The spiralling strands of India’s nuclear DNA

22 February 2013

Early work agreements with US vendors expected before the end of 2012 form just one helix of India’s nuclear new-build programme, as Modern Power Systems – BRICS Edition discovers.

Over the next decade, India hopes to commission at least a combined 20GW of new nuclear capacity from domestic and international projects. Today, state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), which is responsible for the design, construction, commissioning and operation of nuclear power reactors in the country, operates 20 units with a total capacity of 4,780MWe. This was equivalent to 2.35% of India's total installed capacity as of May 2012, according to the Central Electricity Authority.

Some 4,800MWe of new nuclear capacity is under construction in India. Two VVER-1000 reactors are being built with Russian assistance at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu and four indigenous 700MWe pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) are underway at Kakrapar in Gujarat and Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. The two Kudankulam reactors are expected to enter commercial operation in December 2012 and July 2013, respectively.

The first four PHWR reactors are due for completion in the next five years. Completion costs are expected to be $2.06bn in 2015-2016, and $2.2bn in 2016-17. Per kWe of capacity, these costs come in at about $1,700, half the international nuclear average.

India anticipates starting work on eight PHWRs, two fast-breeder reactors and one 300MW advanced heavy water reactor of indigenous design. It also plans to launch eight light water reactors of 1,000MW capacity or higher in technical cooperation with foreign vendors: Atomstroyexport (Russia), AREVA (France), GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (US) and Westinghouse (US).

Foreign cooperation

Significant progress has been made towards the proposed deployment of AP1000 and ESBWR reactors in India, according to US reactor vendors. In June, Westinghouse Electric Company and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) announced separately that they anticipate signing early works agreements with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) this year for new nuclear projects in India.

"The agreement represents significant progress towards the realisation of the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement signed in 2008," Westinghouse said in a statement on 13 June.

Westinghouse announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with NPCIL agreeing to negotiate an Early Works Agreement (EWA) supporting future construction of 'as many as six' AP1000 nuclear power plants at the Mithi Virdi site in Gujarat. The EWA will include preliminary licensing and site development activities, including environmental clearances.

Westinghouse told NEI that it hopes to complete negotiations on the EWA by autumn 2012. The EWA comes prior to project approval by the Government of India, Westinghouse said.

GEH also announced, 13 June, that an early works agreement is expected 'in the near future,' to bring its 1500MW-class Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) to India. GEH said that the precise timing of the agreement is a decision that NPCIL will make based on their process of internal reviews and regulatory approvals, but added that an agreement is expected to be signed during 2012.

"One of the key enablers to this agreement is DOE's issuance of all necessary 10 CFR Part 810 [US export control] authorisations, which has not yet occurred but is well on its path to full resolution," it said. Site preparations for 'at least six' ESBWR units is underway near Kovvada in the state of Andhra Pradesh, to be contracted in units of two ESBWRs at a time, according to GEH.

Since 2008, GEH has been building a local supplier network in India. It has signed preliminary project development agreements with NPCIL, Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL) and engineering and construction firm Larsen & Toubro Limited. In August 2010 it signed an agreement with Tata Consulting Engineers. (TCE) to help it prepare for potential ESBWR projects in India and elsewhere.

The projects at Kovvada (GEH) and Mithi Virdi (Westinghouse) are being pursued in parallel with two other foreign projects: Jaitapur (AREVA, France) and Kundankulam (Atomstroyexport, Russia).

In late 2010, AREVA signed an agreement with NPCIL for the supply of two EPR reactors, the first of a series of six, at Jaitapur in the western state of Maharashtra, and for the supply of fuel for 25 years. AREVA said at the time it expected studies to being early in 2011, however these were delayed due to the Fukushima incident.

"The Fukushima incident led to safety reviews in both countries and beyond that has certainly induced some delays, but the EWA is now ready for implementation and has been approved by Indian authorities. It is now awaiting NPCIL go-ahead," a spokesperson for AREVA told Modern Power Systems - BRICS Edition.

"If the global contract is signed by year-end, the first EPR reactor would be commissioned by 2020 and the second by 2021," it said, adding that NPCIL has already started pre-project activities including establishment of some infrastructure onsite.

