Nuclear Power in India: Some Facts

  • India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and expects to have 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032.  It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
  • Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which has hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009.
  • Due to these trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium.
  • Now, foreign technology and fuel are expected to boost India’s nuclear power plans considerably.  All plants will have high indigenous engineering content.
  • India has a vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle.

Electricity demand in India is increasing rapidly, and the 830 billion kilowatt hours produced in 2008 was triple the 1990 output, though still represented only some 700 kWh per capita for the year. With huge transmission losses, this resulted in only 591 billion kWh consumption. Coal provides 68% of the electricity at present, but reserves are limited. Gas provides 8%, hydro 14%. The per capita electricity consumption figure is expected to double by 2020, with 6.3% annual growth, and reach 5000-6000 kWh by 2050.

Nuclear power supplied 15.8 billion  kWh (2.5%) of India’s electricity in 2007 from 3.7 GWe (of 110 GWe total) capacity and after a dip in 2008-09 this will increase steadily as imported uranium becomes available and new plants come on line.  In the year to March 2010, 22 billion kWh was forecast, and for the 2010-11 year 24 billion kWh is expected. For 2011-12, 32 billion kWh is now forecast.  Some 300 reactor-years of operation had been achieved by mid 2009. India’s fuel situation, with shortage of fossil fuels, is driving the nuclear investment for electricity, and 25% nuclear contribution is foreseen by 2050, when 1094 GWe of base-load capacity is expected to be required. Almost as much investment in the grid system as in power plants is necessary.

In 2006 almost US$ 9 billion was committed for power projects, including 9.35 GWe of new generating capacity, taking forward projects to 43.6 GWe and US$ 51 billion.  In late 2009 the government said that it was confident that 62 GWe of new capacity would be added in the 11th 5-year plan to March 2012, and best efforts were being made to add 12.5 GWe on top of this, though only 18 GWe had been achieved by the mid point of October 2009, when 152 GWe was on line. The government’s 12th 5-year plan for 2012-17 was targeting the addition of 100 GWe over the period. Three quarters of this would be coal- or lignite-fired, and only 3.4 GWe nuclear, including two imported 1000 MWe units at one site and two indigenous 700 MWe units at another.

A KPMG report in 2007 said that India needed to spend US$ 120-150 billion on power infrastructure over the next five years, including transmission and distribution (T&D). It said that T&D losses were some 30-40%, worth more than $6 billion per year.  A 2010 estimate shows big differences among states, with some very high, and a national average of 27% T&D loss, well above the target 15% set in 2001 when the average figure was 34%.

The target since about 2004 has been for nuclear power to provide 20 GWe by 2020, but in 2007 the Prime Minister referred to this as “modest” and capable of being “doubled with the opening up of international cooperation.” However, it is evident that even the 20 GWe target will require substantial uranium imports.  Late in 2008 NPCIL projected 22 GWe on line by 2015, and the government was talking about having 50 GWe of nuclear power operating by 2050. Then in June 2009 NPCIL said it aimed for 60 GWe nuclear by 2032, including 40 GWe of PWR capacity and 7 GWe of new PHWR capacity, all fuelled by imported uranium.  This target was reiterated late in 2010.

Longer term, the Atomic Energy Commission however envisages some 500 GWe nuclear on line by 2060, and has since speculated that the amount might be higher still: 600-700 GWe by 2050, providing half of all electricity.

Recent nuclear power developments in India

The Tarapur 3&4 reactors of 540 MWe gross (490 MWe net) were developed indigenously from the 220 MWe (gross) model PHWR and were built by NPCIL.  The first – Tarapur 4 – was connected to the grid in June 2005 and started commercial operation in September. Tarapur-4’s criticality came five years after pouring first concrete and seven months ahead of schedule. Its twin – unit 3 – was about a year behind it and was connected to the grid in June 2006 with commercial operation in August, five months ahead of schedule.

Future indigenous PHWR reactors will be 700 MWe gross (640 MWe net). The first four are being built at Kakrapar and Rajasthan.  They are due on line by 2017 after 60 months construction from first concrete to criticality.

Kudankulam: Russia’s Atomstroyexport is building the country’s first large nuclear power plant, comprising two VVER-1000 (V-392) reactors, under a Russian-financed US$ 3 billion contract. A long-term credit facility covers about half the cost of the plant.  The AES-92 units at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu state are being built by NPCIL and will be commissioned and operated by NPCIL under IAEA safeguards. The turbines are made by Leningrad Metal Works.  Unlike other Atomstroyexport projects such as in Iran, there have been only about 80 Russian supervisory staff on the job.

