Days after Barack Obama’s visit, PMO sets target: Hike n-power capacity 3-fold in 10 years

Prime Minister’s Office has directed the nuclear establishment to get cracking on a target to triple country’s current nuclear power generation capacity of 4,780 MWe…

Indo US nuclear deal, Barack Obama, Narendra Modi

Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama announced a “breakthrough understanding” on the nuclear liability issue, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has directed the nuclear establishment to get cracking on a target to triple the country’s current nuclear power generation capacity of 4,780 MWe (mega watt electrical) over the next 10 years.

This is a stiff challenge, considering that the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has struggled to come close to doubling the installed capacity over the last decade.

The instruction to the DAE to step up on project execution comes at a time when substantive progress has been made on resolving the stalemate over the Indian liability legislation — this is expected to result in an incremental push to development of projects on foreign reactor technology. There are already indications of a renewed funding push to the nuclear sector, coming at a time when the total investments made in the atomic power sector during the last fiscal (Rs 3,626 crore in 2013-14) was the lowest in the last three years (Rs 3,650 crore in 2011-12 and Rs 4,549 crore in 2012-13).

According to officials, in the wake of explicit directions from the PMO, the DAE has got working on the 10-year target, whereby the current capacity of 4,780 MWe is slated to be ramped up to 14,580 MWe by 2020-21. This is predicated on the completion of ongoing construction and commissioning activities for seven reactors with an aggregate capacity of 5,300 MWe. In addition, 11 reactors based on indigenous reactor technologies with a total generation capacity of 6,900 MWe and eight reactors based on imported technologies with a total generation capacity of 10,500 MWe are currently scheduled for start of construction during the next three years.

Just three years back, tardy progress in case of new nuclear projects had forced the government to sharply prune the ambitious capacity addition target of 20,000 MWe by the year 2020, a target that was firmed up close on the heels of the euphoria surrounding the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

A decade back, India’s atomic capacity was 2,770 MWe (in December 2004), which has gone up to the current 4,780 MWe, an increase of about 70 per cent over the last decade. The share of nuclear power in the total electricity generation in the country in 2013-14 was just 3.54 per cent, a reflection of the low capacity base.

The present installed nuclear power capacity in the country comprises 4,160 MWe based on the indigenous technology and 620 MWe (Tarapur Atomic Power Station Units 1&2 – 2X160 MWe and Rajasthan Atomic Power Station Units 1&2 – 100 + 200 MWe) based on foreign technical cooperation. With the coming on stream of the two Russian-built Kudankulam nuclear power project units, the share of reactors built on foreign cooperation would go up to about 26 per cent.

If the plan to triple the installed capacity over the next 10 years goes through, the capacity based on foreign technical cooperation is expected to increase to about 31 per cent over the period. The first unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project of 1,000 MWe capacity was connected to the grid in October 2013 and it achieved full power on June 7 last year.

As late as in mid-2010, the DAE, buoyed by the progress on the India-US agreement, the inking of civil nuclear pacts with France and Canada, and the liberal sentiment expressed within the Nuclear Supply Group on technology transfers as well as fuel supply assurances, had announced an ambitious target of 63,000 MWe to be achieved in the long term (by the year 2032). With attempts to address the liability concerns raised by global nuclear reactor vendors, progress on projects to be set up with international cooperation is expected to gain momentum.

The Centre has, in principle, given its nod for six greenfield sites in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal for new nuclear units. The bulk of this capacity augmentation by NPCIL will be through larger-sized indigenous 700 MWe PHWRs (pressurised heavy water reactors) and imported LWRs (light water reactors) ranging between 1,000 MWe and 1,650 MWe. For the LWRs, the government has short-listed Toshiba-Westinghouse’s ‘AP1000’ reactor series, GE-Hitachi’s ‘ESBWR’ reactors, Areva’s EPRs (formerly called European Pressurised Reactors) and the Russian ‘VVER 1000’ reactors, two of which have already been deployed at Kudankulam.

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