India on way to energy top table
New Delhi: India took a step towards a seat at the energy top table when the US Congress passed a landmark nuclear cooperation Bill.
A compromise Bill, which sailed through the House of Representatives late on Friday and the Senate a few hours later, is a major step toward allowing the sale of US-made nuclear reactors and fuel to India.
It reverses 30 years of US policy that, until July 2005, opposed nuclear cooperation with India because the country developed nuclear weapons in contravention of international standards and never signed the Non-proliferation Treaty, or NPT.
"The fact that the US is now willing to change 30-year-old laws despite the deep conviction that many lobbies in the Congress and the US have about non-proliferation is a real achievement," said defence analyst Uday Bhaskar.
But an agreement first reached by the leaders of both countries in July 2005 was amended as it passed through the US legislature to address lawmakers' concerns.
"Once the Americans began addressing their domestic constituency they had to make the deal palatable," Brahma Chellany, analyst at the Centre for Policy Research, said.
India has not been promised an assured supply of fuel for new reactors, and has not been given the right to dispose of spent fuel either by reprocessing or shipping it out, he said, adding that these could turn out to be significant handicaps. "Before it starts importing billion-dollar reactors it needs to sort out these issues," he said.
American critics have decried the Bill which is due to be signed into law by President George Bush - as a mistake that undermines efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.
But the Bush administration insisted that civil nuclear commerce to expand India's electricity generation fosters a broad range of ties with the world's largest democracy and opens up billions of dollars in trade for US companies.
The deal has caught the imagination of many in India and is seen as a major move towards becoming a regional power.
Yet at the same time it has also attracted criticism.
Members of the nuclear establishment argued against "intrusive" inspections and said the deal would constrain India's military nuclear programme by separating it from the civil side.