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Australia-India civil nuke pact possible by year end: FM Bishop

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who is in India on a four-day visit, has said both nations are expected to reach a framework agreement by the year end, following which, uranium supply to India would begin.

"The Australian Government and the Indian Government are concluding the civil nuclear supply agreement. The two prime ministers signed that agreement, there are ministerial arrangements that are still to be finalised. There's also a parliamentary process in Australia to be finalised, that is a routine process for any treaty that Australia is into and I am hoping that will be concluded this year. And then, that will be a matter for uranium producers and uranium buyers to negotiate deals," said Bishop.

Bishop reached New Delhi on April 12 to attend the 10th India-Australia Foreign Ministers Framework Dialogue with her Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj.

Australia has about 40 percent of the world's uranium. India faced sanctions after conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, but the restrictions have since eroded after a 2008 U.S. deal that recognized New Delhi's growing economic weight as well as its commitment to have safeguards in place to prevent diversion of civilian fuel for military purposes

India is the first customer to buy Australian uranium without being a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

"We believe we can assist in energy needs. Australia has a significance exposure of coals, gas, uranium also in the area of agriculture and aquaculture. We also have experience to offer in education fields, school training and the health sector. So, there are lots of areas where I think we can benefit from deeper engagement. Indeed, we also discussed about sports diplomacy," said Bishop.

With two-thirds of India's power stations fired by coal, and latest data showing that half of them down to a week's stock, tapping into Australia's coal reserves is a more pressing need than accessing uranium.

However, nuclear power is key to future energy plans in India, where a quarter of the 1.2 billion population has little or no access to electricity, a situation Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will tackle.

India operates 20 mostly small reactors at six sites with a capacity of 4,780 MW, or 2 percent of its total power capacity, according to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited. The government hopes to increase its nuclear capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032 by adding nearly 30 reactors at an estimated cost of 85 billion dollars.

It currently has nuclear energy agreements with 11 countries and imports uranium from France, Russia and Kazakhstan.