India and Australia signed a landmark civil nuclear deal on Friday, clearing the way for Canberra to sell uranium to the energy-starved country for power generation.
The pact was signed after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian PM Tony Abbott, where the two leaders also discussed ways to further cooperation in the fields of energy, investment and education.
“Signing of the agreement is a historic milestone in our relationship. It is a reflection of a new level of mutual trust and confidence, and will open a fresh chapter in our bilateral cooperation,” Modi said. The deal came at the end of Abbott’s two-day India visit and provides for the supply of uranium, production of radio isotopes, nuclear safety and other areas of cooperation.
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At the meeting, Abbott also gifted Modi two antique statues of Hindu deities that were allegedly stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu and bought by art galleries in Australia. “I would like to convey to PM Abbott the deep sense of gratitude of 1.25 billion people of India for his efforts in bringing back the stolen Indian statues,” Modi said in response.
Australia has about a third of the world’s recoverable uranium resources and exports nearly 7,000 tonnes of it annually. India’s power generation is heavily dependent on coal with its 20 nuclear reactors, having an installed capacity of 4,780 MW, accounting for just 2% of its total electricity generation.
A crippling shortage of coal and a deficient monsoon have worsened India’s power situation this year, with 56 of the country’s 100 thermal power plants running dangerously low on coal stocks.
New Delhi hopes to increase its nuclear power capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032, by adding nearly 30 reactors. “It (the pact) will support India’s efforts to fuel its growth with clean energy and minimize the carbon footprint of its growth,” Modi said.
Negotiations on the deal began in 2012 after Canberra lifted a long-time ban on exporting the valuable ore to India, following a historic civil nuclear deal between New Delhi and Washington in 2008.
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After Friday’s meet, Modi termed Australia a strong strategic partner and an important part of India’s Look East policy. Both leaders decided to step up partnership in the areas of defence, counter-terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, a joint statement said. Modi also sought Australia’s help in setting up sports universities in the country.
India and Australia will hold the first bilateral naval exercise in 2015 and intend to enhance the partnership in the future.