The Telegraph
Thursday , December 10 , 2009
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Delhi cold-shoulders US nuclear firms

New Delhi, Dec. 9: The Centre has decided to cold-shoulder a US nuclear trade mission of around 50 companies doing the rounds in the capital in the hope of meeting officials in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and ministers to try and understand the “policy challenges” that stand between them and the Indian market.

The American companies want the procedural glitches thwarting their entry into the market to be cleared so that they do not lose their competitive edge to countries such as Russia and France.

A highly placed source in the PMO, who was approached for a meeting by the delegation that includes a vice-president of GE Hitachi, said the “message” from the top was the representatives were “too junior” to be met with.

The American companies have come without the permission of their own government to suss out the potential of the Indian market.

India and the US are still to finalise an agreement on reprocessing under the civil nuclear deal. The sticking point was whether reprocessing could be suspended at any time and under what circumstances and conditions.

The PMO source interpreted the message as a sign that India would want to leverage the “clout” it recently acquired after signing a “sweetheart” civilian nuclear agreement with Russia to try and persuade the US into accepting similar terms and conditions.

According to the agreement, Russia will neither stop supplying fuel to the nuclear plants that it will build nor take back its equipment if the pact ever falls through. It also implied India will have nuclear fuel enrichment and reprocessing rights and will be allowed core technology transfer.

On November 29, national security adviser M.K. Narayanan had told journalists travelling back with the Prime Minister after the tour of the US and Trinidad and Tobago that the negotiations on reprocessing were in the “last stage” and only the legal text needed to be finalised.

Asked if they had moved forward, the PMO source said: “Not to my knowledge.”

India and the US were working against the clock to conclude the agreement for setting up a dedicated reprocessing facility in India before Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama met in Washington. But they could not.

The reprocessing facility under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards is a key requirement for implementing the nuclear deal that was inked in 2008.

Issues on whether multiple dedicated facilities should be set up and the level of security for these installations that will reprocess spent nuclear deal remain.

India wanted more than one facility, arguing that it would be “beneficial” for the US when it installed nuclear plants in India.

India has earmarked two sites for US companies in Gujarat and Andhra but is yet to allot them. Russia is setting up four additional reactors in Kudankulam and has been informed of a site at Haripur in Bengal.

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