The construction of the 1,650 MW nuclear power reactors at Jaitapur in Maharashtra is again under discussion, as French President Emmanuel Macron is set to visit India in the first quarter of this year.
Even as the preparation for his visit begins, the main agenda will revolve around finding ways to expand defence and nuclear cooperation between the two nations.
India had announced plans to construct six 1,650 MW nuclear power plants at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri, which could become the nation’s largest nuclear power site once completed with a 9,900 MW capacity.
The development was a result of the French state-owned company, Electricité de France (EDF), submitting a techno-commercial offer to supply engineering studies and equipment for the construction of six European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) at the Jaitapur site in Maharashtra. French government hold 84 percent stake in EDF.
The talks over the proposed nuclear deal began way back in 2009 when India’s NPCIL and the French nuclear company Areva signed an agreement for the supply of two to six EPRs. But soon after Areva got embroiled in a major financial mess. Later, EDF took over Areva in 2016.
The project is being developed by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), in collaboration with the French company EDF. It is expected to generate a total of 9,900 MW of electricity, making it one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world.
Cost overrun and delays
The negotiations with NPCIL had earlier stalled over the issues of cost, safety, and liability in case of an accident.
The nuclear experts began to cast doubt when the only operational EPRs—Taishan-1 and Taishan-2— developed a serious snag. Eventually, Taishan unit 1 had to be shut down in July 2021 because of damaged fuel rods.
In fact, recently, the French nuclear regulator also pointed out the “serious” corrosion problems at some of the EDF’s nuclear reactors. Nuclear experts warned that would require several years to fix the problem.
Another nuclear project based on EPRs — Olkiluoto-3 — in Finland began its construction work in 2003 which is still not fully operational in 2022. In fact, it was due to open in 2009. In addition to the decade-long delays, the cost spiraled beyond the scope and scale of the project, rising from an initial estimate of $3.27 billion to around $12 billion, as per the 2019 World Nuclear Industry Report.
Besides the massive cost overruns across its projects, the French firm EDF has a debt of $45 billion. This poses another challenge for EDF’s ability to further invest in new projects.
What the Jaitapur Project entails
The project will use six advanced pressurised water reactors (PWRs), which are a type of nuclear reactor that uses water under high pressure to cool the reactor and generate steam to produce electricity. The reactors will be cooled by seawater, using natural circulation to transfer heat from the core to the steam generators.
In addition to the six reactors, the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project will also include a number of other facilities, including a seawater intake and discharge system, a cooling tower, and a site for spent fuel storage.
While the proposed reactor based on Generation III is under consideration, the debate has largely shifted towards the Generation IV reactor. Generation IV reactors are a class of nuclear reactors that are being developed to improve the performance and safety of current generation reactors.
Generation IV is based on the concept of a Supercritical Water-cooled Reactor (SCWR) which is an advanced nuclear reactor operating at very high temperatures and pressures. The SCWR design aims to achieve high thermal efficiency and a low cost of electricity generation.
The design approach is being pursued by many countries such as the US, Japan, Canada, and China.
Research and development of the SCWR technology are focused on addressing several key technical challenges, including the design and fabrication of materials that can withstand the extreme conditions of the SCWR environment, as well as the development of advanced cooling systems.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has identified the SCWR as one of the most promising concepts for Generation IV reactors. It has established an international collaborative research program to support the development of the technology.
Six different types of Generation IV reactors have been proposed which are based on the SCWR. These reactors use water as a coolant at supercritical pressures and temperatures to achieve high thermal efficiency and compact plant design. The idea is to enhance safety and sustainability.
Zero emission a big advantage
One of the main advantages of nuclear power is that it produces virtually zero greenhouse gas emissions.
“This makes it a clean and reliable source of energy that can help India reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and combat climate change. In addition, nuclear power plants have a high-capacity factor, which means they can operate at a high level of efficiency for long periods of time. This makes them an attractive option for meeting the country’s growing energy demand,” explained Daya Shankar, Chair Professor-Alok Sinha Professor of Mechanical Engineering, at Penn State University.
As Shankar added, “The Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project has the potential to be a major source of green energy for India. If the project can be completed on time and within budget, it could help the country meet its energy needs while also reducing its carbon footprint.”