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India Slashes Plans for New Nuclear Reactors by Two-Thirds

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

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  • Apr 11, 2018 11:00 am GMT

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The Financial Express, one of India’s major newspapers, reports that the Narendra Modi government, which had set the ambitious 63,000 MW nuclear power capacity addition target by the year 2031-32, has cut it to 22,480 MW, or by roughly two thirds.

NucNet India Nuclear

Current Status of India’s Nuclear Energy Program. Image courtesy of NucNet

The decision has enormous implications for expanding use of coal for electrical power generation and for release of CO2, other greenhouse gases, and for adding to India’s dire air pollution problems in its major cities.

The drastic reduction in planned construction of new reactors will diminish India’s plans to rely on nuclear energy from 25% of electrical generation to about 8-10%. The balance of new power requirements will likely be met by use of India’s enormous coal deposits.

It appears that India’s long list of nuclear reactors, which at one time it aspired to build, is now in the dust bin. Instead, a much shorter list of 19 units composed of indigenous 700 MW PHWRs and Russian VVERs will be completed for an additional 17 GWE.

India PHWR

Profile of a 700 MW PHWR. Image: Larsen & Tuubro

Jitendra Singh, Minister of State for India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) said.“With the completion of the under construction and sanctioned projects, the total nuclear power installed capacity in the country will reach 22,480 MW… by the year 2031.”

He added. “progressive completion of the projects under construction, the installed nuclear power capacity will reach 13,480 MW by the year 2024”, which will be a little less than 14,340 MW target.

The list of 57 cancelled reactors also includes  700 MW PHWRs and Russian VVERs. In addition it includes future plans for Areva EPRs and Westinghouse AP1000s.  Four fast breeder reactors are part of this list which raises questions about India’s policy commitment to its three phase plan for nuclear energy.

That ambitious plan begins with a fleet of the 700 MW PHWRs using natural uranium. The second phase places its bet on plutonium fueled fast breeder reactors. The third phase involves U233 / thorium reactors.  India has large deposits of thorium, but has not built and operate a commercial thorium fueled reactor for power generation.

A fast breeder reactor using U233 / thorium is being developed at Kalpakkam. The plant will use plutonium produced in PHWR reactors as well as from PWR reactors to breed U-233 from thorium.

While the Department of Atomic Energy did not specify the reasons for the change, it is likely that India has come face-to-face with the same reality that other developing nations seeking rapid construction of nuclear power plants. The challenges are the lack of funding, a reliable supply chain that can handle a huge increase in orders, and a trained workforce to build and operate the plants at the planned level of activity.

Reactors to Be Completed

Kudankulam India

Kudankulam 1 & 2 which are now in revenue service. Image: NPCIL

Based on the World Nuclear Association profile of India’s nuclear program, this is the list (table below) of reactors that will likely be completed by the mid-to-late 2020s.

The list covers only two of the six Areva EPRs slated for Jaitapur on India’s west coast and only two of the six Westinghouse AP1000s planned for Andhra Pradesh on its east coast.

However,  Rosatom will complete four more 1000MW units at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu on India’s southern tip.

As a developing nation, India needs to provide electricity to huge sections of the country which don’t have reliable power. About 200 million of the country’s 1.3 billion population have none.

19 units

Table from WNA Profile of India’s Nuclear Energy Program

According to the New York Times in July 2012 India suffered the largest electrical blackout in history, affecting an area encompassing about 670 million people, or roughly 10 percent of the world’s population.

It lasted three days. Nothing that requires electricity worked during that time. Trains did not run, lights were off, telecommunications were out. It was a total absence of power.

Greater Reliance on Coal is Expected

The country accounts for eight percent of world’s total coal consumption. About two-thirds of India’s electricity generation comes from coal.

With a major cut in planned new construction of nuclear reactors, the country will rely more heavily on building coal fired power plants. India holds the fifth biggest coal reserves in the world. The country’s proved coal reserves are estimated at 61 billion tonnes. India accounts for about seven percent of the world’s total proved coal reserves.

India is the third biggest coal producer, after China and the US. India produces about six percent of the world’s total as officially reported but this number is undoubtedly higher. India’s coal mines are owned by the government but operated by private firms.

It also imports coal and is the world’s third biggest coal importer (200M tonnes in 2017) after China and Japan. According to the Ministry of Coal, coking coal is being imported by Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and other steel manufacturing units mainly to bridge the gap between the requirement and indigenous availability and to improve the quality.

Coal based power plants, cement plants, captive power plants, iron foundries, industrial consumers and coal traders are importing non-coking coal. Coke is imported mainly by pig-iron manufacturers and iron and steel sector consumers using small blast furnaces.

According to September 2017 report in the Hindustan Times, despite the Narendra Modi government’s claims of being committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, India registered one of the largest increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2016, in contrast to the other major emitters, which either saw decreases or stable emissions.

India’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by an alarming 4.7% in 2016, compared to the previous year, the report released by Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency said. Coal consumption rose by 4% in 2016. With the cancellation of two-thirds of India’s planned nuclear reactors, this trend is likely to increase creating a significant global climate issue.

France Pushes For Progress on Six EPRs at Jaitapur

In early March French President Emmanuel Macron made a trip to India not unlike that of his predecessors over the past decade to plead the case for building six 1650 MW Areva EPR nuclear reactors at Jaitapur on India’s west coast. For its part, India repeated its pledge to begin work by the end of the current year, a pledge it has made, but not kept, with previous French Presidents.

The key sticking point has been and continues to be India’s supplier liability law which makes it impossible for western reactor suppliers to enter India’s nuclear energy market.  India has signed the IAEA Convention for Nuclear Damage, but the domestic law remains on the books.

The current status of the project is that ground has not been broken. While technical negotiations are complete, NPCIL remains in discussions with EDF, which will manage the construction, over costs.  Also, use of Indian vendors for long lead time components like turbines will be part of any final deal.  A final price has not been set for the project which was originally proposed to India in 2008.

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Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Apr 14, 2018

So India does officially what China seems to do unofficially:
Slash the expansion of nuclear.

With the health effects of the Bhopal disaster still visible as well as the way the owner (US Union Carbide Corporation) handled its responsibilities fresh in the memory of many Indians, it is political nearly impossible for Indian govt to ease suppliers liability laws. So Macron’s trip to India won’t be a success.

India can do already a lot by relative simple measures. E.g.
While Chinese Tuk Tuk Taxi’s are now electric driven, those in India still operate on a single piston two-stroke engine…

Furthermore the country has the possibility to expand solar and wind as fast or faster than China. If the grid is fully separated off the ‘monopoly’ utilities, and managed by independent fair-minded companies.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Apr 14, 2018

I suspect the slowing Indian and Chinese nuclear programs are not a reflection of a shift to renewables (I think you’ll see them go slower too), but a Trump-driven re-embrace of coal.

As big a problem as air pollution is in the developing world, poverty is still worse. And no matter what rich environmentalists want to believe, clean electricity still costs more than that from coal.

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