India-France nuclear relations have been growing stronger over the years. The two countries have had a long-standing partnership in the field of nuclear energy, which has been strengthened by several agreements and collaborations. The foundation of the India-France nuclear partnership was laid in 2008, when the two countries signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. The India-France Civil Nuclear Agreement, signed in 2008, is a landmark agreement between the two countries that marked the beginning of a new phase in their nuclear cooperation. The agreement was signed during the visit of then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy to India. Under the agreement, France agreed to supply nuclear fuel, reactors, and other related equipment to India for civil use. This agreement also facilitated French companies’ participation in India’s nuclear power programme.
The agreement was significant for India as it ended India’s isolation from the international nuclear market after nearly three decades. It also opened up opportunities for India to access nuclear technology and equipment from France, which is a leading supplier of civilian nuclear power technology in the world. The agreement also emphasised the importance of safety and security in the use of nuclear energy. Both India and France agreed to cooperate in the areas of nuclear safety, radiation protection, and the prevention of nuclear material trafficking.
In 2018, during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to India, the two countries signed several agreements, including a pact on the development of six nuclear reactors at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. With a net capacity of 7,965 MW, Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant now holds the distinction of being the largest nuclear power plant in the world. The Jaitapur Nuclear Agreement is expected to be the largest nuclear power project in the world, with a capacity of 9.6 MW.
Nuclear liability is a complex issue that has been a topic of discussion in India-France nuclear relations. India has its own Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, which was passed in 2010. This law holds nuclear plant operators, equipment suppliers, and government agencies liable for any nuclear accident or damage that may occur. France, on the other hand, has a different approach to nuclear liability. It has its own nuclear liability law, which is based on the Paris and Vienna Conventions. Under this law, the operator of a nuclear plant is primarily liable in the event of a nuclear accident, and the government provides financial assistance to the operator. The difference in approaches to nuclear liability has been a point of contention between India and France. However, the two countries have been working towards finding common ground on this issue. In 2018, during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to India, the two countries signed an agreement to facilitate the implementation of the Jaitapur nuclear power project, which includes a section on nuclear liability.
GOI’s liability issue
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy was one of the worst industrial disasters in history, and the liability issues related to it have been the subject of much debate and discussion. In 1984, a gas leak from a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) in Bhopal, India, resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and left many more with lifelong injuries. The tragedy raised several questions about corporate responsibility and liability. After the disaster, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), the parent company of UCIL, agreed to pay $470 million as compensation to the victims and their families. However, this amount was widely criticised as inadequate, and the Indian government continued to demand a higher compensation amount. In 2010, eight Indian nationals filed a lawsuit against UCC and its former CEO, Warren Anderson, in a US court, seeking compensation for the damages caused by the disaster. However, the lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that UCC had already settled the claims related to the disaster with the Indian government. The issue of liability in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy remains a contentious one, with many activists and victims’ groups arguing that the compensation paid was inadequate and that the companies involved should have taken more responsibility for the disaster.
Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act
In India, the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (CLNDA) of 2010 established a framework for liability and compensation in the case of a nuclear accident. However, this law has been a cause of concern for foreign nuclear companies, including those from France, as it imposes unlimited liability on the operator in the event of a nuclear accident.
This unlimited liability clause has been a major issue for foreign nuclear companies, as it could potentially expose them to huge financial risks. This has made it difficult for them to enter into long-term agreements with the Indian government for the supply of nuclear equipment and technology.
In addition to this, the issue of liability has also been a cause of concern for the Indian government, as it wants to ensure that the interests of the victims of a nuclear accident are protected. The government has been working to address this issue by introducing amendments to the CLNDA that aim to provide greater clarity on the issue of liability and compensation.
Despite these challenges, the India-France nuclear partnership has continued to grow, with both countries working together to find a mutually acceptable solution to the issue of civil nuclear liability. The two countries have been in dialogue to address the concerns of foreign nuclear companies and ensure that the interests of the victims are protected.
If the Government of India doesn’t mandate and standardise the issue of liability, soon, and in the interim, if a nuclear disaster occurs even after all the precautions, who will be held responsible? Learning from the past, India implanted the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill in 2010. Civil nuclear liability has been a significant hurdle in India-France nuclear relations.
To resolve this issue, India and France have been engaging in dialogue and negotiations to find a way forward. One possible solution that has been proposed is the creation of a nuclear insurance pool, which would provide insurance coverage to nuclear power operators and suppliers in the event of a nuclear accident.
Another solution that has been proposed is the creation of a separate liability regime for nuclear suppliers, which would provide them with greater protection against liability claims. But that seems very unlikely in light of the events of the Bhopal gas tragedy.
The Nuclear Insurance Pool (NIP) is a specialised insurance scheme that provides coverage for nuclear risks. In India, the Nuclear Insurance Pool was established in 2015 to provide insurance cover to nuclear power plants and related facilities in the country.
The NIP is a joint initiative of the Indian government and the insurance industry, and it is managed by the state-owned General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC Re). The pool provides coverage for both property damage and third-party liability arising from a nuclear incident.
The pool operates on a no-fault liability principle, which means that compensation is provided to victims of a nuclear incident irrespective of who is at fault. The compensation is paid from a fund created by contributions from the nuclear operators, which are required to purchase insurance coverage from the pool.
The establishment of the NIP has been a significant step towards ensuring the safety and security of nuclear power plants in India. It provides comprehensive insurance coverage for nuclear risks, which is essential for the growth of the nuclear power sector in the country and may turn out to be a possible solution.