While attending back-to-back BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summits in Ufa, Russia on July 8-10, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took the time to visit Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The significance of the visit is that ever since the former Soviet Central Asia states became independent in 1991, no Indian Prime Minister has visited all five Central Asian countries simultaneously.
Not surprisingly, the visits focused on increasing bilateral trade, with energy being a significant component of the talks. But while significant hydrocarbon exports remain in the future due to costs and infrastructure development, Modi scored significant successes in both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan over a portable “cash and carry” energy source – uranium.
In Astana Modi signed five agreements covering defense, railways and uranium supplies. After talks with Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev Modi said, “We are pleased to have a much larger second contract for purchase of uranium with Kazakhstan and expanding our civil nuclear cooperation. Kazakhstan is our biggest economic partner in the region. We will work together to take economic ties to a new level.” The agreement provides for Kazakhstan’s state-owned NAC Kazatomprom nuclear company to deliver 5,000 tons of uranium between 2015 and 2019.
Modi’s agreement builds on earlier Indian purchases of Kazakh uranium; Kazakhstan supplied India with 2,100 tons of uranium between 2010 and 2014. Kazakhstan has been the world’s leading producer of uranium since 2009, when it produced almost 28 percent of the global total.
During Modi’s Uzbekistan visit, discussions included strengthening bilateral economic relations, the possible spillover effects of militant Islam from Afghanistan, ways to improve Indian connectivity with landlocked Uzbekistan and implementing a contract for uranium.
Modi’s uranium contracts are a subset of India’s civilian nuclear power ambitions. India has 20 operational nuclear reactors at six nuclear power plants (NPPs) with a generation capacity of 4.8 gigawatts (GW), representing about 2 percent of India’s total utility-based generation capacity.
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