New Delhi: The US may have used its considerable diplomatic clout to gain India entry into the nuclear club and France may have signed a deal regarding the sale of nuclear reactors to the country, but Russia will be the first to sell four reactors to India after the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) cleared nuclear commerce with India two months ago.
India and Russia will sign an agreement to this effect on Friday, during the three-day visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, his first to India since taking over as President in March.
The four reactors, each with a capacity to generate 1,000MW, will be constructed at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu, where Russia is already constructing two reactors, each of 1,000MW capacity, for a power plant.
India has also agreed to identify another location for a nuclear power plant that will be built by Russia, a government official, who did not want to be identified, said.
The agreement between Russia and India to this effect has been ready for a year, but it couldn’t be signed and ratified because India is yet to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which allows the transfer of sensitive civilian nuclear technology.
To be sure, India is yet to sign the treaty, but the waiver by the 45-member NSG, which controls the export and transfer of nuclear material and technology, has now made it possible for the two countries to sign the nuclear deal.
Russia is a member of NSG and while the US lobbied for a waiver for India, it will be Russia that reaps the first commercial benefits of this waiver.
Medvedev’s visit to India is part of a process of annual summits between India and Russia put in place some years ago, not only to promote the relationship between the two countries, but also to sort out several disputes relating to defence, trade and economy.
For instance, on the eve of Medvedev’s visit, Russia agreed that the dispute between Russian company Technoprom Exports and NTPC Ltd over the supply of boilers would be sorted out through a process of adjudication.
India briefed Russia’s deputy prime minister Alexander Zhukov on the adjudicator’s report, which was submitted on Monday and which states that the two sides should resolve the matter together. Zhukov agreed that the Russian company would adhere to the Indian adjudicator’s advice, the government official added.
Zhukov was in New Delhi to participate in the 14th session of the India-Russia inter-governmental commission, which is co-chaired by him and India’s foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The government official clarified that there was “no linkage” between the resolution of the Technoprom-NTPC dispute and India’s interest in buying a 20% stake in the enormous Sakhalin-3 gas field in Russia. A top petroleum ministry official had previously told Mint that such a linkage had indeed been made when petroleum minister Murli Deora met Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, according to a 24 November Mint report.
However, the government official admitted that Deora and Putin had discussed both Sakhalin-3 and Technoprom during their meeting.
Two other officials, one in the ministry of external affairs and another in the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, separately said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would speak about India’s interest in Sakhalin-3 when he meets Medvedev, but were not hopeful of Russia’s willingness to cut a deal.
“Any such potential deal on Sakhalin-3 will be determined by commercial, not strategic, considerations,” the officials said.
India and Russia will also discuss the modernization of the Bhilai Steel Plant, built in the 1950s with the assistance of the erstwhile Soviet Union, but again, commerce, not strategic interest, will define the negotiations, the external affairs ministry official said.
He agreed that the Russian side had quoted the lowest price for the modernization, but that the amount was still three times what Steel Authority of India Ltd had estimated. He declined details of the exact amount quoted.
This official added that India was willing to renegotiate the price of Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. India has been keen to buy this from Russia, which recently upped its asking price, and last week, India’s cabinet allowed the government to go ahead and “renegotiate”.
Defence secretary Vijay Singh is expected to travel to Moscow in January to finalize the renegotiated price. The same official said India was ready to pay around $2 billion (nearly Rs10,000 crore) for the aircraft-carrier, which was “still cheap” at the price
“The ones that we have been offered by the West are double this amount.”