India asks for right to reprocess imported spent nuclear fuel

Mumbai: With the United States ratcheting up pressure on Delhi to retract its domestic civil nuclear liability laws and conform to standards as laid down in the Convention on Supplementary Compensation, India has opened up another front by asking for the right to reprocess imported nuclear fuel. India has a growing pile of spent fuel that it can neither reprocess nor re-export to countries from where it had originally imported it.

The demand to reprocess imported spent nuclear fuel has been expressed by the country's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). The remarks were made by SK Malhotra, head of public awareness, DAE.

Malhotra's remarks come even as Geoffrey Pyatt from the US department of state, said an unease prevails over the current playing field in the Indian nuclear energy sector. The international cartel of the Nuclear Suppliers Group has in recently amended conventions laid down that only those countries who are signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty are entitled to obtain enrichment and reprocessing technologies.

India has maintained a consistent stand that it will not sign the Treaty, which it regards as being discriminatory.

''Through engagement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), we believe concerns can be mitigated in a way that satisfies all of India's international partners. We welcome India's commitment to ratify the Convention on Supplemental Compensation later this year. We encourage India to engage with the IAEA to ensure that the liability regime that India adopts by law fully conforms with international requirements under the convention,'' said Pyatt, principal deputy assistant secretary, south and central Asian affairs bureau, US department of state.

Malhotra said there should also be a guarantee for lifetime fuel cycle. ''We have accumulated a large volume of spent fuel for Tarapur (TAPS 1 and 2). We're at a loss as to what to do with it. As per the agreement (40 years ago), we cannot reprocess it nor can we send it back to the country of origin (US). So, whatever reactor comes to India under civil nuclear commerce, we must have the right to reprocess spent fuel,'' Malhotra told the Indo-US nuclear energy summit on Friday.

''We have our own reprocessing technology (for indigenous plants). But when the question of reprocessing spent fuel from reactors using imported uranium arises, we can't reprocess it in our indigenous plants.''

He said once the right to reprocess imported spent fuel was established, India looked forward to putting up reprocessing plants to take care of spent fuel from imported reactors.