France for global fuel bank, criteria-based reprocessing sale

October 23rd, 2008 - 8:22 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 23 (IANS) France, a country that depends overwhelmingly on nuclear power, has floated an innovative proposal for setting up an international fuel bank that will address fuel supply concerns in India and other countries wishing to join global nuclear trade.With India and France signing a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation pact Sep 30, French nuclear giant Areva has held talks with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) on selling advanced nuclear reactors to India, a reliable diplomatic source, privy to the French government’s thinking on the subject, said.

“It’s up to the NPCIL to decide what it wants from French nuclear companies,” the source said. “It will take several years before actual nuclear power generation can start as it’s a complicated process,” the source added.

NPCIL chairman S.K. Jain recently visited France and met top officials of Areva to hold preliminary talks about the sale of reactors. India is keen on buying two European Pressurised Reactors (EPR), the world’s safest and most advanced third-generation reactor, from France.

As more countries show a renewed interest in nuclear electricity, France, home to the world’s most advanced nuclear technologies, has floated the idea of a global fuel bank that will solve the problem of fuel crunch on a long-term basis.

“There is a French proposal for an international fuel bank. It’s a proposal which has been made publicly by France before the international community,” the source said. The Nuclear Suppliers Group countries have yet to respond to the proposal as it has not been officially presented.

Nuclear power produced by 58 reactors provide 77 percent of France’s electricity, but it imports most of the uranium it needs to feed its reactors.

The proposal of a fuel bank has a special resonance for India, which has signed a landmark nuclear deal with the US and another one with France in the last three weeks.

The India-US bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement assures India uninterrupted fuel supplies for its safeguarded reactors, but the fuel issue has sparked anxieties in the country in the wake of a leaked letter from the US state department last month that links testing with the termination of fuel supplies. The 123 agreement is also perceived by some critics to be vague on fuel assurances.

France’s suggestion of a global fuel bank, if it is accepted by other NSG countries, could address the problem of fuel security. France has left it to French nuclear companies to negotiate fuel supply arrangements with India.

France also has no issue with granting India access to enrichment and reprocessing technologies (ENR), but has clarified that it will wait for the NSG’s decision to evolve criteria for the transfer of these sensitive technologies.

“A decision on criteria-based approach to sale of ENR technologies was taken at the G8 conclave. Discussions on fixing criteria have started. We are waiting for NSG guidelines on this issue,” sources added.

France has, however, chosen to be circumspect on the issue of testing by India and its consequences. Unlike the India-US 123 pact, New Delhi’s nuclear pact with Paris is completely silent on the issue of testing.

Paris insists that the nuclear agreement was based on India’s commitment to maintaining a unilateral moratorium on testing which was first declared by India in 1998.

The moratorium, Paris says, was reaffirmed in the Indian parliament and again reaffirmed in External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s statement which has been included in the draft of the Sep 6 NSG waiver.

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