Roadmap to 2020 and Beyond: India’s Ambitious Nuclear Plan
By Miriam Mazer, Insight Reporter
February 13 2013
Insight Reporter Miriam Mazer writes about India’s nuclear energy roadmap, focusing on the country’s five nuclear parks. Each will feature multiple reactors designed by an international who’s who of vendors. Rosatom leads the way, followed by AREVA. U.S. companies have made inroads but continue to be at a disadvantage because of India’s onerous liability regime.
Having emerged from decades of nuclear isolation and tamped-down expectations, India is advancing a plan for the construction of a network of giant new nuclear stations, with a string of five mega-plants called “nuclear parks”:
• Kudankulam (4,000 MW)
• Jaitapur (9,900 MW)
• Mithi Virdi (6,000 MW)
• Gorakhpur (2,800 MW)
• Kovvada (9,500 MW)
The end of the nuclear trade embargo in 2008 coincided with looming energy shortages that are hobbling India’s economic growth. Indian energy planners view nuclear as a key part of the solution, aiming to draw 25% of the country’s electricity from nuclear plants by 2050. However, India’s small indigenous nuclear energy program lacks the resources to build the type of colossal plants it needs to reach that goal.
That’s why foreign contractors are playing a major role in plant construction, and the Indian agency responsible for the design, construction, and operation of nuclear plants, the Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd. (NPCIL), is lining up a slew of new deals.
Rosatom Plays Major Role
AREVA signed framework agreements for building the plant at Jaitapur in 2010, while Westinghouse signed an Early Works Agreement for Mithi Virdi last June. India has reserved Kovvada for reactors designed by U.S. companies, namely Westinghouse or GE-Hitachi.
But the real standout in India’s roadmap is Rosatom. On Dec. 26 Russia and India agreed to collaborate on the construction of sixteen to eighteen reactors, each producing 1,000 MW, including the third and fourth units at Kudankulam.
India is also establishing a steady supply of nuclear fuel. In November 2011 it finalized the details of a deal with Canada allowing Canadian companies to export uranium to India.
Salman Khurshid, the Indian foreign minister, will begin talks with his Australian counterpart, Bob Carr, in March in order to discuss civil nuclear cooperation, potentially leading to uranium imports from Australia.
Still, India has not abandoned its indigenous program. It plans to offer 220 and 540 reactors for export and will to use local reactor technology to construct a 2,800 MW plant in Gorakhpur. Unlike the coastal sites of the other parks, Gorakhpur is located in the interior near New Delhi, so it can power the highly industrialized state of Haryana.
High-Flown Plans Lack Credibility
India appears to be on the verge of a nuclear renaissance, and is expected to play an important role in the global nuclear sector, but its program faces some important obstacles.
For one thing, India’s timeline for nuclear construction is clearly too short. NPCIL’s director, K.C. Purohit, announced in December that India will produce 20,000 MW of electricity via nuclear energy by 2020; present capacity is 4,400 MW.
That leaves seven years for the construction and commissioning of roughly 16 new plants, or more than two per year.
The Russian deal is similarly grandiose. It proposes to connect 16-18 1,000-MW reactors to the grid by 2030 at the latest. In order to meet this deadline, Rosatom would have to commission one reactor per year on average, starting immediately.
India will soon need to adjust its goals to accommodate reality. These projects are titanic in size and will need a similarly titanic investment in time, energy, and resources.
Another stumbling block is India’s liability law, which requires vendors to take full financial responsibility for damages caused by plants built with their designs.
This law, a legacy of the Bhopal pesticide plant disaster of 1984, impedes private companies from competing and may yet kill the Mithi Virdi contract with Westinghouse.
The laws do not affect state-owned companies, such as AREVA and Rosatom, because the sovereign rights of foreign nations protect them. But U.S. companies, which are not state-owned, are unwilling to participate in projects while the current liability laws are in place. Despite heavy pressure from the White House, the Indian government refuses to consider revising the law.
Finally, a popular antinuclear movement has sprung up. Residents at the vicinity of every proposed nuclear park have mounted protests, but the government’s response has been ineffective.
Continued activism will likely hold back the construction of plants, and in fact have repeatedly delayed the commissioning of Kudankulam 1, which was finished more than a year ago (Insight, Feb. 4).
The Indian government has issued public reassurances about the safety of nuclear plants, but seems unwilling or unable to take action to win the support of rural residents, who believe the plants threaten their homes and livelihoods.