Indian-U.S. Nuclear Trade Still Faces Hurdles

Article excerpt

More than a year after the Indian-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement entered into force, multiple obstacles remain before U.S. companies can receive licenses for nuclear exports to India, documents and interviews indicate.

The countries have not yet agreed on a pact on Indian reprocessing of U.S.-origin material or worked out the arrangements for nuclear technology transfers from the United States to India. Nor has the Indian parliament approved nuclear liability legislation. Those issues have been publicly aired for months. (See ACT, October 2009.)

Another issue relates to a provision in a 2008 U.S. law dealing with the nuclear facilities that India opens to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) cannot issue licenses for nuclear trade with India until India meets the requirements of that provision. In a Jan. 8 e-mail to Arms Control Today, the Department of State said it had not yet determined that India met the requirements.

Placing some of its reactors under IAEA safeguards was a key part of a deal between India and the United States to ease U.S. and international nuclear trade restrictions on India, which is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and conducted nuclear test explosions in 1974 and 1998.

In separate actions in 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which has more than 40 member countries, and the U.S. Congress lifted restrictions that had been in place for three decades on nuclear trade with India. (See ACT, October 2008).

Currently, the only Indian reactors under safeguards are those that were or are being built with foreign assistance: two units apiece at Tarapur, Rajasthan, and Kudankulam.

As part of the nuclear deal, originally announced in a joint statement during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States in July 2005 and further elaborated in later statements, India was to place under safeguards 14 of the 22 power reactors that were in operation or under construction. That meant declaring eight reactors in addition to the six that were already under safeguards.

In a document submitted to parliament on May 11, 2006, the Indian government listed 14 reactors, in chronological order of when they would be "offered for safeguards." The first six on the list are the ones already under safeguards.

The document is known as the "separation plan" because one of India's commitments under the deal with the United States was to separate its military reactors from civilian ones and place the latter under safeguards. In addition to the reactors, the document lists a number of fuel cycle facilities to be placed under safeguards. The list includes six "upstream facilities," which are facilities, such as fuel fabrication plants, that are part of the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle.

In submittals to the IAEA last October, India listed eight reactors - the six already under safeguards, plus two more units at Rajasthan - and the six upstream facilities. …