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US firms crave India's huge nuclear energy biz

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July 19, 2006 12:41 IST

India's civil nuclear energy sector is on the radar of US corporates and lobbyists alike. With business worth billions of dollars to be gained from India, American groups are working overtime to facilitate the United States' participation in the Asian powerhouse's nuclear sector, says a Washington Post report.

And this is where lobbyists like Graham Wisner come into the picture. Wisner, whose brother Frank has been the US Ambassador to India, is a lawyer and lobbyist at the Washington-based Patton Boggs LLP. And he is pushing for the passage of a Bill that would allow nuclear energy cooperation between India and the US.

The Washington Post said that Wisner's 'efforts and those of Indian American groups, leading US companies and other lobbyists paid off last month, as foreign relations committees in both the House and Senate approved by wide bipartisan margins the gist of a deal struck last July by the Bush administration.'

Analysts believe that the sealing of that deal can lead to the removal of all hindrances to American involvement in India's civilian nuclear energy sector and doing away with the sanctions that were brought to bear ever since India tested its first atomic bomb in 1974 in Pokhran.

Deputy Chairman of India's Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, had said during his visit to the US in April that India "ought to be targetting something of the order of $200 billion" in infrastructure spending over the next five years.

And American businessmen and companies feel that if the current Bill, for which Wisner is garnering support, is cleared by the US Senate, US Inc will be able to grab a major chunk of the $200 billion business, the Washington Post reported.

However, there are people in the US who believe that if the Bill is cleared and US companies allowed to sell nuclear equipment to India with the lifting of the ban, then there are chances that this equipment could find its way into the Indian nuclear weapons programme. However, with India's prestige at stake on this issue, this may not happen, feel the lobbyists, reported the Washington Post.

The newspaper said that a few American firms stand to benefit directly from the Indo-US pact on civilian nuclear energy, as only four companies worldwide make the sensitive components of nuclear power plants. These, the Washington Post said, are France's state-controlled Areva; Toshiba Corp, which is buying Westinghouse's nuclear unit from British Nuclear Fuels PLC; Russia's newly consolidated Atomprom; and the US's General Electric Co.

Corporate America now fears that with the French and Russian firms already in talks with India to build its proposed eight new N-power plants, US business may lose out on the deal if the restrictions are not lifted.

However, lobbyists -- like Wisner -- who are working behind the scenes to get the restrictions lifted also say that the US companies might not have much to fear as the recent developments in the Indo-US ties will help US business in the long run.

With India's economy booming, it offers a gigantic opportunity for US business participation, especially in the nation's aviation, infrastructure, power, retail, banking and other sectors, the Washington Post said.