Nuclear nod makes India a major world player

NEW DELHI, INDIA - The decision by nuclear supplier nations to end a decades-old ban on civilian nuclear trade with India has vaulted it into the ranks of the world's major global political powers, a key minister says.

Ten days ago, the United States finally won approval in Vienna for the one-off waiver for India to take part in civilian atomic trade, a vital step to final approval by the U.S. Congress of a nuclear pact between the two countries.

The decision marked "India's arrival on the scene as a pre-eminent country in terms of technological, economic and strategic importance in a globalised world," Minister of State for Industry and Commerce Ashwani Kumar told AFP in an interview.

The move by the Nuclear Suppliers' Group helps position "India strategically at the high table of global politics," Kumar added.

As for global nuclear energy companies, the decision opens the door to an atomic reactor market worth tens of billions of dollars.

A host of companies - from France's state-controlled Areva, Westinghouse Electric Co and General Electric of the U.S. to Russia's atomic energy agency Rosatom - have been jockeying for a slice of India's lucrative civilian nuclear technology market.

India and France, linked since 1998 by a "strategic partnership", could sign a major nuclear trade pact at the end of this month but only once the landmark India-U.S. nuclear deal has been ratified by Congress, Kumar said.

The U.S. Congress said it would examine the 2005 agreement with India sent for approval by the White House.

Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joseph Biden, who heads the Senate foreign relations committee, said the panel "will act promptly to review the agreement in a hearing."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to hold bilateral talks with French officials in Paris on September 29.

According to Kumar, the nuclear agreement has already been drawn up and the documents are ready for signatures.

"When it comes to bilateral agreement, I see no difficulty," he said.

"We hope it should be possible by the end of this month."

The details of the accord are believed to have been finalized in January when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited India.

Kumar highlighted the potential for "large-scale" cooperation with France in the field of nuclear civilian energy and said French companies like Areva were already in touch with Indian partners.

"Areva is in serious negotiations," the minister said.

India, where many areas endure regular blackouts, has been denied access to civilian nuclear technology since it tested an atomic weapon in 1974 and refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Kumar said the NSG waiver would benefit energy-hungry India as it seeks ways to broaden its fuel sources to feed its fast-growing economy and meet the challenges of global warming.

"This agreement will certainly further reinforce India's technological abilities and will tell the world it has unlimited possibilities to offer for a mutually beneficial economic partnership," he said.

"As a country of 1.1 billion people with an (annual average) growth rate of 8.5 percent there is no way its economic potential can be missed by any country," Kumar added.

"In this Asian century, this decade is for India."


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