U.S. firms "restless" over India nuclear deal delays

NEW DELHI Fri Feb 13, 2009 11:53am GMT

NEW DELHI Feb 13 (Reuters) - U.S. firms are getting "very restless" over procedural delays in implementing a civilian nuclear deal with India when the United States is gripped by a severe economic crisis, the American ambassador to India said on Friday.

Last year's multi-billion dollar deal has got bogged down by issues such as accident liability protection for U.S. companies which have lobbied hard for a slice of India's lucrative nuclear market.

Former U.S. President George Bush signed the agreement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the face of domestic critics who said it violated the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The deal, which will give India access to high-end technology and nuclear fuel for its reactors, brought India out of 30 years of nuclear isolation.

But the Indian government has so far only allocated sites for the construction of nuclear installations to France and Russia.

Both those governments shield their companies from liability for an industrial accident, unlike the United States, and American companies want New Delhi to help lift the burden.

"Two other countries have already been given sites and the American industry is getting very restless about the delay because they're anxious to get going," Ambassador David Mulford said at a conference in New Delhi.

Mulford made the case for a speedy implementation of the deal saying it would not only help India meet its growing energy needs but help the United States economy create jobs at a time when it was "suffering very, very severely".

"I think it's important that India should also think about how this investment initiative could help the United States economy, which India would like to see recover because it's one of the engines of growth in the world," he said.

India signed a pact earlier in February opening up its civilian nuclear plants to U.N. inspections as a condition of the deal.

India, which relies on imported oil for some 70 percent of its energy needs, says the nuclear supply pact will help feed energy demands in its expanding economy, while helping combat global warming linked to fossil fuel emissions.

It could bring in around $27 billion in investment over the next 15 years, says the Confederation of Indian Industry, and is expected to double nuclear power's share in India's electricity grid to 5-7 percent in the next two decades. (Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Jerry Norton)

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