Nuclear power has an important role in climate change equation: GE

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July 23, 2021 6:45 AM

From India’s point of view, nuclear will play an important role. Massive renewable capacity is being added in India and the pace of capacity addition of fossil fuel based plants is slowing down.

General ElectricFrederic Wiscart, global managing director-nuclear new build, GE Steam Power, and Prashant Jain, managing director, GE Power India

From the present installed nuclear power capacity of 6,780 mega-watt (MW), the country aims to increase the capacity to 22,480 MW by 2031. Completion of capital intensive nuclear power projects are time consuming, but once commissioned, they are the most reliable source of CO2-free electricity. Frederic Wiscart, global managing director-nuclear new build, GE Steam Power and Prashant Jain, managing director, GE Power India, tell FE’s Anupam Chatterjee the significance of nuclear-based electricity in the current milieu, and what can help to smoothen the execution of these projects. Excerpts.

What role can nuclear power play in India?

Frederic: We see nuclear play a very important role in the climate change equation. It is currently the only CO2 free dependable power generation.

Prashant: From India’s point of view, nuclear will play an important role. Massive renewable capacity is being added in India and the pace of capacity addition of fossil fuel based plants is slowing down. For the international programme, GE along with our partner EDF is in talks with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) for the 9,600 MW Jaitapur project. We are also participating with our partner BHEL in India for the domestic programme.

Are you satisfied with the pace of developments?

Prashant: I see traction and movement for the nuclear plant tenders. Discussions are also taking place for the international programme. Nuclear is a very complex project and it takes a long time for project execution. The Kakrapar unit 3 has been synchronised with the grid and should be in full load within a month. The bulk tender of 6X700 MW was recently awarded to BHEL and GE’s share in that is three turbines.

Frederic: We should also mention that there is a technology partnership and the technology for the steam turbines supplied by GE and the ones supplied by BHEL will be the same. This is GE technology and we have signed a long-term partnership agreement. It is not unusual to see between the first talks of the project launch and first pouring of the concrete to take five to ten years. Obviously the financing of the projects, because of their high upfront capital costs, is quite a complex process. These are long term investments but in terms of price per kilo-watt-hour, it is quite competitive. Hence the time needed to launch these projects are higher.

What are the expected costs of these projects and how can they be brought down?

Prashant: If you look at the PIB notification, the cost of indigenous nuclear pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) unit constructed in 2017 was Rs 15 crore per MW. As NPCIL is proceeding to order the rest of the unit in fleet mode, by combining multiple tenders, we expect the cost should eventually come down.

Frederic: In UK, we are building nuclear units with two units of 1,700 MW each. And the replica of this project is being developed these days and for the two additional units to be built, the UK government expects a 20% reduction in cost compared with the first two units. The same trend in cost reduction can be expected in India as well. We have seen similar levels of cost reduction in France in the past.

Won’t import dependency rise with nuclear power?

Prashant: We have local manufacturing capacities and are well positioned to support the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative and work with our partner BHEL to deliver on the nuclear aspirations of our domestic programme. We have a competitive and efficient partnership with BHEL. Our capacity in Sanand is well suited to manufacture around upto 1,200 MW of steam turbines. We can also potentially support export jobs to serve customers in the globe apart from NPCIL. From the perspective of self-reliance, the success of the prototype fast breeder reactors based on Thorium is critical. If that succeeds, there is a tremendous potential. We have got abundant Thorium reserves in the country. If the prototype fast breeder reactor— which is expected to reach criticality by the end of the year — is successful, there could be potential for 170 GW in India based on the Thorium.

Hasn’t safety traditionally been a concern for nuclear plants?

Frederic: There is a lot of scope to raise awareness and educating the public about nuclear safety. And when I say nuclear power is safe, it includes the management of the waste fuel as well. According to the International Energy Agency, nuclear is the safest source of power generation. There have been big accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima in the past, from which the global nuclear industry has learnt and safety standards have been improved.

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