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Where do India, US stand after 14 years of nuclear deal?

Although Washington has not yet provided reactors since signing Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2008, experts say it benefited New Delhi in many ways

Shuriah Niazi  | 30.11.2022 - Update : 30.11.2022
Where do India, US stand after 14 years of nuclear deal?


Though the US has not provided reactors since signing a Civil Nuclear Agreement with India in 2008, analysts believe the deal has benefitted the South Asian nation of around 1.4 billion people in several ways, including opening doors to critical technology to meet the much-needed energy requirements.

The agreement provides nuclear material transfers, nuclear trade, nuclear equipment, components, and related technologies, as well as collaboration in nuclear fuel cycle activities.

The deal signed on Oct. 10 in Washington by India’s then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his US counterpart then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has never been fully implemented, but it benefitted New Delhi greatly in many ways, said Sameer Patil, a Mumbai-based security analyst with a doctorate in nuclear policy decision-making.

India gained from nuclear trade, defense modernization, and civil space development, Patil told Anadolu Agency.

The country's current installed nuclear power capacity is 6,780 MW, with 22 active nuclear power reactors. In addition, the government informed the parliament in March this year that one reactor, KAPP-3 (700 MW), was connected to the grid in Jan. 2021.

Earlier, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCI) and Westinghouse, a US private firm in energy-related projects, agreed in June 2016 to finish contractual terms for six reactors by June 2017. These reactors were expected to provide India with clean energy, lessen its reliance on fossil resources, and create thousands of employment in the US. However, India has yet to get nuclear reactors.

According to experts, numerous issues contributed to the delay, the most significant of which was the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, which was scheduled to deliver reactors and was subsequently sold off.

Vivek Mishra, a senior member of the Observer Research Foundation, an independent global think tank based in Delhi, said it is difficult to focus on deliverables when power and ownership shifts occur within the organization itself.

The second point is that nuclear reactors take a long time to build, but Mishra expressed hope that the US would immediately speed up the delivery of nuclear reactors.

“We often forget that private players were central pillars in this deal. For instance, Westinghouse was a very important factor since it committed to providing India with nuclear reactors, but the company went bankrupt.

“With the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the resulting global energy crisis looming large over the world, countries are now focusing again on the need for clean energy, and nuclear energy is certainly one of them,” he said.

“In the context of the current energy crisis and its possible impact on the world order, there is more probability of India and the US expediting the nuclear reactors that have been pending for a long time now,” he asserted.

However, Patil argued that, even though the country did not receive a nuclear reactor, the deal transformed the character of the relationship and helped India increase its exports.

"For example, in 2000, the US Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) required export control licenses for over 25% of exports to India," he explained, adding that "however, since 2009, the majority of shipments did not require any clearance from the US Department of Commerce, with less than 1% of US exports to India requiring a BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) Export License," he said.

- Import of nuclear fuel

As India lacks significant Uranium reserves and the number of nuclear reactors increased following the agreement, its nuclear power facilities were unable to run at full capacity. As a result, the uranium shortage impacted domestic reactors, negatively impacting their performance.

However, as part of the nuclear deal, India signed uranium import agreements with many countries, including France, Russia, Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan. Its plants started running more efficiently.

India has become the only country outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to obtain nuclear fuel for its reactors, Mishra said.

"Let us not jump to conclusions by blaming the bilateral relationship; instead, we should be grateful for the bilateral channels that have opened up as a result of the 2008 nuclear deal," he said, adding that “it is now up to the various parties, both public and private, to move this ahead and address the delay."

India has vowed to triple its energy from renewable and clean sources over the next decade, he added.

“To that end, the country is already expanding the percentage share of nuclear energy. Of course, one example is the Kovadda nuclear project in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, which is now on a fast track,” he added.

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