India needs to sign nuclear safeguards pact, liability convention: US

November 14th, 2008 - 9:07 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 14 (IANS) India needs to complete the safeguards agreement for its nuclear power plants and sign an international convention on civil liability, before US companies make investments in the Indian civil nuclear industry, said US’s top nuclear regulator Friday.The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman Dale E. Klein, on a two-week trip to India, told reporters his organisation would come forward if there was any issue of import and export of technology and materials related to the nuclear sector.

“But, before that, India has to complete two steps, sign the safeguards agreement with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and the international convention on civil liability,” he said.

Klein will be meeting officials in the Department of Atomic Energy and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board during his India visit.

His trip comes after India and US signed the India-US civilian nuclear deal in Washington Oct 10 - ending nearly 30 years of India’s isolation from international nuclear commerce.

The NRC chief delivered an address at a session on India-US cooperation in nuclear energy, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry.

The Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage and Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage limits the liability on the operator of nuclear plants in the case of any accident.

With the expected entry of the private sector in the nuclear industry, signing the international convention becomes imperative.

“For private companies, this (convention) provides a level-playing field. For example, in Turkey where it had called for vendors to apply for operating a nuclear plant, there was no cap on liability. So only Russia had applied, which is not good for international cooperation,” Klein said.

According to him, the current financial crisis would affect the nuclear industry only if global recession leads to a downward trend in the demand for electricity.

“The credit crunch could potentially impact the growth of energy. But it has not yet translated in slowing of electricity demand. If there is a slowdown (in electricity demand), then fewer reactors will be built,” he said.

Klein said that to have a successful domestic nuclear industry, India had to ensure the security of its equipment and human supply chains.

In terms of regulatory environment, he suggested the government set up a uniform structure, rather than a state-specific one.

Earlier, in his address at the seminar, US ambassador to India David Mulford said building a “large, world class, civil nuclear industry in India will take time, capital, ingenuity, competitive technology, a sound regulatory architecture, private sector input, and a true political commitment to excellence”.

“Introducing a few more small reactors that produce power for an inefficient electric power system will not produce the results that India is seeking,” Mulford added.

Referring to “inaccurate comments” on the state of the US civil nuclear technology, he said US nuclear power generating capacity was 27 percent of the world’s total, compared to France’s 17 percent.

Further, US also has the largest number of nuclear plants, which produce electricity at costs lower than other countries, said the US envoy.

“Finally contrary to popular comment in India, over the last 15 years, US civil nuclear engineering companies have remained at the forefront of international civil nuclear engineering. They have modernised and upgraded our nuclear industry, keeping it the most efficient and competitive in the world,” Mulford said.

India has agreed to buy two nuclear plants from US companies if certain conditions are met.

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