India on Monday signed a key safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow inspection of additional civilian reactors, clearing the decks for supply of atomic fuel and technology by the international community after a 34-year-old nuke trade embargo was lifted last year.
The pact between the government of India and the UN atomic watchdog for the 'Application of Safeguards to Civilian Nuclear Facilities' was inked in Vienna by IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei and Indian Amabassador Saurabh Kumar.
India currently applies inspection by the IAEA in six civilian nuclear reactors under safeguards agreements concluded between 1971 and 1994. In the future, additional reactors are expected to be brought under IAEA safeguards under the newly-signed agreement. "The safeguards agreement, which is the result of several rounds of consultations conducted between India and the IAEA since November 2007, was approved by the IAEA Board of Governors in August 2008," the IAEA said in a statement. The agreement will enter into force once it was ratified by India, it said
The India-specific safeguards agreement was approved by the 35-member IAEA Board on August 1 last year. With this, India can go ahead with its nuclear commerce with the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Also, those countries which have signed civil nuclear agreements with India can now proceed with their ratification process in their respective countries, Department of Atomic Energy sources said.
The agreement with the IAEA was a pre-condition for the implementation of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal and allows the 45-member NSG to supply material and technology for India's ambitious nuclear power programme. According to Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation, S K Jain, this is one step forward towards the agreed framework in implementing the deal on international nuclear commerce.
Jain said, "We are happy that we have achieved another milestone in the journey of nuclear power commerce. The ISSA will allow operationalisation of inter-governmental agreements with Russia, US and France. Now it has to get a cabinet nod and then go for ratification."
Atomic Energy Commission member M R Srinivasan said this was a "crucial step" as per the plan of action under the civil nuclear cooperation with the US. Importing of natural uranium immediately would be possible for fuel-starved nuclear indigenous reactors once it is ratified, he said. India has already signed a contract with the French power company AREVA for importing 300 tonnes of yellow cake (natural uranium).