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CRS: U.S. Nuclear Cooperation with India: Issues for Congress

Author: Paul Kerr
November 5, 2009

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Paul K. Kerr explains in this Congressional Research Service Report how several steps impede U.S.-India nuclear trade, including U.S. firm reluctance and India's adherence to IAEA safeguards.

India, which has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and does not have International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on all nuclear material in peaceful nuclear activities, exploded a "peaceful" nuclear device in 1974, convincing the world of the need for greater restrictions on nuclear trade. The United States created the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as a direct response to India's test, halted nuclear exports to India a few years later, and worked to convince other states to do the same. India tested nuclear weapons again in 1998. However, President Bush announced July 18, 2005, he would "work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India" and would "also seek agreement from Congress to adjust U.S. laws and policies," in the context of a broader, global partnership with India.

U.S. nuclear cooperation is governed by the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). P.L. 109-401, which President Bush signed into law on December 18, 2006, provides waivers of several provisions of the AEA (Sections 123 a. (2), 128, and 129). It requires that several steps occur before nuclear cooperation can proceed. On September 10, 2008, President Bush submitted to Congress a written determination that these requirements had been met. That same day, the President submitted the text of the proposed agreement, which had not yet been signed. The President also submitted a written determination (also required by the AEA) "that the performance of the proposed agreement will promote and will not constitute an unreasonable risk to, the common defense and security." In addition, President Bush submitted several documents, including classified and unclassified versions of a Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement, which is required by section 123 of the AEA. The Department of State also submitted a report required by P.L. 109-401 on various aspects of the agreement.

On September 27, 2008, the House passed H.R. 7081, which approved the agreement. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved identical legislation, S. 3548, September 23. The Senate passed H.R. 7081 October 1. President Bush signed P.L. 110-369 into law October 8. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and India's External Affairs Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee signed the agreement October 10, and it entered into force December 6, 2008.

However, several steps remain before U.S. companies can start nuclear trade with India. For example, P.L. 110-369 requires that, before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can issue licenses for U.S. nuclear exports to India, the President must determine and certify to Congress that New Delhi's IAEA safeguards agreement has entered into force and that India's declaration of its nuclear facilities to the agency "is not materially inconsistent with the facilities and schedule" described in a separation plan that New Delhi provided to Washington. India's safeguards agreement entered into force in May 2009, and New Delhi has filed the declaration with the IAEA. The President, however, has not submitted the required certifications to Congress.

Furthermore, U.S. firms will likely be very reluctant to engage in nuclear trade with India if the government does not become party to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, which has not yet entered into force. India also is reportedly insisting that New Delhi and Washington conclude an agreement on a reprocessing facility in India before New Delhi signs contracts with U.S. nuclear firms.

This report will be updated as necessary.

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