India, Russia to iron out nuclear issues Monday


New Delhi : India and Russia will try to iron out differences over liability issues in their civil nuclear cooperation when Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao holds talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow Monday.

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Rao heads for Moscow over the weekend for foreign office consultations, the first of a series of meetings to firm up the agenda for the visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who is expected to come to New Delhi for the annual summit in December.

Rao’s visit comes against the backdrop of Russia’s opposition to accepting any liability for atomic equipment and materials sold by Russian companies to India in case there is any nuclear accident. The issue will figure in her discussions in Moscow, well-placed sources told IANS.

The two sides will also review ongoing efforts to ramp up trade and economic ties and discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan in the wake of recent disclosures by an online whistleblower that show Pakistan’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence’s aiding the Taliban and plotting anti-India activities.

The differences over the issue of liability cropped up at the last round of commercial negotiations between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and Atomstroyexport for the supply of four additional 1,000 MW reactors at Kudankulam.

Russia refused an Indian proposal to include a ‘right of recourse’ in the contract which would allow NPCIL, the operator of the nuclear plant, to claim damages from Atomstroyexport in case of an accident due negligence on the part of the Russian supplier.

Russian officials insisted that the NPCIL should be exclusively liable in case of any accident.

The Manmohan Singh government is having a tough time getting parliament to endorse a civil nuclear liability legislation, which pegs Rs.500 crore (approx $110 million) liability to be paid by the operator of the nuclear power plant in case of an atomic accident.

The US has insisted on a civil nuclear liability law before allowing its atomic companies to do business with India and is opposed to including a right to recourse in commercial contracts.

The proposed bill is decried by leading opposition parties in India who contend that the compensation amount is too low and argue that it virtually exempts foreign nuclear suppliers from any liability in case of an accident.