Trump expected to fix elusive Westinghouse-NPCI deal
21 February 2020
US President Donald Trump has made greater market access for US products in India, ranging from nuclear reactors to motorcycles and farm goods, is expected to kick-start the long-pending civil nuclear cooperation projects during his visit to India.
While Trump said he will reserve a bigger trade deal with India for the future, the US President has made market access a top priority in bilateral trade. While negotiators are trying to put together a limited trade deal before a bigger agreement, Trump said a trade deal will probably happen after the US presidential elections.
The US President, who himself is a businessman, will seek timelines for the supply of Westinghouse reactors while also addressing concerns raised by India’s nuclear liability law.
Westinghouse is expected to sign a new agreement with state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NCPI) for supply of six nuclear reactors, in what would be a fresh lease of life for the ailing US energy company.
The United States has been discussing the sale of nuclear reactors to India ever since the 2008 landmark civil nuclear energy pact that opened up the market for nuclear power reactors in India.
While the Indian law requires equipment suppliers to be liable to bear the cost in case of an accident, the United States has been insisting that such costs should be borne by the operator rather than the maker of a nuclear power station.
Also, there were concerns after Westinghouse’s plans to supply the AP1000 reactors to India at a time when it filed for bankruptcy in 2017 after cost overruns on US reactors.
Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management bought bankrupt Westinghouse from Toshiba in August 2018.
The United States now wants an agreement between Westinghouse and the lead Indian contractor laying out timelines and the and also addressing irritant clauses in India’s nuclear liability law.
Representatives from US energy and commerce departments, Westinghouse, the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum and The Nuclear Energy Institute were in India last week for talks with government officials to iron out differences over liability clause in order to promote nuclear exports to India.
India, however, has been firm on its stand on the 2010 Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage law that foreign governments and vendors see as a hindrance for suppliers by leaving open the possibility of lawsuits in case of nuclear accidents.
The Indian government has tried to limit the impact of the law by setting up an insurance fund for potential victims of a nuclear accident. But that, according to US government officials, still leaves issues around the liability open.