Vol. VIII Issue. 40
India as a New Nuclear Supplier
Dr. V. K. Saraswat|
Special Advisor to the Defence Minister and Director General.
20 March 2012
(Keynote Address of Dr. V. K. Saraswat, Special Advisor to the Defence Minister and Director General, DRDO read at the Nuclear Workshop jointly organized by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, USA & the Observer Research Foundation on February 23-24, 2012 at New Delhi)
Distinguished guests, ladies & gentlemen. I am indeed honoured to be given this opportunity by CSIS, USA and Observer Research Foundation, India to deliver the keynote address for the Workshop on India as New Nuclear Supplier.
At the outset I would like to quote Homi J Bhabha who said “There is no power as costly as no-power.”
Energy is the engine for social & economic growth. It multiplies human labour and increases productivity in agriculture, industry as well as in services. To sustain growth rate in economy, energy supply has to grow in tandem. To give you an idea, 1% GDP Growth Rate requires 0.7 to 0.85 % Energy Growth Rate. Even our success in addressing other resource issues like water and food scarcity which are likely to loom large in the years to come will be greatly determined by how we solve the issues of energy security. Until recently the sources of energy were dictated by availability and accessibility of the sources, its economic viability and the conveniences.
Coming to Nuclear Power in India I would like to mention that
India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and expects to have 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which has hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009.
Due to these trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium.
Now, foreign technology and fuel are expected to boost India's nuclear power plans considerably. All plants will have high indigenous engineering content.
India has a vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle.
Coal provides 68% of the electricity at present, but reserves are limited. Gas provides 8%, hydro 14%. The per capita electricity consumption figure is expected to double by 2020, with 6.3% annual growth, and reach 5000-6000 kWh by 2050.
India's fuel situation, with shortage of fossil fuels, is driving the nuclear investment for electricity, and 25% nuclear contribution is foreseen by 2050, when 1094 GWe of base-load capacity is expected to be required. Almost as much investment in the grid system as in power plants is necessary.
Atomic Energy Commission envisages some 500 GWe nuclear on line by 2060, and has since speculated that the amount might be higher still: 600-700 GWe by 2050, providing half of all electricity.
Indian nuclear power industry development
Nuclear power for civil use is well established in India. 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. Its power reactors to the mid 1990s had some of the world's lowest capacity factors, reflecting the technical difficulties of the country's isolation, but rose impressively from 60% in 1995 to 85% in 2001-02. Then in 2008-10 the load factors dropped due to shortage of uranium fuel.
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. Its funding model is 70% equity and 30% debt financing.
Following Safety being a major concern the Fukushima accident in March 2011, four NPCIL taskforces evaluated the situation in India and in an interim report in July made recommendations for safety improvements of the Tarapur BWRs and each PHWR type.
Recent nuclear power developments in India
The Tarapur 3&4 reactors of 540 MWe gross (490 MWe net) were developed indigenously from the 220 MWe (gross) model PHWR and were built by NPCIL.
Future indigenous PHWR reactors will be 700 MWe gross (640 MWe net). The first four are being built at Kakrapar and Rajasthan. They are due on line by 2017 after 60 months construction from first concrete to criticality.
In mid 2008 Indian nuclear power plants were running at about half of capacity due to a chronic shortage of fuel. The situation was expected to persist for several years if the civil nuclear agreement faltered, though some easing in 2008 was due to the new Turamdih mill in Jharkhand state coming on line (the mine there was already operating). Political opposition has delayed new mines in Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh.
Nuclear industry developments in India beyond the trade restrictions
Following the Nuclear Suppliers' Group agreement which was achieved in September 2008, the scope for supply of both reactors and fuel from suppliers in other countries opened up. Civil nuclear cooperation agreements have been signed with the USA, Russia, France, UK, South Korea and Canada, as well as Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Namibia.
Between 2012 and 2020, construction is expected to take total gross capacity to approximately 21,000 MWe. The nuclear capacity target is part of national energy policy. The benchmark capital cost sanctioned by DAE for imported units is quoted at $1600 per kilowatt.
Nuclear Energy Parks
In line with past practice such as at the eight-unit Rajasthan nuclear plant, NPCIL intends to set up five further "Nuclear Energy Parks", each with a capacity for up to eight new-generation reactors of 1,000 MWe, six reactors of 1600 MWe or simply 10,000 MWe at a single location. By 2032, 40-45 GWe would be provided from these five. NPCIL says it is confident of being able to start work by 2012 on at least four new reactors at all four sites designated for imported plants.
The new energy parks are to come up at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Mithi Virdi in Gujarat, Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh, Haripur in West Bengal, Kumharia or Gorakhpur in Haryana, Bargi in Madhya Pradesh and Markandi in Orissa.
Other indigenous arrangements
NTPC, BHEL, NALCO, IOC, ONGC, SAIL & Indian Railways have also joined hands with NPCIL for setting up nuclear power projects.
Fast neutron reactors
Longer term, the AEC envisages its fast reactor program being 30 to 40 times bigger than the PHWR program, and initially at least, largely in the military sphere until its "synchronised working" with the reprocessing plant is proven on an 18-24 month cycle.
Uranium resources in India
India's uranium resources are modest, with 73,000 tonnes U as reasonably assured resources (RAR) and 33,000 tonnes as inferred resources in situ (to $130/kgU) at January 2009. The DAE in May 2011 claimed 139,800 tU. Accordingly, from 2009 India is expecting to import an increasing proportion of its uranium fuel needs.
