Fuel shortage hits nuclear power projects

Written by Anupama Airy | New Delhi, Jun 3 | Updated: Jun 5 2008, 05:25am hrs
A sustained shortage of nuclear fuel has put a question mark on the sustenance of existing and commissioning of new atomic power projects in the country.

The two new nuclear power projectsthe fifth unit (220 MW) of Rajasthan Atomic Power Project (RAPP) at Rawatbhatta and the fourth reactor of Kaiga Atomic Power Project (220 MW) in Karnatakathat were scheduled for commissioning in June 2008 now face undue delays.

Confirming the crisis, minister of state for power Jairam Ramesh said, Both the projects are now idle for want of uranium. First, it was the fifth unit of RAPP and now it is the 220 MW Kaiga U4. The commissioning of both these projects has got delayed by several months.

Asked if the second unit of 220 MW of RAPP U5, expected to get commissioned in March 2009 was on track, Jairam said No. Both units of RAPP U5 of 220 MW each will face commissioning delays. We had planned the commissioning of 660 MW of nuclear capacity this year (2 x220 MW of RAPP and 220 MW of Kaiga). This capacity will not come this year.

The uranium shortage has affected existing atomic power plants, which are running below capacity. Due to insufficient uranium supply, power production at NPCs plants fell to about 16,960 million units in 2007-08 from 18,000 MU a year earlier. Nuclear Power Corporation has highlighted this problem at various forums.

However, the ministers statement of RAPP U5 and Kaiga U4 missing the commissioning deadlines assumes significance as it comes a week ahead of the UPA-Left meeting on June 10 to resolve the standoff on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. The signing of the pact is important to meet the shortage of nuclear fuel in the country.

The signing of the 123 Agreement is necessary for India to get fuel from the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Despite stiff opposition from the Left parties, Jairam said he is optimistic of the deal going through.

Citing that the atomic power station at Gujarats Kakrapar is operating at 50% of its capacity, Jairam said there is a depletion of stock in nuclear fueluranium--and the stock will last only for five-six years. The 220 MW plants of NPC are currently running at 150 to 160 MW so as to optimally use the fuel.

Uranium mines are located in Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya, but mining operations in Meghalaya are difficult because of opposition from several quarters.

Jairam said he has reviewed the progress of seven power projects coming up in the state with a total installed capacity of 7,728 MW. Out of these, three projects with 1,428 MW capacity will be commissioned this fiscal.