India is pursuing a potentially lucrative partnership with Canada to sell nuclear reactors in new markets, The Canadian Press has learned.
India’s ambitious aspiration, if realized, would represent a dramatic new phase in a landmark agreement it signed last year with Canada on civilian nuclear co-operation.
The deal — announced last year in Toronto by prime ministers Stephen Harper and Manmohan Singh — will eventually clear the way for Canadian uranium to be exported to India once Parliament ratifies it, possibly this fall.
But India, which has insatiable energy needs of its own, is thinking well beyond its borders.
“We do think there is a good possibility for us to co-operate in third countries, which would be possible once all these things are sorted out,” Indian High Commissioner Shashishekhar Gavai said in a recent interview.
“We have developed our own technology over the years. We could bring your expertise and our expertise together, and go into third countries where they require reactors.”
A key technical aspect of the civil nuclear deal still has to be worked out before it is formally ratified by Canada. An independent monitoring system must be put in place that would prevent India from diverting the uranium to its nuclear weapons program.
Last year, Singh pledged that India would not exploit this new deal to repeat what it did in the early 1970s: use technology from a Candu reactor it purchased from Canada to develop a nuclear weapons program.
The duplicity chilled Indo-Canadian relations for decades, but Harper has said that dubious chapter had been consigned to history. The Conservative government is now pushing hard to boost trade with India as well as with its Asian neighbour, China. And India is actively pursuing joint ventures with Canada’s nuclear industry.
“There could be countries in Africa or elsewhere. This is something which needs to be explored. There is a feeling on both sides that this is very feasible, and it can be a mutually beneficial way of co-operating in the nuclear sphere,” said Gavai.
“There’s a lot of synergy; there has been research here and in India. The agreement provides for that kind of co-operation.”
The Canadian Nuclear Association views the nuclear co-operation agreement as a step toward removing trade barriers for Canadian companies trying break into the Indian market.
“India is one of the countries with the most ambitious plans for constructing new nuclear reactors. Dozens of reactors are contemplated, and these are at various stages of planning and construction,” said association spokeswoman Kathleen Olson.
“Indian officials and businesspeople have visited Canada in a search for partnerships. India has used Canadian and Canadian-derived reactor technologies in the past, and India’s electricity sector is familiar with the quality of this technology.”
The federal government privatized its nuclear reactor business last month when it sold troubled Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to SNC-Lavalin Group.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said at the time he hoped the deal would “revitalize” the Canadian nuclear industry.
AECL’s three main businesses — repair, reactor services and new builds — will be taken over by the new SNC subsidiary, CANDU Energy.
SNC has a huge international footprint. At the time of the deal, the company’s president, Patrick Lamarre, noted how foreign governments have been happy to work with SNC around the world.
Gavai had no comment on the AECL privatization. But he said India is anxious to get its hands on Canadian uranium because of its high concentration.
“It’s excellent; it’s the best in the world I would say.”
He suggested it is unlikely India would ever buy another Candu reactor from Canada, but that wouldn’t prevent the two countries from partnering elsewhere.
“We have our own technology. I don’t know if we are really looking at buying another reactor from Canada, but certainly we are looking forward to co-operation with Canada,” he said.
“Joint ventures, maybe we could work together on research … the agreement actually provides for all of that.”
Gavai said he was not discouraged by the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, which significantly damaged its nuclear facilities, raising international alarm bells about the safety of nuclear power.
“I think if adequate precautions are taken that is one of the cleanest sources of energy. Our view is we should put in all the safety requirements. For instance, looking at the seismic areas and those kinds of things,” he said.
“You can never provide 100 per cent security. That is not possible in any system. I think we are going to be developing nuclear power, but with adequate precautions.”
Gavai said free trade talks between India and Canada were progressing well, and a new round of negotiations will take place in New Delhi in the coming months, after recent talks in Ottawa.
Though it is unlikely that a free trade deal will be concluded this year, he said that is “no indication of reluctance or unwillingness on the part of the two countries.”
Both countries are firmly focused on their joint study that predicts a deal would boost each of their annual outputs by $6 billion.
Even without a deal, Gavai noted that trade between India and Canada rose by 31 per cent between January and April of this year over the same period in 2010.
“It’s not as if the absence of a deal is holding back trade.”