India takes a step forward on N-reactor export front

July 9. Hindu Business Line. New Delhi

by Anil Sasi

Preliminary discussions on the possibility of setting up a nuclear power reactor in Kazakhstan based on India’s Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) design have been wrapped up.

A final decision on the issue, which could be a big step forward in India’s efforts to develop an export market for the indigenous 220 MWe PHWR, is likely once the inter-governmental agreement for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy is finalised between the two countries, official sources said.

“Kazakhstan is likely to be the first overseas market for Indian-made reactors. Preliminary discussions between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and the central Asian nation’s nuclear utility Kazatomprom have been held. A final decision on whether this (India setting up reactor units in Kazakhstan) would be a stand-alone deal or a barter arrangement against Kazakh uranium supplies will be decided only after the broad-based civil nuclear agreement under discussion between India and the uranium-rich country is concluded,” an official said.

The agreement, which is likely to be signed shortly, is also expected to address the possibility of joint cooperation in uranium mining, deliveries of Kazakh natural uranium for the Indian nuclear industry, and personnel training.

India has been proactively exploring the possibility of exporting indigenous PHWRs to developing nations that are eyeing nuclear power generation but are constrained by small-sized electricity grids. India had earlier moved a resolution to enable export of indigenous reactors at the IAEA General Conference of Member States in Vienna in late 2007.

With the opening up of international civil nuclear cooperation, which has technically cleared the decks for India to enter the global nuclear trade, the potential for export of indigenous reactors and services is being viewed as a viable commercial proposition, an official said.

“Currently, India is perhaps the only country to have an actively working technology, design and infrastructure for manufacture of small reactors with a unit capacity of 220 MWe. These units have a great potential for exports, particularly to nations with small grids that are planning nuclear forays with relatively lower investment levels,” an official said.

Globally, the major developers of nuclear reactors in the EU and North America have moved on to larger reactor sizes of 700 MWe or 1,000 MWe and above. India stands out in having an active nuclear power programme using 220 MWe reactors, which is based on proven technology in a number of domestic atomic stations.

In all, 12 such 220 MWe PHWR reactors are in operation currently while three more are under construction.

Officials said small size nuclear reactors are apt for countries that have small grids of around 10,000 MW. Use of large reactor units in case of countries having small grids could potentially lead to grid failures if even a single large unit shuts down at any point in time.

Besides, assembling clusters of 220 MWe reactors is projected to be more cost-effective than large-sized reactors from the US or Europe, officials said. Several Asean countries are reported to be eyeing the nuclear option, with Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand among those having announced plans to tap atomic energy in the future.