US firms rush to corner N-pie

Published on Nov 21, 2006 01:42 AM IST

As many as 20 US firms are arriving in Nov-end to talk shop on nuclear power generation, reports Reshma Patil.

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None | ByReshma Patil, Mumbai

When the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal swept past the Senate last week, US President George W Bush said the historic agreement would also "create new business opportunities for American companies".

That is why, even while the Indian government is still finalising a draft amendment to the Atomic Energy Act 1962 - said to open up the nuclear-power industry to private participation - 20 American industrial groups are arriving to talk shop with the Mumbai-based Nuclear Power Corporation India Limited (NPCIL).

The NPCIL builds and operates India's atomic-power stations to generate electricity.

"They do not want to lose time," SK Jain, NPCIL chairman and managing director, said. "They have very clear-cut intentions to understand our nuclear-power programme and its potential for participation. This is also due to the hype generated by the Indo-US deal."

The meetings will be part of the largest US trade mission to India from November 29, led by Franklin Lavin, under secretary of commerce for international trade.

"The organisers requested the NPCIL to hold meetings on December 1 with the US nuclear industry group and Indian partners in nuclear-power generation," said Jain.

The mission will include the Nuclear Energy Institute, the policy arm of the US nuclear-energy industry, and the USIBC, known as the voice of the US private-sector investing in India.

India has seven reactors under construction - the most in the world - and the NPCIL is busy identifying coastal sites for 1,000-1,650 MW reactors for the future. Each new site will have the potential to hold a cluster of reactors of 6,000-10,000 MW capacity. Existing sites like Tarapur are also earmarked for expansion.

"The US, on the other hand, has not built any nuclear-power station in recent times," said MR Srinivasan, former chairman and current member of the Atomic Energy Commission.

The US delegation will include the Westinghouse Electric Company that provides technology for nearly half of the world's operational nuclear-power plants, General Electric, Bechtel, Thorium Power, and Converdyn.

The day the Senate voted, the Washington-based US India Business Council (USIBC) President Ron Somers summed up the civilian nuclear industry's anticipation to enter India.

"India's nuclear-energy market - estimated to require $100 billion in foreign direct investment - will open for US companies, which till now has been a closed sector, creating a potential 270,000 American jobs in high-technology engineering and manufacturing over the next decade."

Srinivasan pointed out that work on amending the Atomic Energy Act was still on. "If it goes through, the US nuclear industry will see opportunities to do business in India," said Srinivasan. "We have to find a suitable framework to allow private participation from Indian and foreign industry."

Jain said there had been "exploratory and preliminary" talks with US and French nuclear-industry majors like Areva earlier in the year.

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