While many countries are unable to take a firm stand on the future of nuclear power, India has done it - decided to go ahead with nuclear for lighting up the future of millions of its citizens.
The Union Cabinet on May 17, 2017 gave its approval for construction of 10 nuclear units of the new indigenously developed 700 MWe (mega watt electric) pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) as part of its clean energy thrust. On June 1, India and Russia signed an agreement at St. Petersburg, according to which Atomstroyexport, a unit of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom will build the fifth and sixth reactors of 1000 MWe each of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Station (KKNPS). These two announcements have boosted the enthusiasm in the industry where implementation is fraught with delays over the last five decades.
These proposals combined is set to add 9000 MWe of new capacity in the years to come against the present total installed capacity of nuclear power at 6,780 MWe at the end of May 2017, have given a shot in the arm for the Indian nuclear equipment and component manufacturers, who were saddled with meagre orders from domestic nuclear power projects. Some nuclear experts are exuding hope that these events will boost the chances of India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which will open up the global market for the Indian nuclear gear manufacturers.
The new reactors are also of significantly higher capacities compared to the PHWRs currently in operation -14 reactors are of 220 MWe capacity, and a couple of them are of 540 MWe. The ten new reactors will be installed in Kaiga in Karnataka (Unit 5 and 6), Chutka in Madhya Pradesh (Unit 1 and 2), Gorakhpur in Haryana (Unit 3 and 4) and Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan (Unit 1, 2, 3 and 4).
In fact, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has been planning to build a fleet of 700 MW PHWRs for a long time. In 2007, DAE first announced that work on 8 numbers of 700 MWe of indigenous reactors totalling 5,600-MWe capacity would be undertaken as part of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007û12). In December 2012, the government again stated that work on eight more 700 MWe reactors would commence during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2012û17) at Kaiga, Chutka, Gorakhpur, and Mahi Banswara. However, none of these projects began during the plan period.
The present lot of reactors are planned to be installed at the same locations. If the recent announcement is implemented in a time-bound manner, it is expected to add ample base power capacity from nuclear, alongside thermal, balancing the new renewable capacities that are expected to be built by 2022.
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is presently operating 22 commercial nuclear power reactors with an installed capacity of 6780 MWe. The reactor fleet comprises two boiling water reactors (BWRs) and 18 pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) including one 100 MW PHWR in Rajasthan which is owned by DAE, and two 1000 MW VVER reactors (Pressurised Water Reactor type) at Kudankulam Nuclear Power Station (KKNPS). Currently, NPCIL has four reactors under various stages of construction totalling 2800 MWe capacity.
NPCIL, a Public Sector Enterprise under the administrative control of DAE, is the nodal agency for operating atomic power plants and implementing atomic power projects for generation of electricity in the country.
Starting with the original 220 MW PHWR design imported from Canada, India's nuclear technology has evolved over the years to 540 MWe and later to 700 MWe at present. There are 14 numbers of 220 MW PHWRs out of 22 reactors in operation today. About 2800 MWe of nuclear capacity under construction consists of two units of 700 MWe of capacity each in Rajasthan Atomic Power Project and Kakrapar Atomic Power Project. Units 3 and 4 of the KKNPS are expected to be commissioned by 2022-23. Pre-project activities at new sites, which were accorded 'in principle' approval by the Government, have been initiated.
Boost to nuclear suppliers
With the announcement of 10 PHWRs that will be completed in a 10-year timeframe, the nuclear equipment supplier in the country have got a shot in the arm. Kaustubh Shukla, Chief Operating Officer of the Industrial Products Group, Godrej & Boyce (G&B) says, 'We have been serving the requirement of equipment for nuclear power from NPCIL, whenever an opportunity presented itself. As you know, in the past, the demand has been very small and sporadic. So, we are not a pure play nuclear equipment maker. In fact, no one in India is, or can be, given the small and sporadic requirement. Thus, the challenge is in terms of continuity and magnitude of businessà Hopefully, all of this is set to change now, as NPCIL embarks on an ambitious new build programme.'
Manufacturing process of nuclear equipment has to be very advanced - precise, regimented, carried out by controlled processes, on calibrated equipment and by qualified people. Such a manufacturing setup comes with associated costs. 'And there are only two outcomes - either you have the capability to produce, or do not have it. There can be no 'trying' to produce,' Shukla added.
On May 27, 2017, NPCIL convened a meeting of the industry, mainly suppliers, where it was made clear to them that NPCIL would follow fleet mode ordering and that the plan was to commission one reactor a year after the initial gestation, said Sayaji K Shinde, Vice President & Global Head (Power), Kirloskar Brothers Limited (KBL).
