I recently served on the faculty of nuclear law course at TERI University in New Delhi, India. Among participants and speakers, there was sense that 2016 will be a watershed year for India’s civil nuclear power program, building on the developments of the past several years. 

Because India is not part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it was for many years excluded from international nuclear trade. However, since 2008, India has completed nuclear cooperation agreements with a dozen countries, including the U.S., France, United Kingdom, and, most recently, Japan, and has become more deeply involved in international bodies for nuclear trade. There is a growing expectation that the primarily indigenous Indian nuclear industry will soon import nuclear power technologies from a broader range of international suppliers.

India expects to complete the process of ratifying the Convention on Supplementary Compensation in the very near future. This will be the culmination of a multi-year effort to develop a workable framework for nuclear liability in India that began with the passage of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act in August 2010 through presentation of a legal position on nuclear liability in Frequently Asked Question document made public in 2015. The wrinkles caused by the right of recourse in the nuclear liability law appear to have been smoothed out to a large extent, though there is still hesitation in some quarters.

As a sign of the direction of India’s civilian nuclear program, India recently passed a law permitting certain Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) to participate in new nuclear projects. Previously, the projects had been run exclusively by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). The expectation is that participation by PSUs will inject fresh management into nuclear new build, provide opportunities for participation in nuclear project across a greater range of the economy, and provide a means to draw on the financial resources of commercial markets. It would also, it would seem, be a first (though small) step toward allowing private ownership and operation of civilian nuclear facilities. 

With these arrangements in place, the next phase of the evolution of India’s civilian nuclear power program is to ink contracts for new nuclear construction. If the goal of developing more than 40 GW of new nuclear capacity in the next 20 years is to be achieved, it will take a concerted effort across the Indian economy and international nuclear industry to meet this ambitious goal. But, the benefits of meeting India’s rapidly growing energy need with nuclear energy, rather than fossil fuels, suggest that India’s nuclear industry will be up to the task.