On the eve of a key bilateral meeting, Russia said the cost of the next phase of the Kudankulam atomic project would escalate if it has to bear additional liabilities arising from a possible nuclear accident.
"If there are several points that require additional assurances, of course, it will require additional money to be paid by India," visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters here ahead of the Inter-Governmental Commission meeting on Monday.
With differences in perception over India's civil nuclear liability law, the negotiations on the units III and IV of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu have become a point of contention between Moscow and New Delhi. While Russia argues that the civil nuclear liability law should not apply to these units as the agreement on them predates the 2010 civil liability law, and could be seen as "grandfathered" by the original 1988 agreement, India has clearly stated that making an exception for Russia will amount to diluting its civil nuclear law which will encourage the US and France to seek similar exemptions, which it cannot afford.
The estimated cost of units III and IV is $6.4 billion, of which $3.4 billion will be taken care of by Russian state credits.
Citing the lessons learnt from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Rogozin, who will co-chair the Inter-Governmental Commission meeting on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, underlined that the atomic technology that Russia was providing to India was "state-of-the-art" and people should not have fears over it.
"Having suffered the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, we are aware of the dangers. After that we created state-of-the-art and advanced technologies comparable with those available in the world. As for the nuclear project under construction in India, it will be the most reliable in the world. As head of the committee (Rusatom) on nuclear cooperation with India, so I am responsible for my words," he said.
Being held ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit, the two ministers will also set the agenda for the annual summit talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Putin on November one. The Commission will review the progress made by Joint Working Groups on various issues, including trade and economy, energy, science and technology. Bilateral trade increased to $8.8 billion last year. The two sides are looking to scale up ties to $20 billion by 2015.
Asked about the protests by local people against the Kudankulam nuclear project and whether there was any "foreign hand" in it, Rogozin said, "As for it, the issue of external factor is not excluded."
"We are building a power plant that has a great deal of safety," he said.
At the same time, he said the protests by local people over concerns after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year were not wrong. "Our emotions should not stop the project and stop progress in cooperation," he said, underlining that Russia had backed India even when other countries imposed sanctions on New Delhi after nuclear testing.
The Russian deputy prime minister said he would discuss the matter with Krishna on Monday and explain to the people the issues involved. The agreement to set up two nuclear power plants at Kudankulam was signed in 1988, which was followed by an additional agreement in 1998. Another inter-governmental agreement was signed in December 2008 which provided for construction of four more nuclear power units at Kudankulam.