For several decades now, KBL and G&B has been supporting DAE and NPCIL with critical equipment and components in their nuclear programme. KBL provides pumping solutions (and in some projects, on an EPC basis), which include Condenser Cooling Water Pumps (CCW Pumps), Condensate Extraction Pumps (CEPs), Primary and Secondary Coolant Pumps for Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR) and PHWRs, Auxiliary Boiler Feed Pumps (ABFP), Canned Motor Moderator Circuit Pumps etc. KBL is also in an advance stage of executing the order for the development of the Shutdown Cooling Pumps (SDCP) and have also been recently awarded contract for the development of the Main Boiler Feed Pumps (BFPs) for the 700 MWe Nuclear Power Plant (NPP).
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) forecasts that the global nuclear industry is estimated to seek around $80 billion in annual investment over the coming decade as countries strive to meet climate and clean energy goals. The ambitious project announced by the government in India is estimated to create supply opportunities to the tune of Rs.70,000 crore over the next 10 years.
Globally, there are Russian (Rosatom), French (EDF-AREVA), American (GE), Korean technologies for NPPs in use. Generally speaking, the quality systems that go into building NPPs and the associated processes of manufacturing and documentation may vary slightly. The technology currently being used in the Indian nuclear programme is `Candu', which is a Canadian technology.
Responding to a query, Shukla said, 'As an engineer, I think that if the current technology has proven to be effective, stable and safe, and has delivered results as expected, that is the best technology to deploy going forward.'
'Once India becomes a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and if there is an opportunity to serve others (foreign suppliers) under the NSG regime - we will explore such opportunities,' shukla added.
Stating that KBL had built a strong in-house Research and Development (R&D) base, Shinde said that they try to be independent on critical technologies such as this. 'The products that have been developed for the nuclear programme are totally indigenous and in the true sense 'Made in India'.'
In a bid to tap foreign NPPs' loacalisation requirements when contracts for setting up reactors here are awarded, KBL has acquired the N, NPT and MO accreditation from American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). 'This certification qualifies us to manufacture nuclear grade equipment and components,' Shinde explained. Referring to his recent visit to ITER (International Thermo-nuclear Experimental Reactor) power plant being set up in France, Shinde said that the technology developed by collaborative efforts of countries like USA, South Korea, France, UK, India and China using fusion technology, could emerge as a sustainable technology in the years to come.
While India is moving towards bigger capacities, the recent nuclear disasters are pushing the leading manufacturers towards smaller capacities that can be installed quickly, at modest cost and with operational simplicity. China is developing these plants that are called small modular reactors (SMR). Others are also pursuing the technology, with around 50 different SMR designs worldwide, according to the IAEA. Russia leads the way on floating plants, while the U.S. firms, including Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox, have been developing their own SMRs, along with smaller start-ups like the Bill Gates-backed Terrapower.
Being a vast country and having varied requirements locally and nationally, all the available sources of energy should be tapped in India. However, cost is a factor that decides utility value of a product or service. That brings in the question, is nuclear competitive enough to promote at a time when the focus is shifting to solar and wind as clean energies in India and their prices are falling steeply over the years? 'The declining prices of solar and wind may prompt us to focus more on them -however, it is a fact that these sources are not steady. Wind generation changes over the year, and even during the day. Ditto for solar. So, when such sources fade, we need base power to kick in. It can be gas, thermal or nuclear,' argues Shukla.
Nuclear power, in relative terms, is a much cleaner power. It is a sustainable source and in some technologies it is also regenerating in nature.
'If you have to look at base load power generation as an alternative to thermal power, then nuclear power does appear to be next best alternative or next better option in terms of cleaner power,' says Shinde.
However, while prices of solar are hovering in the range of Rs.2.44/unit, wind is at a low of Rs.3.44/unit in the reverse bidding process adopted by the government in the recent years. Going ahead, the prices of renewable energy sources are expected to fall further due to intense competition. However, nuclear prices are at Rs.4.29 per unit, if one has to go by the cost of power generation at the unit I & II of KKNPS.
Shinde says argues that we should look at the lifecycle cost (cost of ownership), the NPPs may emerge as very competitive. 'I think, NPP technology may be expensive to begin with, but because they are low on operating cost it may prove to be economical in the long run.'
Shinde also exudes hope that with the proposed fleet ordering by NPCIL, the overall capital costs of setting up an NPP in India may significantly come down, with economies of scale kicking in for the supporting industry.
