Modi's Japan Nuclear Deal May Need More Than Just Abe Visit

  • Modi seeking technology, funding cooperation between nations
  • Japan hesitant as India hasn't signed non-proliferation treaty

It may take a few more meetings between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and India’s Narendra Modi before the two countries seal a civil nuclear agreement.

Modi will use Abe’s visit next week to lobby Japan to join the list of countries India can rely on for nuclear technology or fuel to help bring reliable and clean power to the country’s 1.3 billion people. Japan, the only country to suffer nuclear attacks, has refrained from a deal as India is yet to join the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“Prime Minister Abe’s visit will speed up the talks and I hope the deal can be signed when the two heads of state meet the next time,” Sekhar Basu, secretary at the Department of Atomic Energy, said in an interview in New Delhi. “We’re making very good progress, but I don’t think we are in a position to sign a deal during this meeting,” which starts Dec. 11.

Any bilateral agreement would be the responsibility of India’s external affairs ministry, Basu said.

India emerged from nuclear exile following an agreement with the U.S. in 2008, leading to the Nuclear Suppliers Group to lift a three-decade ban on sharing technology and fuel, including uranium supplies. The group, charged with reducing proliferation by controlling the transfer of materials used to develop an atomic weapon, was formed in 1974, the year of India’s first nuclear test. India has also signed civil nuclear accords with countries including the U.K., France, Australia and Canada.

Climate Goals

Modi is seeking to expand the country’s use of nuclear, as well as renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and hydropower, to meet its climate goals, part of its commitments at the United Nations global-warming talks in Paris. The prime minister said this week that developed countries must take the lead in fighting climate change, calling for “aggressive mitigation actions” before 2020.

“Japan can provide certain niche technologies, considerable experience in nuclear safety and funding for India’s civil nuclear program,” C. Uday Bhaskar, Director at New Delhi-based Society for Policy Studies said by phone. “India has gone out of its way to convince Japan that whatever anxieties it has are unfounded.”

Financing, Steel

A deal with Japan would strengthen ties to U.S. reactor suppliers Westinghouse Electric Co., controlled by Toshiba Corp., and General Electric Co., which has a venture with Hitachi Ltd. It’ll also help India access cheaper financing and specialized steel from Japan used for nuclear projects, Basu said.

“The two governments are currently negotiating a nuclear treaty,” Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, told reporters in Tokyo on Dec. 1. “India has not signed the NPT and the government is aware of various arguments concerning nuclear cooperation with India.”

Even if it signs a deal with Japan, India’s efforts to raise nuclear capacity are challenged by laws that leave equipment makers, in addition to the plant operators, liable for accidents. Foreign and local suppliers including General Electric Co. have opposed the rules.

India is on track to expand its nuclear generation capacity to 10 gigawatts by 2019 from 5.8 gigawatts this year. Meeting its goal of 63 gigawatts by 2032 requires imported fuel supplies and reactor designs.

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