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Cover Story | December 2015

Radioactive Lure

While ambitions have been dampened after the Fukushima incident, many remain optimistic about nuclear power in India. Disastrous ´maybes´ aside, POWER TODAY takes a look at the segment, as India clears a path into the ranks of nuclear countries.

The 2015 edition of BP´s Energy Outlook projected India´s energy production rising by 117 per cent to 2035, while consumption grows by 128 per cent. The country´s energy mix is projected to evolve very slowly over the next 22 years with fossil fuels accounting for 87 per cent of demand in 2035, compared with a global average of 81 per cent (down from 92 per cent now).

Observes Manju Gupta, President, Areva India,´Today, more than ever, there is a need of capacity building by means that can provide long term clean, green, cheap source of power. India Jocelyn Fernandesrequires a reliable, continuous source of sustainable and stable base load. The environmentally benign and economically viable source - nuclear power should thus be slated to play that very important role in the power landscape of the country to meet these demanding conditions while meeting the huge energy needs for the ambitious GDP growth.´

Electricity demand in India is increasing rapidly, and the 1,128 billion kilowatt hours (TWh) gross produced in 2012 still represented only some 750 kWh per capita for the year. With large transmission losses - 193 TWh (17 per cent) in 2012, this resulted in only about 869 billion kWh consumption. The OECD´s International Energy Agency predicts India will need $1,600 billion investment in power generation, transmission and distribution to 2035.

India´s priority is economic growth and to alleviate poverty. The importance of coal means that CO2 emission reduction is not a high priority, and the government has declined to set targets ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change to be held in Paris in 2015.

´Estimates say that India needs to add around 20 GW each year for the next decade to be able to meet the increasing energy demand. India should exploit the potential of nuclear power that can offer large base load capacity additions with very favourable operational conditions such as low fuel costs, high capacity and availability factors leading to very low operational cost over a long life of 60 years. By making nuclear energy a significant part of its energy mix, in the coming years, India can achieve the goal of reducing emissions and also address the country´s energy security challenges,´ she observes.

Indian nuclear power
NPCIL supplied 35 TWh of India´s electricity in 2013-14 from 5.3 GWe nuclear capacity, with overall capacity factor of 83 per cent and availability of 88 per cent. Some 410 reactor-years of operation had been achieved to December 2014. India´s fuel situation, with shortage of fossil fuels, is driving the nuclear investment for electricity, and 25 per cent nuclear contribution is the ambition for 2050, when 1,094 GWe of base-load capacity is expected to be required. Almost as much investment in the grid system as in power plants is necessary.

Comments Gupta,´India has indeed set up an ambitious goal for growth of the nuclear power capacity. Capacity addition to the tune of 40 GWe is targeted from the PWRs with Gen III technology. Considering that this capacity has a significance attached in terms of achieving not only the purpose and pace of 3 phase program, but also to support the aim to provide environmental friendly, economically viable power option along with other domestic technologies such as PHWR, FBR and AHWR, it is important that a rigorous plan be set up to achieve these ambitions.´

Adds Kaustubh Shukla, Chief Operating Officer, Industrial Products Group, Godrej & Boyce,´The target of 14.6 GW by 2024, looks quite feasible. To achieve this, we have to hasten the speed of execution - decision making, deployment of required resources, clearances for projects, acquisition of land at the chosen sites and all activities that feed into it. However time is running out, and sooner we embark on the mission, better our chances of meeting it.´

In July 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Department of Atomic Energy to triple the nuclear capacity to 17 GWe by 2024. He praised´India´s self-reliance in the nuclear fuel cycle and the commercial success of the indigenous reactors.´ Nuclear power for civil use is well established in India. Since building the two small boiling water reactors at Tarapur in the 1960s, its civil nuclear strategy has been directed towards complete independence in the nuclear fuel cycle, necessary because it is excluded from the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) due to it acquiring nuclear weapons capability after 1970.

As a result, India´s nuclear power program has proceeded largely without fuel or technological assistance from other countries. Adds Gupta,´India seems to have used the years of its isolation well to develop its own indigenous capabilities in this field. With those times behind, one can expect heralding of an era of collaborations and partnerships for nuclear industry.´

These could be new technologies of reactor design and associated components, manufacturing of components requiring different skills, processes and scale, new products such as fuel fabrication, collaborations in areas of research and development, opportunities for the Indian industry to work in third countries together with technology suppliers and many other such possibilities. It will also give a boost to the production of nuclear power generating capacities of domestic plants through import of uranium from suppliers world over, opening the nuclear sector in India to vast opportunities.

