No private role in N-power for now

Written by Anupama Airy | New Delhi, Sep 7 | Updated: Sep 8 2008, 07:32am hrs
The government is in no hurry to allow private sector participation in setting up nuclear power projects in the country. It would attempt to utilise the capacity of public sector power companies to develop nuclear power stations first, before attempting to open up the sector for private companies. Minister of state for power, Jairam Ramesh, told FE: The government has no immediate plans (for private sector participation) on this front. We are in no hurry and this is not what our priority is at the moment. The countrys first priority is to bring the existing nuclear power stations to run at full capacity.

This means state-owned companies, including NTPC and Bhel, will be the ones, along with the existing monopoly nuclear power generator, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), that will contribute in a big way to Indias nuclear power generation programme. To permit private sector companies to enter the domain, the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 will have to be amended as it allows only those companies with a 51% government stake to enter the sector.

In the domestic private sector, while a host of companies like Tata Power, Reliance Power, L&T, Jindal Steel are also looking at appropriate tie-ups for an entry into equipment supply as well as undertake engineering, maintenance & repair services, they will have to await the legislative change to have a peep in.

We should look at tying up fuel supplies at the earliest from countries like Australia, Canada and South Africa. With appropriate fuel supply contracts in place, we can easily get another 2,000 MW of our existing nuclear capacity operational in the next three to four months, Jairam said. Of the total nuclear installed capacity of 4,000 MW, only 45% capacity or 1950 MW is currently operational. With the entry of India into the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), he said the plans to have six nuclear reactors of 1,000 MW each would also soon become a reality.

In addition, Indias largest generation company, NTPC, has also chalked out plans to set up two 1,000 MW nuclear power plants before the end of 12th plan, ie before 2017.

A senior NTPC official said, The business model, including sourcing of the fuel for these plants along with the right technology partner, will be decided shortly with the government. We have already held discussions with leading technology suppliers like General Electric of the US, Westinghouse, Areva of France, Turboatom of Russia besides some Japanese suppliers like Hitachi in this regard.

Bhel too has formed a joint venture with NPCIL for undertaking EPC of the conventional portion of the nuclear power plant. For the nuclear portion, Bhel has to decide on the right technology for which it is in talks with the technology providers. We currently have the technology for 540 MW nuclear reactor. We are in talks with companies for appropriate technology for 700 MW, 1000 MW and 1600 MW reactors, Bhels chairman & managing director Ravi Kumar said.

This is expected to open up a large market for global suppliers of nuclear technology. Areva, along with its partner JV Siemens, is planning an entry in the Indian nuclear power. At present, India has 17 nuclear power units with a total installed capacity of 4,120 MW in operation, which produced 16,600 million units of power during the last year. About 3,160 MW are under various stages of construction at the Rawatbhata station in Rajasthan (2x220 MW), Kaiga (220 MW) and at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu.