The French Nuclear Energy Experience: Lessons for India

In September 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granted a waiver to India for allowing nuclear commerce with the country without its having to accept full-scope safeguards on its nuclear programme. In October 2008, President Obama signed the 123 agreement. A few months later, India and the IAEA concluded the India Specific Safeguards Agreement (ISSA). With the conclusion of these three steps, India became an equal opportunity partner in international nuclear commerce after suffering from a long period of technology denial regimes.

Over the last two years, since the opening up of the opportunity, India has reached out to many countries for nuclear fuel and reactors. Amongst these, France stands out for several reasons.
For one, France is today a nation that is generating a large share of its electricity from nuclear reactors, having embarked on an ambitious nuclear power programme after the oil crisis in the
early 1970s in order to substantially reduce its dependence on imported energy sources. Nearly 80 per cent of French electricity needs are presently being met from nuclear power plants. Secondly, France is an active exporter of all nuclear activities and materials and has a lot to offer to an India that strives to put its nuclear energy generation on the fast track. Thirdly, India has a long-standing and largely cordial nuclear relationship with France.

The French tryst with nuclear energy holds several relevant lessons for India. The trigger for their nuclear programme, the manner in which it was pursued, the policy initiatives that made the rapid establishment possible, the kind of a role that the government played in the process, the nature of public-private relationship etc. are some of the questions that are of great relevance to India. This study seeks to derive lessons from the French nuclear energy experience that can be used to guide the Indian programme as it steps on the pedal to fast track nuclear expansion.

Keywords: Nuclear energy programme, India, France, nuclear cooperation, PHWR, FBR, nuclear waste management