N-reactors deal unsigned,Manmohan and Putin teams work on fine print

PM ended his visit to Russia without sealing the deal on two n-reactors for Kudankulam.

Written by PranabDhalSamanta | Moscow | Published: October 22, 2013 3:23:28 am

Prime minister Manmohan Singh ended his last visit to Russia this term without sealing the deal on two more nuclear reactors for Kudankulam,but officials continued to maintain that they were tantalizingly close to it with the Indian ambassador to Russia even saying that negotiations were “now down to a word or two”.

However,when asked whether that meant Russian concerns over India’s nuclear liability law had been adequately addressed,Ambassador Ajai Malhotra said: “I think we can respond to that only when it’s concluded. At this moment,it would not be correct to say anything more than that.”

Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was more guarded,saying the negotiation was on and “let’s see how it turns out”. She declined to speculate on Russia getting more reactors after Kudankulam 3 and 4. “Let’s get the third and fourth first”.

The enactment of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act has clearly proved to be a major hurdle for these negotiations which in 2011 seemed well on the road to an early conclusion. In fact,the joint statement after the PM’s 2011 visit stated that “negotiations on the techno-commercial offer on the construction of Units 3 and 4 were in an advanced stage”. At the next summit meet in December 2012,the joint statement took note of signing of a protocol that confirmed Russian state credit for the setting up of two additional reactors and again underlined the previous year’s commitment,stating “the sides agreed to conclude expeditiously the negotiations on the techno-commercial offer for the construction of Units 3 & 4”.

And this time,in December 2013,the joint statement is almost a repeat. “The sides also agreed to expeditiously finalise the General Framework Agreement and the Techno-Commercial Offer for Units 3 & 4 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.”

For his part,the PM was careful not to specifically talk about the two additional units but did reaffirm India’s commitments under the 2010 umbrella agreement for civil nuclear cooperation with Russia and taking it forward. “We have directed our officials to resolve all outstanding issues at the earliest.”

Putin,on the other hand,just mentioned the fact that Russia is planning to build two more reactors without getting into any further details on the state of play.

The two leaders,however,expressed satisfaction that the first unit in Kudankulam would be connected to the grid by midnight as 300 MW will be added from the 1000 MW reactor.

While negotiations around additional reactors remained inconclusive tonight,the two countries did reach an important understanding on gas supplies. As the Foreign Secretary later elaborated,Gas Authority of India Ltd and Gazprom had agreed on a 20-year LNG supply arrangement which will mean 2.5 million tonnes of gas each year. And,she added,that an additional 1 million tonnes will be added to this down the line.

Also,the two sides agreed to set up a joint study group to look at building a gas pipeline from Russia to India. Though the project is ambitious,Secretary Singh said: “This is visionary,important to work towards and can be transformational.”

On the defence front,the two countries took stock of the several ongoing projects with the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya coming in for special mention. Russia has refurbished its old carrier for India and is slated to deliver it next month.

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