For actual construction and manufacturing of components AREVA and NPCIL have agreed on a significant level of localisation. The involvement of Indian manufacturers in the Jaitapur EPR project will create a local supply chain as well as many jobs, enhancing local expertise and helping India to meet its ambition of becoming a manufacturing hub for the global nuclear industry, it added.

AREVA says it has had a series of discussions with industrial companies in India and has several MoUs and agreements in place.

Liability questions

Despite the positive moves outlined above, concern remains over the Indian liability law. The law could expose reactor vendors to unlimited financial penalties following a severe incident.

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 places responsibility for any nuclear incident with the operator, as is standard internationally, and limits total liability to $450m "or such higher amount that the Central Government may specify by notification". Operator liability is capped at $300m or a higher amount set by the central government, beyond which the central government is liable.

However, after compensation has been paid by the operator (or its insurers), the bill allows the operator to have legal recourse to the supplier for up to 80 years after the plant starts up if the "nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects [or] sub-standard services." This clause giving recourse to the supplier for an operational plant is contrary to many international liability conventions.

"The Fukushima incident led to safety reviews in both countries and beyond that has certainly induced some delays."

In November 2011, the Department of Atomic Energy published a notification that claims by plant operators against component suppliers "shall in no case exceed the actual amount of compensation" paid by utilities. It said that the new Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules give plant operators the right of recourse against equipment suppliers related to 'the extent of the operator's liability' or 'the value of the contract itself, whichever is less.' They also limit it to the duration of the initial plant licence 'or the product liability period, whichever is longer.'

This is generally seen as confusing, and is not satisfactory to major suppliers. Most vendors were reluctant to comment on the situation because the rules for implementation of the 2010 Act are still before the Indian Parliament. However, GEH added that "key clauses of India's law exposing suppliers to unlimited liability need to be satisfactorily addressed before domestic or international suppliers find it commercially viable to do business in India."

Westinghouse said it will continue to work in partnership with the US and Indian governments to resolve the remaining issues surrounding nuclear liability.

Another issue before the Indian Parliament is regulatory reform; the current regulator, the Atomic Energy Review Board, is technically a subsidiary of the government's nuclear developer, the Department of Atomic Energy, although AERB has argued in the past that it is functionally independent. A 2011 bill before the Parliament proposes the establishment of a new regulator, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority, with greater autonomy.

Indigenous technology

India's nuclear power journey began in 1964 with construction of two boiling water reactors (BWRs) using technology from US firm General Electric. During the early 1970s pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) were built in Rajasthan using CANDU technology from Atomic Energy of Canada. Over the years, technology of the 220MW PHWR plants was standardised and upgraded by NPCIL to form the 700MW plants now under construction.

Along with plans to build light-water reactors in collaboration with foreign vendors, India remains committed to its three-stage nuclear power programme and closed fuel cycle. PHWRs form the first step in India's three-stage nuclear power programme. It will be followed by concurrent deployment of fast-breeder reactors burning plutonium to breed uranium-233 from thorium. The FBRs will be followed, in a third stage, by advanced heavy water reactors (AHWRs) that will be capable of using India's abundant thorium reserves.

In May, V. Narayanasamy, minister of state in The Ministry of Personnel,Public Grievances & Pensions and Prime Minister's Office, reiterated India's commitment to a three-stage programme. He said that the Prototype Fast BreederReactor (PFBR) construction activities were in an advanced stage of completion, and that activities towards commissioning the reactor by 2013 were in progress. Other sources report that the government has announced plans for commercial start-up in 2015.

Narayanasamy said that the third stage of the programme (AHWRs) would be launched after sufficient base capacity of the second stage FBRs are put in operation. "All efforts towards technology development and demonstration are being made now, so that a mature technology is available in time," he said. "The design of all nuclear systems of the AHWR has been completed and associated confirmatory R&D is in a very advanced stage," according to Narayanasamy. As yet, a site has not been specified for deployment of the AHWR, which is targeted for operation prior to 2027.

A total of 4,800MWe of new nuclear capacity is under construction in India.

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