Saturday, October 4, 2008

France To Sell India Nuclear Reactors

Bruce Loudon

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="226" caption="Nicolas Sarkozy (r) with Manmohan Singh "]Nicolas Sarkozy (r) with Manmohan Singh [/caption]

INDIA signed a historic deal with France last night for the supply of nuclear reactors and fuel, thereby signalling its entry into the global nuclear marketplace for the first time and the end of more than three decades of isolation.

The deal, concluded during talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Nicolas Sarkozy, ties India's civilian nuclear future firmly to France and its extensive use of nuclear power, though another similar agreement with Russia is on the cards for signature before the end of the year.

A pact is also due to be concluded with the US once the nuclear deal between New Delhi and Washington is finalised, and last night ecstatic government leaders in the Indian capital were hailing the series of commercial agreements as "undoubtedly one of the biggest things to happen in India for many years".

"Finally and at long last - after 34 years - we are in the marketplace buying nuclear technology that can make such a difference to the lives of millions upon millions of our people as we develop new sources of energy," one official linked to the negotiations said last night.

The deal with France underlines India's interest in the third-generation European Pressurised Reactors, with plans for the pre-eminent French power corporation Areva to supply at least two, along with nuclear fuel.

The agreement follows last month's waiver agreed by the 35-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group which allows India, despite being a nuclear weapons power, to enter the world of nuclear commerce for what is planned to be its massive new nuclear power industry.

Reactors, fuel and other technology worth billions of dollars are expected to be sourced from a number of NSG countries - but not from Australia, which refuses to sell uranium to India.

Asked about the groundbreaking deal with France and the imminent similar deals with Russia and the US, a senior official in New Delhi told The Australian last night: "With all this happening, it surely makes Australia's position look a little eccentric, doesn't it?"

The deal with France deflects the charge by critics that by concluding the agreement it has with Washington, India is putting itself entirely in American hands.

Instead, France has become its first major supplier, with some 35 French firms said to be preparing to enter the nuclear marketplace in India, and others in Russia and the US poised to do the same.

The agreement with Paris will be activated, Indian officials say, only after India formally signs the already concluded safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

France, in successfully concluding the massive nuclear deal with New Delhi, is benefiting from being among the first countries, apart from the US, to question the non-proliferation argument that was being used against India.

Yesterday, however, with the US Senate about to consider the final draft of the agreement between Washington and New Delhi, the argument got powerful new backing from the influential New York Times which, in an editorial, advised senators to "show better judgment" than members of the House of Representatives did last week when they approved the pact.

The newspaper called the Indo-US pact "ill conceived", saying it could make it even harder to rein in the nuclear ambitions of Iran and others.


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