February 12, 2015
While the government may continue to say that the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act remains untouched, it’s the government’s reading of that law which is problematic, especially as it is around an issue which concerns every Indian: as an energy consumer, a taxpayer, and a potential victim of a nuclear accident
In an unusual move this week, the government sought to clear the air over the India-U.S. nuclear “breakthrough understanding” announced by U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with a detailed press release on the subject. The move was prompted by several questions being asked over how the two leaders had been able to announce a breakthrough in issues that have held up nuclear trade for five years. The bottom line, the government said, was that the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act of 2010 remained untouched. However, it is the government’s reading of that law that is problematic, especially as it concerns an issue which touches the life of every Indian: as an energy consumer, a taxpayer, and a potential victim of any untoward nuclear accident.
The energy basket
Let’s be clear. The problem is not with the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal. After all, nuclear energy is something India has made a conscious move towards since 2000 in a bipartisan manner, with both the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance governments pushing ahead with it. By 2035, India’s projected energy demand is expected to grow by 132 per cent and India will surpass China as the world’s highest energy consumer according to the latest BP energy outlook report. Given India’s projected population growth, and the worldwide push for clean energy, it is clear that nuclear energy, with its low carbon content, and centralised land requirement, will form a key component of our energy mix. As a result, just last month, the government has tripled its target to 63,000 MW of nuclear energy by 2032, more than 14 times what is produced today.
The problem is also not about making special concessions to the United States. If it hadn’t been for the American administration led by President Bush, India would have had few options to build its nuclear energy programme, and access fuel and nuclear supplies from other countries. After the U.S. did the “heavy lifting” in getting India a legitimate place in the international nuclear regime, it would seem churlish to suggest that India should cut out U.S. businesses like GE and Westinghouse from the market simply because they demand more favourable terms than Russian or French ones do.