Westinghouse Officially Bankrupt. What Now For Andhra's 6 Nuclear Reactors?

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Westinghouse Officially Bankrupt. What Now For Andhra's 6 Nuclear Reactors?

India US Nuclear Deal: Westinghouse was building six reactors in Andhra Pradesh. (Representational)

New Delhi: 

Highlights

  1. Westinghouse was meant to build 6 nuclear reactors in Srikakulam
  2. The company filed for bankruptcy this morning
  3. Westinghouse's delivery model for India unchanged: US Embassy
As Westinghouse Electric filed for bankruptcy this morning, with $9.8 billion in liabilities, the United States reassured India that it will not default on its commitment to building six nuclear reactors in Andhra Pradesh, though it's not clear if the original deadline of June for finalising the multi-billion dollar deal will be met.

A US embassy spokesperson told NDTV, "We understand that Westinghouse continues to stand behind the delivery model that it presented in its Technical Commercial Offer to India, and looks forward to progress on an agreement in 2017." The spokesperson reaffirmed Washington's "commitment to civil nuclear cooperation with India."

Indian officials told NDTV, "We are monitoring all developments and engaged with all parties. Our intent is to stick to the deadline."

More than two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama set the parameters to implement a historic nuclear cooperation deal signed between India and the US in 2008. Both sides agreed to work on "finalising contractual arrangements by June 2017" for six nuclear reactors, to be built by Westinghouse and the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) over 2,000 acres in the eastern coastal district of Srikakulam.

What PM Modi and President Obama laid out ended the uncertainty over two important aspects - inspections and liability for a nuclear accident. India agreed to tighter checks by the International Atomic Energy Agency and in return, the US dropped its insistence on tracking fuel consignments.

On liability in case of an accident at a nuclear power plant, India, seared by the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, made it clear that a plant operator will be responsible for costs and compensation, but will have secondary recourse against a supplier or equipment provider. A state-backed insurance pool to cover liability upto Rs. 1,500 crore would be created by India. Any recourse sought by the operator against a supplier could not exceed this figure.

The India-US deal was meant to generate nuclear commerce worth billions of dollars while allowing Delhi access to nuclear technology and fuel without giving up its weapons programme. India wants to triple its nuclear capacity by 2024 to wean Asia's third-largest economy off polluting fossil fuels like coal.

News agency Reuters reported weeks ago that its financial crisis meant that Westinghouse was likely to only provide reactors for the six units to be built in Andhra Pradesh. It would not carry out civil engineering work to build the entire project - an approach that led to cost overruns at its projects in the United States.

Westinghouse CEO Jose Gutierrez flew to India earlier this month for talks with (NPCIL) and the Department of Atomic Energy that reports to PM Modi, said Reuters. Indian engineering group Larsen & Toubro, a potential partner that has signed a memorandum of understanding with Westinghouse to supply nuclear plant elements and do civil works, still views the India project as viable.

"As long as the guarantees are in place, I see no reason why this won't go ahead," Shailendra Roy, head of L&T's power business, told Reuters, without elaborating on the nature of any such guarantees.

Westinghouse advertises its AP1000 pressurized water reactor, with a generation capacity of 1,110 megawatts, as "the safest and most economical nuclear power plant available". Critical to managing costs is ensuring that any overruns on the construction side of the project would be borne by contractors and not Westinghouse, as is the norm in India, a source explained to Reuters.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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