Russia is supplying all the enriched fuel through the life of the plant, though India will reprocess it and keep the plutonium. The first unit was due to start supplying power in March 2008 and go into commercial operation late in 2008, but this schedule has slipped by more than three years. In the latter part of 2011 and into 2012 completion and fuel loading was being delayed by public protests. The second unit is about 8 months behind unit 1.  While the first core load of fuel was delivered early in 2008 there have been delays in supply of some equipment and documentation. Control system documentation was delivered late, and when reviewed by NPCIL it showed up the need for significant refining and even reworking some aspects. The design basis flood level is 5.44m, and the turbine hall floor is 8.1m above mean sea level.  The 2004 tsunami was under 3m.

A small desalination plant is associated with the Kudankulam plant to produce 426 m3/hr for it using 4-stage multi-vacuum compression (MVC) technology. Another RO plant is in operations to supply local township needs.

Kaiga 3 started up in February, was connected to the grid in April and went into commercial operation in May 2007.  Unit 4 started up in November 2010 and was grid-connected in January 2011, but is about 30 months behind original schedule due to shortage of uranium.  The Kaiga units are not under UN safeguards, so cannot use imported uranium.  Rajasthan-5 started up in November 2009, using imported Russian fuel, and in December it was connected to the northern grid.  RAPP-6 started up in January 2010 and was grid connected at the end of March.  Both are now in commercial operation.

Under plans for the India-specific safeguards to be administered by the IAEA in relation to the civil-military separation plan, eight further reactors will be safeguarded (beyond Tarapur 1&2, Rajasthan 1&2, and Kudankulam 1&2): Rajasthan 3&4 from 2010, Rajasthan 5&6 from 2008, Kakrapar 1&2 by 2012 and Narora 1&2 by 2014.

India’s nuclear power reactors under construction:

Reactor Type MWe gross, net, each Project control Construction start Commercial operation due Safeguards status
Kudankulam 1
1000, 950
March 2002
3/2012 but delayed
Kudankulam 2
1000, 950
July 2002
6/2012 but delayed
Kalpakkam PFBR
500, 470
Oct 2004
Kakrapar 3 PHWR 700, 630 NPCIL Nov 2010 June 2015
Kakrapar 4 PHWR 700, 630 NPCIL March 2011 Dec 2015
Rajasthan 7 PHWR 700, 630 NPCIL July 2011 Dec 2016
Total (6)
4260 MWe net,
4600 MWe gross
Rajasthan/RAPS also known as Rawatbhata

 In mid 2008 Indian nuclear power plants were running at about half of capacity due to a chronic shortage of fuel.  The situation was expected to persist for several years if the civil nuclear agreement faltered, though some easing in 2008 was due to the new Turamdih mill in Jharkhand state coming on line (the mine there was already operating). Political opposition has delayed new mines in Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh.

A 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) is under construction at Kalpakkam near Madras by BHAVINI (Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd), a government enterprise set up under DAE to focus on FBRs. It was expected to start up about the end of 2010 and produce power in 2011, but this schedule is delayed significantly.  Construction was reported 81% complete at the end of November 2011. Four further oxide-fuel fast reactors are envisaged but slightly redesigned by the Indira Gandhi Centre to reduce capital cost.  One pair will be at Kalpakkam, two more elsewhere.  (See also section below.)

In contrast to the situation in the 1990s, most reactors under construction more recently have been on schedule (apart from fuel shortages 2007-09), and the first two – Tarapur 3 & 4 – were slightly increased in capacity.  These and future planned ones were 450 (now 490) MWe versions of the 202 MWe domestic products.  Beyond them and the last three 202 MWe units, future units will be nominal 700 MWe.

The government envisages setting up about ten PHWRs of 700 MWe capacity to about 2023, fuelled by indigenous uranium, as stage 1 of its nuclear program. Stage 2 – four 500 MWe FBRs – will be concurrent.

Construction costs of reactors as reported by AEC are about $1200 per kilowatt for Tarapur 3 & 4 (540 MWe), $1300/kW for Kaiga 3 & 4 (220 MWe) and expected $1700/kW for the 700 MWe PHWRs with 60-year life expectancy.

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About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
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