Government offers dialogue on nuclear liability bill


New Delhi: Ruling out foreign investment in India’s nuclear sector, the government Wednesday offered dialogue to a combative opposition over the civil nuclear liability bill, saying contentious issues should be “discussed coolly”.

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“I think there is a lot of scare being created by certain political parties, particularly by our Left friends. The moment the issue of any likely foreign participation comes up, there is a red flag,” Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan told reporters here.

“I think these issues could be coolly discussed either in parliament or in standing committee or we are willing to discuss it in personal meeting,” Chavan told reporters.

“Let us begin somewhere and not be obstructionist,” Chavan said when asked about the opposition’s demands for scaling up the compensation amount by the operator.

The proposed nuclear liability legislation seeks to cap the operator’s liability at Rs.500 crore (around $100 million).

“However, if the opposition (to the capping limit) is political, it was a different matter,” Chavan said.

Chavan, however, made it clear that there are no plans to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) or domestic private sector participation in the generation of nuclear energy as the sector was “extremely sensitive”.

“The first challenge would be to pass the Nuclear Civil Liability Bill with a collaborative approach,” Chavan said.

“After the bill is through, the government would be able to create conditions to forge alliances between domestic power sector companies and their counterparts overseas,” Chavan said at the Conference on Nuclear Energy: Need for Legal & Regulatory Framework for Investment, organised by the industry forum, Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (assocham).

Chavan said that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has ambitious plans to import equipment from countries like France, Russia and the US to expand its indigenous nuclear generation power programme.

“The imports will be subject to conditions that suppliers would have to take the entire risk for meeting emergency requirements which can be possible provided the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill has a smooth passage in parliament,” the minister explained.

Alluding to the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1962 that bars private operator from producing nuclear energy, Chavan stressed that the government has “no intention right now” of amending the law to seek foreign investment.

The government was considering amendments to the AEA to make regulatory bodies autonomous and also to make it compliant with certain international conventions, he said.

Chavan stressed that that state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited would be buying equipment from suppliers in America, Russia and France and there was no question of seeking any investments from them.

“It is purely a buyer-supplier relationship. We are not seeking investments,” he said.