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New Government Could Mean New Nuclear for India

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

The election of a new government in India could be a big opportunity for the nuclear energy industry, according to Nicholas Burns, a former Bush administration Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.

Burns, who is now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, made the comments on May 21 at the Nuclear Energy Assembly in Scottsdale, Arizona. Canadian Nuclear Association President John Barrett and CNA policy director John Stewart were in attendance at the conference.

In May, Narendra Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won a decisive victory in India’s national elections.

According to Burns, energy is a persistent major problem in India and Modi understands the importance of both energy and infrastructure to drive economic growth.

India’s new government will also have to take a long, serious look at nuclear and modify its stringent nuclear liability law which is blocking investment in the sector, Burns said.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz had lobbied the previous government to align India’s liability law with international convention.

Burns is optimistic even though some energy analysts in India believe Modi may delay the previous government’s plan to build 20 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2020.

“Nuclear projects are not likely to be on the radar of the Modi government, at least for the next two years,” PricewaterhouseCoopers India’s executive director energy utilities Sambitosh Mohapatra told Press Trust of India.

“It will first focus on increasing coal production, allocation and pricing, apart from clearing the balance sheets of distribution companies.”

Canada currently has a presence in India’s nuclear industry, with six CANDU reactors in operation there.

Burns, who described himself as an unabashed supporter of civil nuclear energy, also said the outlook for nuclear energy in Europe has improved due to the Ukraine crisis and also by the urgency of the European Union’s climate change mitigation efforts.