NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Canadian firms will be able to export uranium and nuclear reactors to India for the first time in almost four decades under an agreement between the two nations, their prime ministers said, but more work is needed to implement the deal.
Once implemented, the agreement will end a ban on nuclear cooperation Canada imposed in 1976 after India secretly exploded its first nuclear bomb in 1974, commonly called the “Smiling Buddha”, using material from a Canadian-built reactor in India.
“Being able to resolve these issues and move forward is, we believe, a really important economic opportunity for an important Canadian industry, part of the energy industry, that should pay dividends in terms of jobs and growth for Canadians down the road,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Tuesday on a visit to New Delhi.
A negotiator with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks, said that what remained was a careful legal review of the language; translation into French and Hindi; and then a signing.
This is not expected to take very long, he said. The two sides have set up a joint committee to liaise on nuclear issues, but he said it would not be negotiating.
India aims to lift its nuclear capacity to 63,000 MW in the next 20 years by adding nearly 30 reactors. The country currently operates 20 mostly small reactors at six sites with a capacity of 4,780 MW, or 2 percent of its total power capacity, according to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited.
Canada’s ambassador to India, Stewart Beck, said on Monday his country wanted to be able to track all nuclear material, but that India felt it only needed to report to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
It was not clear who made concessions in the talks and how effective the safeguards would be to ensure that Canadian material did not get used again for making nuclear weapons.
However, the CNSC official said India would now be required to notify Canada of any transfers to a third country and trade could only go to facilities that are safeguarded by the IAEA.
Harper said the CNSC had worked to “achieve all of our objectives in terms of non-proliferation”.
Canada is in a race against Australia, its strategic ally but a commercial rival in the uranium business. Australia is also trying to nail down safeguards under which it too could sell uranium to India.
“We are effectively ahead of the Australians,” the CNSC official said, noting however that Russia and Kazakhstan were already supplying into India.
Opening up the Indian market would be a big help to Canada’s Cameco Corp, which is the world’s largest publicly traded uranium producer but which recently cut its long-term output targets due to the Fukushima disaster.
“Anytime we can reduce the roadblocks to selling our product around the world is always helpful,” Cameco chief executive Tim Gitzel told Reuters in Canada. “It opens a new market for us with the appropriate safeguards in place. So this is good news.”
Another potential beneficiary is Canadian engineering firm SNC Lavalin Group Inc, which bought the government’s commercial nuclear division, which designed the Candu reactor that is in use in numerous countries.
“As far as the sales of reactors goes, we would normally now request that Canada be accorded the same treatment as the Russians, the French and the Americans and that a site be designated in India for the implementation of at least a twin- unit Candu nuclear power station,” SNC Lavalin International President Ronald Denom, part of Harper’s delegation in India, told Reuters.
He also said it should open up the market to service the existing reactors in India.
Harper also said Canada welcomed foreign investment, after the country temporarily blocked Malaysian state oil firm Petronas’ C$5.17 billion ($5.19 billion) bid for gas producer Progress Energy Resources on October 20.
Late on Friday, Canada extended to December 10 its review of a $15.1 billion bid made in July by China’s CNOOC Ltd for Canadian energy producer Nexen Inc.
“Those decisions have to be taken looking at the global evolving economy in which we operate,” Harper said.
Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Toronto; Additional writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Michael Roddy