Parliamentary panel to suggest tougher nuclear liability bill

Parliamentary panel to suggest tougher nuclear liability bill

New Delhi: An Indian parliamentary panel will on Wednesday recommend changes to a bill aimed at opening up a $150 billion nuclear power market, including more compensation for accidents and extending liability to private suppliers.

The panel will recommend the liability cap be trebled to $320 million, a member of the panel who asked not to be named, said.

The recommendations, largely backed by opposition parties, will mean higher costs for firms such as US-based General Electric and Westinghouse Electric, a subsidiary of Japan’s Toshiba Corp, which would have to pay higher insurance premiums.

“The operator will also sign a contract which will hold suppliers liable if any accident is caused by defective equipment," the member said on condition of anonymity as the report has to be presented to parliament first.

The original draft law had capped liability at about $110 million for the state-run reactor operator without placing any compensation burden on private suppliers and contractors.

State compensation was capped at up to 300 million special drawing rights. Opposition leaders, who had slammed the bill and demanded changes, say the liability of a US operator under US legislation is $12.5 billion.

The bill was introduced in parliament earlier in the year, but opposition protests forced the government to refer it to the panel, composed of members from several parties, for scrutiny.

“We have addressed the concerns of the (main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party) BJP and more or less of the left parties. This report has been more or less unanimously approved," said Congress’ T. Subbarami Reddy, who chaired the panel.

Communist party members of the panel will submit a note of dissent on the report, as they want no liability caps, but the BJP has said it is willing to support the rewritten bill.

“The government has addressed our concerns on the bill and we have decided to support it," SS Ahluwalia, a BJP member on the panel, said.

The bill has the personal backing of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whose 2008 deal with former US president George Bush ended India’s isolation in the global nuclear market.

The government is keen on ratifying the bill and smoothing entry for global firms, including those from the United States, before President Barack Obama’s planned November visit to India.

French and Russian firms, whose governments underwrite their liability, are already working on setting up reactors in India.