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Mon 8 Sep 2008 01:15 AM

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India ends nuclear isolation

PM says waiver marks end of 'decades-long isolation from nuclear mainstream'.

The Indian government exulted over a decision by nuclear supplier nations to end the decades-old ban on trading with the country, and open up a reactor market worth billions of dollars.

The government called the nuclear trade waiver a "momentous" milestone in its quest to achieve energy security and meet the challenge of global warming.

The statement came after the United States finally won approval in Vienna on Saturday for the one-off waiver for India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which controls the export and sale of nuclear technology.

The waiver - a vital step in securing a controversial 2005 India-US civilian technology nuclear accord - marked the end of India's "decades-long isolation from the nuclear mainstream," Premier Manmohan Singh said.

"The opening of full civil nuclear cooperation between India and the international community will be good for India and for the world," he said.

For global nuclear energy companies, the decision opens the door to an atomic reactor market worth billions of dollars with India aiming to double its share of nuclear power to five to seven percent by 2030.

The Confederation of Indian Industry forecast business opportunities worth around 30 billion dollars over the next 15 years with India needing about 18 to 20 more nuclear reactors. It now has 22 reactors.

"The development is a major confidence-building move for the international community to engage with India especially in high technology trade," said the group's director general Chandrajit Banerjee.

A host of nuclear companies from French state-controlled Areva, Russia's Rosatom Corp to General Electric of the US have already been jockeying for a slice of India's lucrative atomic market.

India, where many areas endure blackouts lasting 12 hours or more, has been denied access to civilian nuclear technology since it stunned the world by testing a nuclear weapon in 1974 and refused to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group was founded to stop other countries emulating India's example in using imported technology to make an atomic bomb.

Since striking the deal with the United States, India has sought to highlight its non-proliferation record.

The oil-import dependent nation is seeking to broaden its fuel sources to sustain its fast-growing economy.

"This decision enables India to look at nuclear energy in a far more focused manner and consider it as one of its energy options," strategic analyst Uday Bhaskar told newswire AFP.

The world's biggest carbon dioxide emitter for decades has been the United States. But emissions have also rapidly grown in the developing world - China is now in second place and India is among the top five emitters.

"India and China are the swing states on global warming and encouraging them to look at clean nuclear energy can only have a positive impact for global warming," Bhaskar said.

The landmark deal has stirred huge controversy in India.

Both the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the communists, slammed the deal, saying it would curb India's military options and bring the country's foreign policy too much under US influence.

"India has walked into the non-proliferation trap set by the US," senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said.

The agreement was one of the key foreign policy initiatives of US President George W. Bush as well as of Singh, whose Congress party faces general elections by May 2009.

Washington was anxious to get the deal through so the US Congress could ratify it before adjourning at the end of September for the November presidential elections.