India and the USA have issued a joint statement agreeing to strengthen security and civil nuclear cooperation, including the construction of six US nuclear power units.
The statement, 13 March, followed two days of talks between India's Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and Andrea Thompson, the US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. The statement gave no details about the project, which has been under discussion for more than a decade, but hampered by the need to bring Indian liability rules in-line with international norms.
Westinghouse has been negotiating to build reactors in India for years, but the nuclear liability issue and Westinghouse ’s bankruptcy filing in 2017 have led to delays. Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management bought Westinghouse from Toshiba in August 2018 and in April US Energy Secretary Rick Perry expressed strong support for the Westinghouse project, which envisaged the building of six AP1000 reactors in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
The agreement to build the reactors, announced in 2016, was made possible by the US-India civil nuclear agreement signed in 2008 which led to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) giving a special waiver to India, which has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). This enabled it to sign civil nuclear cooperation agreements with numerous countries including the USA, France, Russia, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Sri Lanka, the UK, Japan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and South Korea. However, India has been prevented from formal NSG membership by China’s opposition. The US statement reaffirmed its support to India's early membership in the 48-member body. India applied to join the NSG in May 2016, and the USA has previously said it would support India’s entry. The NSG at its June 2018 plenary said it "continued to consider all aspects" of its 2008 Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India and its relationship with the country.
India's has 22 operating nuclear reactors, which provide around 3% of its electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association. The government is committed to growing its nuclear power capacity as part of its infrastructure development programme and has seven units under construction, including four indigenously designed pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs), two each at Kakrapar and Rajasthan; two Russian-designed VVERs at Kudankulam; and an indigenously developed prototype fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam.
Kovvada, in Andhra Pradesh, was selected chosen for the construction of six Westinghouse AP1000s but contractual arrangements have not yet been finalised. France has also signed preliminary agreements with India.
Electricite de France (EDF) signed an agreement with Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd (NPCIL) to build six European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) at Jaitapur, in Maharashtra state.
However, India's nuclear liability regime has been a stumbling block for France and the USA. India in 2010 passed legislation making nuclear plant operators primarily liable for any damage caused in the event of an accident up to a certain limit, but an operator could still have legal recourse to the supplier with no upper limit set on supplier liability. An insurance scheme has since been put in place which offers suppliers some protection. This was enough to reassure France, but the USA is still hesitant.
A compromise on liability was reached with Russia, which is building the 6000MWe Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu. Two VVER-1000 reactors are already operating with two more under construction and two planned. Last year India and Russia agreed on the construction of six more units “at a new site in India”.