07 December 2005

India, Russia inching towards fresh nuclear cooperation

7 December 2005
The Hindu

India, Russia inching towards fresh nuclear cooperation

Siddharth Varadarajan

Moment for broadening scope of nuclear ties will soon be at hand, says Putin

  • India is a strategic partner: Putin
  • Indian officials hopeful of solution to Tarapore fuel matter

  • Moscow: The question how to expand cooperation between Russia and India in the field of energy — and especially civilian nuclear energy — figured prominently in the summit between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Vladimir Putin here on Tuesday, though both sides were wary of publicly fleshing out any of the new nuclear ideas under consideration.

    Russia has provided two 1000 MW reactors for the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu but has so far been non-committal on India's request for two to four additional reactors for the same project, citing its obligations as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. But the July 18 Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement has opened up a window which the Indian nuclear establishment is keen to exploit. Accordingly, while the two leaders did not discuss specific figures for additional reactors at Kudankulam, Indian officials said they agreed that there were "good prospects for expanding cooperation in all sectors of civil nuclear cooperation."

    At a joint press conference with Dr. Singh, Mr. Putin expressed his confidence that the moment for broadening the scope of the nuclear relationship with India would soon be at hand. Asked whether Russia would be prepared to take the lead on this front if the current U.S.-led efforts to amend the NSG's rules got delayed or derailed, the Russian President said he believed that India was "taking all the necessary steps to build its relationship with the international community, including with the countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group ... [It] is separating its military and peaceful nuclear programs, it [has adopted] the necessary legislation, and is actively working with the members of the NSG."

    Mr. Putin said Russia considered India its strategic partner, adding, "And we will actively work to be sure that India will cope with all its problems and tasks that it is addressing, including in the peaceful use of nuclear energy." Though emphasising the need for India to work with the NSG, Mr. Putin's statement — and the promise to actively work to help India address its problems in the civil nuclear field — marked a departure from the recent Russian formulations on the prospects for nuclear commerce with India which tended to highlight the impossibility of cooperation given the existing NSG guidelines.

    Asked about the prospects of Russia once again providing low-enriched uranium for Tarapur, Sergei Kirienko, head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency, told The Hindu he did not wish to comment on the issue. However, Indian officials said they were hopeful that the Tarapur fuel matter would be resolved.

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