Shukla backs this notion,´Reasons for developing indigenous technology are different. We envision a very efficient nuclear energy ecosystem, due to the 3 stage programme, and hence are pursuing development of technology in that direction. We also need to scale up nuclear energy generation capacity and hence are looking forward to partner with other countries who have advanced technologies in establishing Light Water Reactors. So we see development on both directions and are keen to partner with foreign companies to help them localise and hence reduce costs for their reactors.´

India´s nuclear energy self-sufficiency extended from uranium exploration and mining through fuel fabrication, heavy water production, reactor design and construction, to reprocessing and waste management. It has a small fast breeder reactor and is building a much larger one. It is also developing technology to utilise its abundant resources of thorium as a nuclear fuel.

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of thermal nuclear power plants. At the start of 2010 it said it had enough cash on hand for 10,000 MWe of new plant. However, it is aiming to involve other public sector and private corporations in future nuclear power expansion, notably NTPC. Though the 1962 Atomic Energy Act prohibits private control of nuclear power generation, allowing for minority investment, as of late 2010, the government had no intention of changing this to allow greater private equity in nuclear plants.

Nuclear Technology
In April 2015, AREVA and NPCIL signed a pre-engineering agreement for the Jaitapur project. Both teams are now jointly working towards preliminary assessment of licensability of EPR in India as per Indian regulations. Simultaneously, Areva also signed a MoU with Larsen & Toubro for localisation of the components which go into EPR reactor.

´This not only will contribute towards the Make in India mission, it will also improve the competitiveness of the project. Meanwhile, discussions with NCPIL continue to find different solutions to bring Jaitapur project to fruition,´ adds Gupta.

With the NPT behind, one can expect heralding of an era of collaborations and partnerships for nuclear industry. These could be new technologies of reactor design and associated components, manufacturing of components requiring different skills, processes and scale, new products such as fuel fabrication, collaborations in areas of research and development, opportunities for the Indian industry to work in third countries together with technology suppliers and many other such possibilities.

Also, Research and Development plays a critical role in the innovation process. It´s essentially an investment in technology and future capabilities which is transformed into new products, processes, services and ultimately economic and social development. There is constant innovation in how nuclear energy can be safer, economic and efficient.

With the right level of innovation and R&D, the Indian nuclear industry can not only shape the future of the Indian nuclear projects but can also become a partner of choice internationally.

´We believe it is very much possible to achieve the goals set by GOI. In recent time, some very bold and encouraging steps have reaffirming the country´s commitment to development of nuclear energy. It keeps the optimism high of the entire nuclear community, within and externally, that India will see a steady increase of nuclear power in India´s overall energy mix,´ Gupta states.

Concurs Shukla,´In terms of clarity of vision and rationale, our 3 stage nuclear energy programme is unparalleled. Yet, for various reasons, the Indian nuclear power sector has not achieved its true potential. For decades, we had to develop indigenous technology, prove it, mature it and then scale it from 220 MW to 550-700 MW in the recent years. Later, shortage of nuclear fuel put limitations to the rate and scale grown.´

The Indo-US Nuclear agreement sought to change all that. Post agreement with the US, similar agreements for cooperation in Nuclear Energy have been signed with several countries - Russia, France, Australia, Kazakhstan etc. However, the next cycle of tendering has been languishing, as a solution to the concerns of industry due to the onerous Right of Recourse the operator can have under the CLNDA & Rules, is still work in progress.

´India has the technology for 700 MW plants and with availability of fuel, can embark on an ambitious plan to set up such plants. Our agreements with countries like US, France and Russia will pave the way of establishment of Light Water Reactors. The indigenous Fast Breeder Reactor is in advanced stages of completion, and work is underway for the Advanced Heavy Water (Thorium) Reactors. Once in place, India can boast of the most advanced and efficient Nuclear energy ecosystem. Albeit delayed, these technological achievements are truly stupendous,´ he points out.

Nuclear liability
India´s 1962 Atomic Energy Act says nothing about liability or compensation in the event of an accident. Also, India is not a party to the relevant international nuclear liability conventions. Since all civil nuclear facilities are owned and must be majority-owned by the Central Government (NPCIL and BHAVINI, both public sector enterprises), the liability issues arising from these installations are its responsibility. The CLNDA related to third party liability was passed by both houses of parliament in August 2010. This is framed and was debated in the context of strong national awareness of the Bhopal disaster in 1984, probably the world´s worst industrial accident. However, the clause giving recourse to the supplier for an operational plant is contrary to international conventions and undermines the channeling principle fundamental to nuclear liability, with limit set on suppliers´ liability, leading to an ambiguous interpretation.

Earlier in 2015, India, which had ruled out amending the liability law, finalised the administrative arrangements on the nuclear deal with the US. Under it, foreign suppliers of equipment for nuclear reactors cannot be sued by victims in case of a mishap. They can, however, be held liable by the operator who has the right of recourse that could be operationalised through the contract between the operator and the supplier.

