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N-deal’s first gains

india Updated: Jul 16, 2009 01:29 IST
Aabshar H Quazi

The Indo-US nuclear deal produced its first tangible results with consignments of nuclear fuel from France, Russia and Kazakhstan arriving at the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS) site in Rawatbhata on Wednesday. Until the deal, such exports to India were barred by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Site director, CP Jhamb, said that 472 bundles of nuclear fuel had arrived from the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad. The complex is converting 300 tons of imported raw uranium fuel, called yellowcake, into fuel bundles. These fuel bundles will be used to power up the second RAPS power unit, shutdown since June 2008 for lack of fuel.

There were 472 fuel bundles in this first consignment. In a few weeks, said Jamb, enough imported fuel would arrive to allow the reactor to start producing electricity.

“A total of 3,672 imported nuclear fuel bundles will be required to start power generation at second unit.”

Since RAPS is a safeguarded facility, inspection officials from the IAEA will arrive after a week just before the bundles are loaded into the second unit. The second unit can generate 200 MW of electricity.

Jamb said further fuel shipments expected in September would be used to power the fifth and sixth RAPS reactors, both presently under construction.

The last nuclear fuel import was in 2005 when the Bush administration agreed to a one-off shipment for the Tarapore reactor. The fuel was flown in from Russia.

The inability to import nuclear fuel has been a key reason India’s nuclear power plants have run at as little as 60 per cent of their installed capacity, says the World Nuclear Organization. India had been denied such fuel, as well as imported nuclear technology, because of its refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) which would have required it to give up its nuclear weapons arsenal.

The Indo-US nuclear deal, in a nutshell, allowed India to keep its nuclear weapons as well as access international nuclear fuel and technology. The deal took five years of negotiations between India and the US. It also generated controversy around the world. The Bush administration was accused of breaking the NPT and the international nonproliferation system for a narrow strategic interest in India. The Manmohan Singh government was accused in India of compromising India's strategic nuclear independence.