12/10/2009, 00.00
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New Delhi back at the centre of the international nuclear power business

India reaches deal with Russia for the construction of nuclear power plants and possible cooperation in space and diamonds. “Reactor diplomacy” takes off, tying India to Russia, United States and France.
Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) – India is planning to be a serious “friend” of Russia. In the last six months, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Moscow on three official visits. The last one on Monday saw the two countries sign an important agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The head of Russia’s atomic agency Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, said that the deal would allow Russia to build a number of nuclear power plants in India.

The deal with Russia is the first (except that with the United States) after a long struggle by Washington and Delhi to exempt India from international rules on non-proliferation, which had prevented sales of nuclear fuel and technology to India. These rules had been adopted after India used nuclear technology sold for “peaceful purposes” to develop nuclear weapons.

Following India’s first nuclear test in 1974, a 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was set up (including Italy). Last year, the same group repealed the ban on Indian imports of nuclear technology.

After three years of discussions in Washington, Delhi and Vienna, in October 2008 the US Senate approved a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with India. This will allow Washington to supply New Delhi with technologies and fuel for 20 civilian nuclear plants. In exchange, India will guarantee trade with US firms worth US$ 70 billion.

Russia did not stand by the sidelines for long. At the moment, few details have emerged of the cooperation agreement signed on Monday, but under its terms, Rosatom will build four reactors for the nuclear plant in Kundankulam in Tamil Nadu, an established symbol of Indo-Russian cooperation (which should be operational at the start of next year). Work will start on a new plant in West Bengal where Rosatom is expected to build four to six more reactors over the next 10 to 15 years.

The agreement, which will be in place between 2011 and 2020, should generate tens of billions of dollars in business. In addition to nuclear energy, it includes the sale of Russian military hardware to India.

It is probable that the symbiotic relationship between the two countries will extend to other fields that interest New Delhi like space research, telecommunications, uncut diamonds and pharmaceuticals.

At present, nuclear power provides 3 per cent of India’s electricity. This should rise to 25 per cent in 2050.

Despite criticism from environmentalists and pacifists against what analysts call India’s ‘reactor diplomacy’, Singh has put India right in the middle of the international scene. The oil crisis has made nuclear power very appealing.

Now France, Russia’s real competitor for India’s nuclear power business, is waiting for its turn.

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