OTTAWA - Canada is poised to sign a deal with India to sell nuclear technology and materials to the energy-starved South Asian juggernaut, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day said Wednesday.
The pact will open up the lucrative Indian market to Canadian nuclear exports for the first time in more than three decades.
"We're very close to having an agreement with India related to the civilian use of nuclear energy for the purpose of helping them meet their energy needs," Day said in an interview.
Day was coy when asked how imminent a deal is.
"We're close. I don't like to put an hour and a day on it, but these are fairly complicated agreements and we're just about there," he said. "There's just a few items left."
A senior Indian diplomat told the Press Trust of India on Wednesday that negotiators are on the verge of finalizing the pact.
Shashishekhar M. Gavai, India's high commissioner to Canada, told the news agency that Canadian and Indian officials have already exchanged the draft agreement.
"An expert Canadian team was in Mumbai last week to work out, with the Atomic Energy Commission of India, final technical details and conditions under which business can be done," he said.
Gavai could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In January, Day announced that Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., signed a memorandum of understanding with India for next-generation nuclear reactors.
It was a turning point for Canada, which stopped nuclear co-operation with India in 1974 after its government used plutonium from a Canadian reactor to build an atomic bomb.
The international community lifted a three-decade ban on nuclear trade with India last September - even though India still refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Some anti-nuclear activists worry India will stockpile domestic uranium for military weapons and use uranium imports for civilian purposes.
Canadian negotiators insisted India allow nuclear inspectors into civilian facilities, Day said. Under the deal, he said, Canadian nuclear exports cannot be used for military purposes.
Countries are lining up to sell to India - which wants to build 25 to 30 new reactors in the coming years - now that the moratorium has ended.
"The estimation is over the next 20 years, something like anywhere from $50 to $150 billion worth of civil nuclear energy needs are what we're looking at," Day said.
"So there's a great opportunity here for the Canadian industry."
On Tuesday, a senior executive from AECL told a Senate finance committee the Crown corporation is eyeing foreign markets for its next-generation ACR 1000 reactors.
AECL signed a deal earlier this year with a leading Indian engineering firm to start costing out the ACR 1000s - the prelude to a possible sale.
Saskatchewan's Cameco Corp., is also poised to sell uranium to India.
But Canada and India must finalize a formal deal before any commercial deals are inked.
AECL's future hinges on a successful bid to build two nuclear reactors in Ontario and continued sales and maintenance work abroad.
The federally owned firm has partnered with four private-sector companies to bid on the Ontario deal. The consortium proposes to build two ACR-1000s - a new and untried design.
The Conservative government gave AECL $135 million in this year's budget to help complete design work on the ACR 1000.
AECL is up against Areva Group of France and U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Co.
The province is expected to award the reactor contract this summer, though Ontario's energy minister has said the decision could be delayed.
AECL did not return calls for comment.