New Delhi: Capping years of negotiations, India and Japan on Friday signed a bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation agreement seen as crucial for energy-starved India to access sensitive technologies to generate clean electricity.

The pact is a major achievement for India as it is Japan’s first civilian nuclear cooperation pact with a country that has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It was inked in Tokyo in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese host Shinzo Abe. Modi is on a three-day visit to Japan for the annual summit between the two prime ministers.

That it was signed with Abe at the helm of affairs in Japan is also key, given that he has been keen to forge close links with India to counter the rise of China. Ties between India and Japan have warmed considerably since Abe returned to office in 2012.

The deal has been many years in the making because India was reluctant to limit its option to carry out more atomic weapons’ tests—in addition to the ones carried out in 1998—in case the need arose. And Japan—being the only country in the world to have suffered the impact of nuclear weapons being dropped on it—was uncomfortable with India having a nuclear weapons programme outside the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

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“A landmark deal for a cleaner, greener world! PM @narendramodi and PM @AbeShinzo witness exchange of the landmark Civil Nuclear Agreement," said Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup in a Twitter post.

Modi later described the signing of the pact as “a historic step".

The ‘Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy’ pact provides for “the development of nuclear power projects in India and thus strengthening of energy security of the country," an Indian foreign ministry statement said. “The present agreement would open up the door for collaboration between Indian and Japanese industries in our Civil Nuclear programme," it said.

Former joint secretary (disarmament) and ex-Indian ambassador to France Rakesh Sood said the pact “enables us to obtain high-quality components for nuclear reactors, especially ones that we are negotiating for with Westinghouse (Electric Co.) and (French) Areva SA."

Westinghouse Electric Company is a subsidiary of Japan’s Toshiba Corp. Areva, too, accesses key reactor components from Japanese firms.

India signed a landmark nuclear deal with the US in 2008, clearing the path for the country to source nuclear power plants and technology from international markets. But with Japanese companies in possession of critical technologies, such as steel shields covering a nuclear reactor core, an accord with Japan was pivotal for India.

During the last prime ministerial summit in New Delhi in December, India and Japan announced that they had reached a basic agreement on the pact.

India currently has 5.7 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power generation capacity. This accounts for 2% of the total power capacity, but this is expected to change with a sharp increase in power generation from atomic plants over the next 16 years as Asia’s third largest economy moves away from fossil fuels for its energy needs.

India’s Department of Atomic Energy’s target is to have 63GW of nuclear power capacity by 2032.

Among the other agreements signed was one to skill “30,000 Indian youth in the Japanese styled manufacturing in the next 10 years", a government statement said.

“This would be achieved through the programmes of Japan-India Institute for Manufacturing (JIM) and the Japanese Endowed Courses (JEC) in select Engineering colleges," it said.

Pacts on cooperation in space, earth sciences, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, transport and urban development and sports were the others signed.

Earlier in the day, in a meeting with Japanese business leaders, Modi said his government was pursuing a new direction of economic reforms. He said his government was resolved to make India the most open economy in the world.

Modi started his schedule on Friday with an audience with Japanese emperor Akihito.

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