US asks India to consult IAEA on nuclear liability law

Washington: To enter the international mainstream civil nuclear commerce, a top US official has said India should consult International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its nuclear liability law as a means to ensure the objective.

"While we understand that India's law is currently being examined by the courts, we believe that consultations with the IAEA would be useful as a means to ensure that the liability law accomplishes our shared objective of moving India into the international mainstream of civil nuclear commerce," Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Geoffrey Pyatt has said.

In his remarks to the Pillsbury NEI Nuclear Export Controls Seminar in Washington, Pyatt identified the nuclear liability law as a major challenge in implementing the historic India-US civilian nuclear deal.

A copy of his remarks was released by the State Department yesterday.

"India's nuclear liability law is not in line with the international nuclear liability principles reflected in the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage," he said.

"Current liability law and regulations impose the risk of a heavy financial burden on equipment suppliers seeking to enter the Indian market and expose such companies to the risk of significant financial penalty in the event of a nuclear accident, neither of which is consistent with international standards," Pyatt observed.

"Without a law consistent with this Convention in place, companies from the United States as well as other nations will find it difficult to participate in India's nuclear power expansion plans," he said.

Pyatt said the US wants to ensure equal opportunities for American companies to conduct nuclear commerce in India and preserve safety standards. The cooperation between India and the US in the civilian nuclear energy field, he noted, is not only about powering factories and schools or computers and cell phones.

"It is about transforming the strategic relationship between our two countries by working together to forge the "indispensable partnership" that President Obama reaffirmed during his watershed visit to India in November 2010," he said.

"The vision for civil-nuclear cooperation was founded not only on the desire to move our strategic partnership to a new level, but on the premise that India largely shares our nonproliferation goals and requires nuclear power to sustain its growing economy in a safe, clean, and cost-effective manner," he said.

"Given its plans to expand nuclear power production, we want to partner with India to build and safely maintain modern, efficient and, let me underscore the point, American reactors and infrastructure," Pyatt said.

"Nuclear power is essential to meeting India's extensive energy requirements and alleviating its heavy dependence on imported energy inputs. The enduring commitment of our two countries to the use of nuclear energy to power our cities and our economies makes us natural partners for commercial and scientific cooperation," he said.