Canada's biggest uranium producer is in advanced talks with India on a deal to supply the country of 1.2 billion with fuel for nuclear power plants as Ottawa prepares to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week, sources say.
Mr. Modi has made it clear that obtaining a commercial supply of uranium from Canada's Cameco Corp. is a major goal for him as he gets ready to visit Canada on April 14-16.
"We look forward to resuming our civil nuclear energy cooperation with Canada, especially for sourcing uranium fuel for our nuclear power plants," the Indian leader posted on his Facebook page late last week.
Nuclear power is at the heart of a rapprochement between India and Canada in recent years. Canada banned exports of uranium and nuclear hardware to India in the 1970s after New Delhi used Canadian technology to develop a nuclear bomb.
The two countries turned the page with a deal that took effect in 2013. The highly symbolic Canada-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement demonstrates that Canada no longer considers India a pariah for what it did in the 1970s.
A commercial deal to export Cameco's uranium to feed India's reactors would be another sign to the world that India is recognized as a safe, responsible nuclear power despite its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The question that remains is whether a uranium supply agreement can be finalized by the time Mr. Modi arrives next Tuesday.
"There is a fairly late-stage negotiation on and I think it's likely to conclude successfully. I just don't know whether it's going to conclude by next week," a source familiar with the Canada-India uranium supply talks said.
"If it doesn't, then Ottawa and New Delhi will reiterate their commitment to Canada-India nuclear co-operation and say, 'Cameco is in the middle of negotiations and we expect an announcement in due course,'" the source said.
Stewart Beck, who was Canada's high commissioner to India between 2010 and 2014, said energy security ranks high for India.
He has major hopes for a Cameco export deal, saying high-level visits help provide impetus to clinch agreements. Mr. Modi will be the first sitting prime minister of India to make a bilateral visit to Canada in 40 years.
"The visit will, I think, increase the likelihood of a deal being concluded," Mr. Beck said.
Major challenges remain even as India's ties grow with Canada, where 4 per cent of the population is of Indo-Canadian origin.
Canada's crackdown on temporary foreign workers has irritated India. Efforts to make real progress on free-trade talks launched in 2010 have borne little fruit because of an apparent lack of ambition on both sides, with Ottawa cool to the idea of an influx of foreign workers and New Delhi lukewarm on the notion of lifting tariffs.
But Canada's re-engagement on nuclear power stands out as a game changer. "The deal not only buried 40 years of history and mistrust, but it really put relations on a much better path," said Mr. Beck, now president of Canada's Asia Pacific Foundation.
Canada's nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, would have to approve any sales agreement by Cameco. The deal would be for five or 10 years or more. Each shipment would need an export permit.
Senior Cameco executives will be in Ottawa during Mr. Modi's visit and will attend official events. But the company said there are currently no plans for a private meeting with the Indian leader.
"We've been meeting with government officials and working towards a long-term supply agreement with India. At this point, we have not made any sales to India, but discussions continue," Cameco spokesman Rob Gereghty said.
Vishnu Prakash, India's High Commissioner to Canada, said India's energy needs are growing rapidly as more people move to cities and the economy grows.
"We have a multifold objective," he said. "One is to expand our capacity of energy generation. Second, to have clean energy, and therefore there is a very strong emphasis on nuclear energy and renewable energy. And for all these reasons, we have been working closely with our partner countries, and Canada is one of our very important partners, to attain those objectives."
Cameco signed long-term uranium supply deals with two Chinese state-owned enterprises in 2010, for a total of 52 million pounds of uranium concentrate. One of the agreements is for 10 years, and the other for 15 years.