Nov. 26: The commissioning of the first 1,000MW unit at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, scheduled for December 2007, will be delayed by at least a year, apparently because of stalled Russian supplies.

The announcement by state power minister Arcot N. Veeraswamy set off a buzz at a time the Indo-US nuclear deal is meshed in controversy and has, in turn, stalled an Indo-Russian reactor sale.

But the minister declined to explain the delay beyond saying there were “various reasons”.

“Tamil Nadu is to get 448MW from the first Kudankulam unit but for various reasons, this share may be available only after a year,” he said.

Government sources, however, said the delay happened because Russian agencies had failed to supply “some critical material and designs”. The Russians will be “chased to fill the gaps”, the sources said, refusing any more details.

Power-starved Tamil Nadu is entitled to another 448MW from the second unit, scheduled for a December 2008 completion. It now seems likely that the second unit, too, will miss the date.

The development comes days after Delhi and Moscow backed away from signing an agreement for the sale of four additional reactors to India for Kudankulan. Delhi was apparently wary of offending Washington and decided to wait till the Indo-US nuclear deal made progress at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

The sources, however, said the delay in supply from the Russian agencies had nothing to do with India beginning negotiations with the IAEA for a “country-specific safeguard”, a step in the operationalisation of the Indo-US deal.

“However, the overall climate (arising out of the controversy) cannot be discounted,” a source said.

The first and second Kudankulam units are covered by an “IAEA document on safeguards” that is independent of the safeguards being negotiated now.

The Kudankulam project is a showpiece of Indo-Russian civil nuclear cooperation. Its first phase, involving two 1,000MW reactors, became possible under a pact between India and the former Soviet Union in 1989.

Moscow could go ahead with the deal since it was then not an NSG member and was, therefore, not barred from nuclear commerce with nations that had not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Russia now supplies most of the equipment and designs for the Rs 14,000-crore project. Work began in 2002 after a framework agreement between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and the Russian joint stock company, Atomstoryexport.

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