Exploration is carried out by the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD). Mining and processing of uranium is carried out by Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL), also a subsidiary of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
However, India has reasonably assured resouirces of 319,000 tonnes of thorium - about 13% of the world total, and these are intended to fuel its nuclear power program longer-term.
In September 2009 largely state-owned Oil & Natural Gas Corporation ONCC proposed to form a joint venture with UCIL to explore for uranium in Assam, and was later reported to be mining uranium in partnership with UCIL in the Cauvery area of Tamil Nadu.
As of August 2010 the DAE said that seven reactors (1400 MWe) were using imported fuel and working at full power, nine reactors (2630 MWe) used domestic uranium.
Uranium fuel cycle
DAE's Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad undertakes refining and conversion of uranium, which is received as magnesium diuranate (yellowcake) and refined. Mixed carbide fuel for FBTR was first fabricated by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in 1979.
Heavy water is supplied by DAE's Heavy Water Board, and the seven plants are working at capacity due to the current building program.
Fuel fabrication is by the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad.
Reprocessing of used fuel from the civil PHWRs is being done by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay, Tarapur and Kalpakkam to extract reactor-grade plutonium for use in the fast breeder reactors.
Thorium fuel cycle development in India
The long-term goal of India's nuclear program has been to develop an advanced heavy-water thorium cycle.The first stage of this employs the PHWRs fuelled by natural uranium, and light water reactors, to produce plutonium.
Stage 2 uses fast neutron reactors burning the plutonium to breed U-233 from thorium. The blanket around the core will have uranium as well as thorium, so that further plutonium (ideally high-fissile Pu) is produced as well as the U-233.
Then in stage 3, Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWRs) burn the U-233 from stage 2 and this plutonium with thorium, getting about two thirds of their power from the thorium.
In 2002 the regulatory authority issued approval to start construction of a prototype fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam and this is now under construction by BHAVINI. This will take India's ambitious thorium program to stage 2, and set the scene for eventual full utilisation of the country's abundant thorium to fuel reactors. Six more such fast reactors have been announced for construction, four of them by 2020.
So far about one tonne of thorium oxide fuel has been irradiated experimentally in PHWR reactors and has reprocessed and some of this has been reprocessed, according to BARC. A reprocessing centre for thorium fuels is being set up at Kalpakkam.
Radioactive Waste Management in India
Radioactive wastes from the nuclear reactors and reprocessing plants are treated and stored at each site. Waste immobilisation plants are in operation at Tarapur and Trombay and another is being constructed at Kalpakkam. Research on final disposal of high-level and long-lived wastes in a geological repository is in progress at BARC.
Regulation and safety
The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was established in 1948 under the Atomic Energy Act as a policy body. Then in 1954 the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was set up to encompass research, technology development and commercial reactor operation. The current Atomic Energy Act is 1962, and it permits only government-owned enterprises to be involved in nuclear power.
The DAE includes NPCIL, Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL, mining and processing), Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD, exploration), Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (reactor control and instrumentation) and BHAVINI. The DAE also controls the Heavy Water Board for production of heavy water and the Nuclear Fuel Complex for fuel and component manufacture.
NPCIL is an active participant in the programmes of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO).
An early AEC decision was to set up the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay near Mumbai. A series of 'research' reactors and critical facilities was built here: APSARA (pool-type, 1 MW, operating from 1956) was the first research reactor in Asia, CIRUS (40 MW, 1960) built under the Colombo Plan, and Dhruva (100 MW, 1985) followed it along with fuel cycle facilities.
Reprocessing of used fuel was first undertaken at Trombay in 1964. When opening the new reprocessing plant at Tarapur in 2011, the prime minister reminded listeners that "The recycling and optimal utilization of uranium is essential to meet our current and future energy security needs."
BARC is also responsible for the transition to thorium-based systems and in particular is developing the 300 MWe AHWR as a technology demonstration project. This is a vertical pressure tube design with heavy water moderator, boiling light water cooling with passive safety design and thorium-plutonium based fuel.
The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam was set up in 1971. Two civil research reactors here are preparing for stage two of the thorium cycle. BHAVINI is located here and draws upon the centre's expertise and that of NPCIL in establishing the fast reactor program.
The Board of Radiation & Isotope Technology (BRIT) was separated from BARC in 1989 and is responsible for radioisotope production.
Before concluding, in respect of Indian Initiatives on Nuclear Energy I would like to mention a few important long term targets like:
Increased thermal efficiency through a shift to high temperature reactors
Multiple industrial use of high temperature reactors
Improved fuels and better coolants
Improved safety, reduced nuclear waste, and better proliferation resistance through in-situ incineration using accelerator driven systems (ADS) and
Development of commercial fusion technology
The current status of Indian Nuclear Energy Programme is quite encouraging and capable to deliver power to the nation. We have the largest number of reactors under construction in any country in the world today. It is also found that long term energy security if based on thorium based nuclear energy will be more than 250 years. This bodes well for our future energy needs. I again reiterate that India has bright future as New Nuclear Supplier.
I wish the workshop a GRAND SUCCESS ! Thank You
(The speech may not be reproduced without the permission from the Observer Research Foundation.)