Meanwhile France's Areva and Russia's Rosatom have been doing a very profitable business in India -- thanks to the doors opened by the U.S. government's 2008 deal. Areva has already signed a $9.3 billion preliminary agreement to build two reactors, the first of six that are planned. The deal could eventually be worth about $20 billion to the French company.
Although frustration within the U.S. nuclear industry is palpable, the official line is that it's still early. "It would be beyond expectations to have business on the ground at this time," said Daniel Lipman, director of strategic supplier programs for the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington.
The biggest problem for American companies trying to do business in India, as Rep. Chabot noted, is a severe liability law adopted by India's parliament shortly after the nuclear deal was signed. Mindful of the Bhopal catastrophe -- the 1984 industrial chemical accident that killed 3,000 almost instantly and up to another 20,000 over time -- Indian lawmakers insisted that not only plant operators but also suppliers and manufacturers be held liable in the event of a similar catastrophe. This is seen as much less of a burden for state-owned companies like Areva and Rosotom than it is for private sector U.S. companies and their insurers.
Raja Mohan, an analyst at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, describes the liability laws as "ridiculously hard" and blames the Indian government for mismanaging the legislative process, but he also notes that the government is rethinking the entire question of nuclear energy in the wake of Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster, and that India as a whole, with its booming economy and growing middle class, has a changed outlook. "Having a nuclear reactor in your backyard is not popular here either," he said.
Indian officials are inclined to shrug at corporate America's frustration. "When we began to negotiate, it was never about business. Both sides were looking at it in a much larger strategic sense," said Shyam Saran, who was India's Foreign Secretary at the time. "The agreement reflects a certain strategic convergence between the U.S. and India. A deal would not have been possible without this convergence. Even if we are not allies, we have similar concerns and attitudes regarding the emergence of China-not as a threat, but as a challenge. Like it or not, we both have to deal with it."
The nonproliferation lobby in the United States and elsewhere has never been comfortable with the deal, which gives India access to sensitive technology and allows it to buy nuclear fuel on the international market without binding it to the rigorous safeguards and restrictions of the NPT. Under the terms of the deal, India has agreed to open all of its civil nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency -- which proponents say is an important step forward -- but India's military nuclear facilities remain closed to IAEA inspection.