Nuclear Liability a powerful issue in India, as Obama visits

Obama Visit to Ignite India’s Nuclear Accident Liability Debate Bloomberg By Rajesh Kumar Singh, Archana Chaudhary and Unni Krishnan  Jan 23, 2015 It’s a $182 billion question for India with no easy answer.

That’s the estimated amount the country plans to spend on nuclear power plants to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to provide around-the-clock electricity, and end the nation’s blackout curse. With President Barack Obama set to visit India next week, officials and business leaders from both nations are meeting in London to discuss a legal obstacle that’s deterring new projects: Liability.

Most countries where nuclear-plant suppliers do business have enacted or subscribed to laws that protect the vendors from liability claims in the event of a nuclear accident. India is different and one reason is the world’s worst industrial accident. In December 1984, more than 10,000 people were killed or injured by a toxic gas leak from the Union Carbide Corp. fertilizer plant in Bhopal.

Bhopal was more than 30 years ago, but it will overshadow nuclear talks between Obama and Modi during the U.S. President’s state visit starting Jan. 25.

India’s nuclear liability law, which was enacted in 2010 includes a means to sue equipment vendors in the case of an accident. The U.S. wants the law changed and the issue will feature in meetings between Obama and Modi, said two Indian government officials familiar with the plans, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t designated spokesmen.

A Deterrent’

“Liability law has been a deterrent,” Chris Gadomski, a nuclear-power analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in a telephone interview. Companies that supply components for reactors could be on the hook for damages from an accident even though they have no control over the quality of plant construction. “I wouldn’t invest in, or build, a nuclear power plant with the existing law on the books.”………..

“It’s anti-democratic and anti-national to dilute this law,” said G. Sundarrajan, a former software engineer-turned-anti-nuclear activist in the southern city of Chennai. “If the government waters down this law, there is no reason why citizens can’t file a case of sedition against the government.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Indranil Ghosh in New Delhi at ighosh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Hobbs at ahobbs4@bloomberg.netIndranil Ghosh, Will Wade http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-22/obama-visit-to-ignite-india-s-nuclear-accident-liability-debate.html

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