Says Gupta,´Regarding the nuclear civil liability act and its implementation rules, it appears that some clauses are open to various interpretations. However, government has taken some measures to address the concerns of suppliers. Clarity is awaited on how the measures for technology suppliers will translate into economic and legal impact. Foreign technology reactors play a very important role in India´s 3-stage nuclear program. The large capacity additions and their output are critical for moving forward at the desired pace and hence implementation clarity would be important to make progress quickly.´

Shukla adds,´Once the nagging issues pertaining to the CLNDA & Rules are addressed, we can expect a rapid expansion of nuclear power sector. The official view is that the CLNDA & Rules will comply with the international conventions. India has been a very responsible developer of nuclear energy and as it is keen to integrate with other countries with advanced nuclear technology. We can trust that international conventions would be respected.´

In September, diversified US conglomerate GE ruled out participating in India´s civil nuclear programme citing ´risks´ over liability issue, despite the country reaching an understanding with the American government. GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt told reporters that he would not run his company into ´risks for anything´ and that there has to be a ´common language´ - with everything homogenised between India and the rest of the world.

Fukushima & After
The Fukushima accident raised legitimate concerns, and the nuclear industry over the world, in unison and immediately, responded to ensure that all the lessons in nuclear safety are learned and incorporated wherever required, to ensure utmost safety even in severe situations.

´The revival of the nuclear sector, post Fukushima has been slow because of the detailed review and analysis performed by the safety authorities to ensure robustness of the existing plant, those under construction and the technologies to withstand the Fukushima type severe conditions. Having said that, countries including India, are now bouncing back, with Japan itself restarting the operation of Sendai plant with another two in the process,´ observes Gupta.

´Public is an important stakeholder in this journey of growth of Nuclear power. I am sure that regulators AERB along with the entities involved in nuclear power production, directly or indirectly, are doing enough to address the concerns while embarking on the ambitious growth of nuclear power including construction of nuclear parks with PHWR and PWR technologies,´ she adds.

Shukla explains the Fukushima effect,´As we were readying to scale the sector up, Fukushima happened. Though the Indian experience and safety record has been outstanding, post the Fukushima incident NPCIL, DAE and AERB reviewed the safety arrangements at all plants, and it took some time. We must commend the Indian nuclear establishments for improving wherever necessary the already robust and reliable safety systems.´

It is true that public perception was vitiated for some time, but outreach, engagement, and rational communication has helped create a positive perception about the future programmes, he believes.

While it is not possible to estimate the growth in orders or supply in last two years, the Indian government is making lot of efforts to improve the business and policy environment to provide boost to increase of nuclear energy share. India has already developed vast array of capabilities and a robust supply chain to meet the needs of the domestic nuclear sector. This makes it easier to a certain extent, to build upon the Indian industry´s existing strengths in supplying nuclear grade components/materials.

´Having said that, the EPR being a PWR type reactor with much different specifications and applicable codes and standards, sourcing and developing the components with Indian industry will require a detailed study to understand the gaps in terms of technical and investment needs and ways and means to fill the gap. Insurance pool framework has been now created by GOI to cover the damages due to a nuclear accident in India. However, the implementation details are yet unclear and awaited for technology suppliers like us,´ feels Gupta.

As a solution she feels that a single ministry administering energy needs as against the current setup with commercial nuclear power being outside of the purview of Ministry of Power, in order to provide a more holistic view for growth of power sector, would be the way to go.

Shukla meanwhile shed some light on the slowdown,´All the orders for nuclear power generation equipment that we had won in 2010, have been executed way back by 2013. The next cycle of tendering has been languishing, as a solution to the concerns of industry due to the onerous Right of Recourse the operator can have under the CLNDA & Rules, is still work in progress. So, there have been no new orders released in the past 4 to 5 years.´

However, he did point out that in line with India´s vision of a 3 stage programme, work is underway for completing the FBR and developing technology for Advanced Heavy Water (Thorium) Reactors, take time to come to fruition.

´We must acknowledge that these are advanced technologies and reliability and safety have to be of utmost concerns. Being right the first time far outweighs doing it fast and we must therefore give the designers, technologists, scientists their space and time,´ he ends.

Fukushima Accident

  • Following a major earthquake, a 15-metre tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident on March 11, 2011. All three cores largely melted in the first three days.
  • The accident was rated 7 on the INES scale, due to high radioactive releases over days 4 to 6, eventually a total of some 940 PBq (I-131 eq).
  • Four reactors were written off due to damage in the accident 2,719 MWe net.
  • After two weeks, the three reactors (units 1-3) were stable with water addition and by July they were being cooled with recycled water from the new treatment plant. Official ´cold shutdown condition´ was announced in mid-December.
  • Apart from cooling, the basic ongoing task was to prevent release of radioactive materials, particularly in contaminated water leaked from the three units. This task became newsworthy in August 2013.
  • There have been no deaths or cases of radiation sickness from the nuclear accident, but over 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes to ensure this. Government nervousness delays the return of many.
  • Official figures show that there have been well over 1,000 deaths from maintaining the evacuation, in contrast to little risk from radiation if early return had been allowed.

Source: World Nuclear Organisation
- Jocelyn Fernandes

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