New Delhi: India and Russia are discussing a deal that could help New Delhi skirt restrictions passed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that make it difficult for India to access sensitive nuclear technology, Russia’s ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin said on Wednesday. The NSG controls global nuclear commerce.

Deepening ties: A file photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (right) with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Singh will be visiting Russia next week. Photo: PIB

The proposed firm will enrich and reprocess spent nuclear fuel, collected from Indian nuclear power plants, for reuse, a Russian diplomat, who did not wish to be named, explained. A person close to the developments from the Indian side confirmed the deal has been on the table for almost a year.

If agreed to, the deal will help India get past the new NSG criteria passed in June this year that states that enrichment and reprocessing technology transfers will be allowed only to countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The new criteria directly hits the special exception granted to India by the group in 2008. India is not a signatory to the NPT and conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998.

“We should examine the proposals and see how best we can harmonize it with our (India-Russia) respective nuclear positions," C.U. Bhaskar, senior fellow with the National Maritime Foundation think tank, said about the Russian offer.

Russia is the only member of the NSG that “has proposed to India a way out which is a bilateral deal," Kadakin said. “This can be done on the territory of the Russian Federation."

“By this we shall comply with our obligations to our Indian friends and at the same time not violate any international law as regards non-proliferation," Kadakin said.

The new NSG guidelines directly hit the special exception granted to India by the group in 2008 that followed India promising to set up in India a dedicated facility—under international safeguards—to reprocess uranium procured from abroad for its nuclear power plants.

The NSG waiver allowed India, as an exception, to buy power plants, equipment and technology from the international market without acceding to pacts like the NPT.

Access to know-how for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and enriching fuel was implicit in this exemption that came after India agreed to put its civilian nuclear power plants under international safeguards. India had said it was concerned by the new rules and sought assurances from partners such as Russia, France and the US for the full implementation of the 2008 waiver.

On cooperation in civil nuclear energy, Kadakin said he hoped the nuclear liability law passed by the Indian Parliament last year would not impede India-Russia collaboration.

Russia is already constructing two 1,000 megawatts capacity power plants in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu and plans to add as many as six more units under the same project.

While the two units under construction are exempt from the provisions of the liability law as the agreement under which they are being constructed was signed in 1998, Kadakin said he hoped units three and four—the deal for which was signed recently— would also be exempt from the provisions of the law.

The liability Act passed by Parliament last year states that foreign suppliers of nuclear material to Indian nuclear power plants would not be held liable for accidents caused by defective or faulty equipment supplied by them if the accident takes place after a guarantee period specified by them. Suppliers of nuclear material would be allowed to specify a “product liability period" beyond which they would not be held liable for any accident.