IMPASSE OVER NUCLEAR LIABILITY LAW – US Company `Optimistic’ About Early Resolution

Westinghouse Electric Co, which signed an agreement to supply nuclear reactors for a proposed power plant in Gujarat, is “cautiously optimistic“ that US concerns over an insurance pool suggested by India to resolve the imbroglio over the nuclear liability law will be addressed before US President Barack Obama visits the country this weekend.

A bilateral contact group on civil nuclear cooperation, which had two rounds of discussions in New Delhi and Vienna, is holding a third one here this week to consider US apprehensions over the proposed insurance pool that will compensate suppliers in the event of an accident, sources familiar with the developments said.

However, a senior official from Westinghouse pointed out that the insurance pool may not be a foolproof mechanism of arranging full compensation. The US-based provider of nuclear power plant products and services, owned by the Toshiba group, fears it may still have to bear some of the liability, a concern that the contact group will seek to address, official sources hinted.

Resolving the impasse over the liability clause, which leaves suppliers accountable for damages in the event of an accident at a nuclear plant, will be a key deliverable from the Obama visit. Indian officials said the proposed nuclear insurance pool is the best available option since the liability law was passed by Parliament and cannot be tampered with.

The contact group, set up when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Obama at the White House in September, was mandated to discuss all issues hampering the implementation of the civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement signed by India and the US in 2008. The Westinghouse official familiar with the Indian project said the company is “cautiously optimistic“ that both sides will be able to make “progress“ in the next few days towards commercial implementation of the nuclear deal.

Senior company officials were pre sent during the `Vibrant Gujarat Summit’ held earlier this month to hold discussions with Indian officials. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended the summit, said that civil nuclear energy cooperation was among the four issues that would figure prominently during Obama’s meeting with Modi. The other issues are climate change, defence and investments. Westinghouse is to supply reactors for a proposed 6,000 MW plant that will be run by state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd at Chhaya Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat. Apart from an “Early Works Agreement“ inked between Westinghouse and NPCIL in September 2013, there has been no major progress on the project.

A senior US State Department official had said last week that of late, “a great deal of rolling-up-your-sleeves discussions“ have been held to clear the roadblocks for US companies to sell nuclear reactors to India.

“There’s a commitment from both sides to try and find a way through that. I don’t know whether that will be resolved in time for the president’s visit, but I think there is progress being made,“ said the official, who accompanied Kerry to the summit.

Obama will start his India visit on January 24. He will hold a meeting with Modi on January 25 and attend the Republic Day ceremony as the chief guest the next day . He will hold a town hall meeting on January 27 and visit the Taj Mahal before leaving.

Source: The Economic Times (Mumbai)

Date: 21st Jan, 2015

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