Obama, Modi welcome preparatory work for India nuclear reactor

US President Barack Obama (right) meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House on June 7.
US President Barack Obama (right) meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House on June 7.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday (June 7) welcomed the start of preparatory work for six nuclear reactors in India, a key step in closing the first deal stemming from a US-India civil nuclear accord struck more than a decade ago.

A joint US-India statement said India and the US Export-Import Bank were working to complete a financing package for the project, and that the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and Toshiba Corp's Westinghouse Electric had confirmed engineering and site design work would begin immediately.

Mr Modi said India's planned purchase of six nuclear reactors from the company would mark a mark new era in nuclear and scientific cooperation with the United States.

“In the field of nuclear energy, we are purchasing six nuclear reactors from Westinghouse, which will mark a new era in our nuclear and scientific cooperation,” Modi told an event organised by the US India Business Council on Tuesday. 

Westinghouse has been negotiating the project since 2005. The joint US-India statement said the companies would work toward finalising the contract by June 2017. 

A longstanding obstacle has been the need to bring Indian liability rules into line with international norms, which require the costs of any accident to be channeled to the operator rather than the maker of a nuclear power station.

Asked if Westinghouse was satisfied with the provisions on liability, Boone said great progress had been made, but Westinghouse would "continue to monitor and support the efforts of the Indian government to provide a solution."

She said the Indian government could begin site work, but Westinghouse could only do so once an "enabling work agreement"was in place, which it hoped for in the "very near term."

The senior US State Department official for South Asia, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal, said last month that India had addressed concerns over liability to the satisfaction of the US government and it was now up to individual companies to determine whether they were comfortable to do business with India.

John Morton, senior director for energy and climate at the White House, told reporters Tuesday's announcement "represented a clearer and more definite statement about both countries'commitments" that the reactor project would move forward.