Russia and India agree on more Kudankulam reactors

13 February 2008

Russia and India have finalized negotiations on an agreement for Russia to construct four additional nuclear power reactors at Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu. The construction of two Russian units there is progressing.
On 11 February, on the eve of a two-day visit to India by Russian Prime Minister Victor Zubkov, an intergovernmental agreement for the joint construction of four additional units at Kudankulam and for cooperation at other sites was initialled by the deputy head of the Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), Nikolai Spassky, and the head of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), S K Jain.
India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, announced on 12 February that India and Russia had "finalized negotiation in regard to reaching agreement on building additional nuclear power plants in India."
Russia is already constructing two 1000 MWe light water reactors at Kudankulam under the terms of an agreement reached in June 1998. The units are scheduled to begin commercial operation in December 2008 and June 2009.
In January 2007, an agreement in principle for four further nuclear reactors at Kudankulam was signed during a visit to India by President Vladimir Putin. However, the deal cannot be finalized because of restrictions on India imposed by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the limits are unlikely to be lifted until India completes a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This will enable the US-India deal on civil nuclear cooperation to be ratified. The two Russian reactors currently being constructed at Kudankulam were contracted before Russia joined the NSG.
In November 2007, Putin refused to authorise the export of the four additional Kudankulam reactors to India. He told Singh that a 1989 nuclear cooperation deal between them covered only the two units currently under construction, and that a memorandum of intent signed in January 2007 foreshadowing four more reactors at Kudankulam and more at new sites could not be firmed up.
At that time, the Indian government said that it would not sign the agreement with Russia until the NSG had given India an exemption to trade with Russia. That decision by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the name of the present ruling coalition of political parties of the government of India, was opposed by its allies, notably the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM). However, opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had wanted the government to sign the deal.
Russia and India also decided to step up cooperation in defence, engineering and energy. The two countries set a bilateral trade target of $10 billion to be achieved by 2010, for which the recommendations of a joint task force would be implemented and a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) considered.
Meanwhile, the USA has warned India that it could be now or never for the nuclear cooperation agreement between the two countries. US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told Reuters that "time was wasting" and warned that India needs to act quickly to clear remaining international hurdles and agree to the deal if it was to be completed this year.
David Mulford, the US ambassador to India, said in a television interview with CNN-IBN that if the deal "is not processed in the present Congress it is unlikely that this deal will be offered again to India." He added, "If it were to be revived it would have to go through the Committee process and I think the non-proliferation groups would insist on changes in many of the terms or additional conditions."
Progressing the deal with Russia, or pushing it into higher profile domestically, may encourage the minor left-wing coalition parties to support the international negotiations with the IAEA and the USA.