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Progress Lacking on Indian-U.S. Atomic Agreement, Senator Says

President Obama has taken few actions to bring into effect a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and India, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said on Tuesday  (see GSN, Dec. 13, 2011).

Washington and New Delhi in 2008 finalized a civilian atomic trade deal that permits U.S. companies to export nuclear materials, equipment and expertise to energy-hungry India. In exchange, New Delhi agreed to place its civilian atomic activities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

"This agreement remains important to the broad strategic advancement of the U.S.-Indian relationship. But in the narrower context of nuclear trade with India, it has yet to bear significant fruit," the Press Trust of India quoted Lugar as saying.

"In large measure, this stems from the Indian Parliament's adoption of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill," the senator said.

The law allows foreign nuclear technology exporters under specific circumstances to be held financially liable after an atomic incident. Typically, only the operators of atomic reactors are held culpable in accidents, according to earlier reports. The measure is seen as constraining the willingness of U.S. nuclear companies to do business with India.

Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai on Monday pledged his country would give U.S. firms a fair opportunity to compete for business with its atomic power industry. He called for the governments to maintain efforts to advance the deal's implementation.

Lugar said the liability law "effectively rules out Indian accession to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (the CSC) and could frustrate the U.S. nuclear industry's efforts to play a role in India's expanding nuclear power sector."

"The bill's plain terms are fundamentally inconsistent with the liability regime that the international community is seeking to achieve in the CSC. To date, this administration has made very little progress on the CSC with India," he added.

Responding to Lugar, U.S. Ambassador-designate to India Nancy Powell at her confirmation hearing said she was prepared to back the deal's complete placement into practice (Lalit Jha, Press Trust of India/Zee News, Feb. 8).

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