Given that three major nuclear disasters have taken place in the past, India's track record has been good, so far. NPCIL has achieved about 458 reactor years of experience in safe operation of nuclear power plants. The Environmental Management System (EMS) and Occupational Health and Safety Management System (OHSMS) as per ISO-14001: 2004 and IS-18001: 2007 respectively are maintained at all the stations.
'By following the principle of ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) and maintaining the highest standards of safety within NPPs, the occupational exposures of employees of the company at various NPPs are maintained well below the values specified by the regulator, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB),' claims NPCIL.
The environmental releases of radioactive effluents from NPPs are maintained significantly low (average less than 1 per cent of the limits specified by AERB).
Following the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima reactor complex in 2011, the beleaguered nuclear industry has been focused on rolling out safer, large-scale reactors across the world, even as many countries have reined in their ambitions on nuclear.
Japan has put a bar on building new NPPs and replacing the existing ones. Many European countries like Switzerland, Denmark and Italy are following Germany in bringing down their reliance on nuclear power. Following the Fukushima disaster, Germany has taken a decision to shut down all 17 of the country's nuclear reactors by 2022.
However, several developing countries still want to pursue their nuclear ambitions by invoking some supporting measures in order to meet the growing energy demand.
India's Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act 2010 was considered to be a hindrance by NSG and its members till a couple of years' back. That was when (in June 2015) the Indian Nuclear Insurance Pool (INIP), launched by the state-owned General Insurance Corporation-Reinsurer (GIC-Re) and 11 other Indian insurance companies offered an insurance product for NPCIL for covering the operator's liability under the provisions of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act 2010. They have later launched a separate product to specifically cover the risks of the suppliers under the Act.
GIC-Re said recently that reactor makers like GE and Westinghouse are showing interest in taking insurance from the pool. The insurers under the pool provides for Rs 1,500 crore as maximum liability for nuclear damage. This has taken care of the contentious issue.
Only three nuclear power accidents have been reported, so far, over the last three decades - at Fukushima, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
Slow in execution
Though India has begun its nuclear power initiatives in right earnest in 1960s and the first plant become operational in 1969, its progress has been very slow compared to China. Though China has commissioned its first plant only in 1994, it is having 20 projects of 22,596-MWe capacity under construction at present.
In India, Nuclear power has only a modest share (about 2 per cent of total installed capacity of 330 GW at end-May 2017) in the overall power. 'What is important is that we have indigenous technology, a self-contained ecosystem, all know-how from siting to operating NPPs, and above all, a great safety record,' says Shukla, adding 'It is also heartening to learn that post easing of supply of fuel, all plants are working close to their capacities and some even exceeding them. This indicates a very stable nuclear power generation capability.'
During her visit to India in November 2016, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) Director General, Agneta Rising, said that India should scale up and pace up construction of nuclear plants to meet its insatiable power demand, renewable programme and climate change targets. India had five reactors of about 3,300-MWe of capacity under construction in the country then. ôBut this is too little for a country with so many people,' she added.
India has the technology, expertise and skill to build its own nuclear plants, there were no restriction on India importing uranium, Rising said. Despite that India takes 84 months to complete a reactor project, against the global benchmark of 73 months in 2015.
The way forward
The debate on 'whether to adopt nuclear or not' aside, the country has embarked on a project to provide quality 'Power for all'. To achieve this, the country has to tap all the sources of energy - thermal, hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass etc., including nuclear. Arguing to the contrary is just like the saying, 'Do you want to keep off the road forever, just because accidents are taking place there?' If such an ambitious initiative can yield something more like NSG membership that would be a bonus for the nuclear suppliers from India.
All the development activities such as urbanization, building dams, roads, ports and transportation, to cite a few examples, have an environmental impact. 'Responsible corporates are sensitive to such impacts, and have adopted goals for 'People and Planet', besides 'Profits'. NPCIL has been one such sensitive and responsible corporate,' says Shukla of G&B.
However, NPP builders and their associate associations have to get together to review the disasters that have happened in the past and take firm corrective actions form time to time. That is what NPCIL is doing. It is having brainstorming sessions and contributing to the debates in which World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), Candu Owners Group (COG), IAEA and other international organizations are active participants.
However, there is every reason for the electricity consumer to seek power at the least cost in the prevailing circumstances. Somehow nuclear industry has to bring down the costs and evolve as a competitive source of energy for the masses.
Nuclear power sector, particularly biggies like Westinghouse and AREVA, had to face serious financial consequences in the wake of certain unfavourable developments. But financial sector has evolved so much that instruments that take care of such uncertainties can be developed. India is offering an insurance cover to take care of their risks to an extent. For a change let India lead the world to light.