IN an interview to Frontline on July 14 in Chennai, S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), spoke on a variety of subjects, including the expansion of the KKNPP to accommodate four more reactors, the French reactors to come up at Jaitapur in Maharashtra and the arrival of nuclear fuel from Russia and France. Jain is also the Managing Director of Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (BHAVINI), which is building the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu. Excerpts from the interview:
You had mentioned that the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project is the model of ideal cooperation between India and Russia, and that it has a fusion of technologies. Can you expand on that?
The Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) that India and Russia signed, on Kudankulam, in 1988 was based on constructing two units at Kudankulam on a turnkey basis. When a supplementary agreement was signed in 1998, a decision was taken that instead of Russia building the reactors the task should be done on the basis of technical cooperation. [That is, while Russia will supply the two reactors design, equipment and components, NPCIL will build them.]
Although we had a comprehensive capability in building Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), the technology of the Pressurised Water Reactors [to which the Kudankulam reactors belong] was different. Our Russian friends were not confident that we would be able to do all the construction and erection of the 1,000 MWe nuclear turbines, systems, and so on. But the two sides exchanged information in a transparent way. We took them to our own plants and leading industries, and confidence-building measures were taken up.
When we look back, the decision to build the reactors on a technical cooperation basis has turned out to be good. We have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the Russian industries and specialists. We have demonstrated our ability to absorb the PWR technology and complete the job in a short time. The quality of work is of the highest order. This has given us a lot of confidence that the day is not far off when we develop comprehensive capabilities for building the PWRs.
Today, we have completed the majority of the reactor work [for Unit-1]. We are testing and commissioning the systems, one by one. We are preparing the reactor for the ultimate milestone of loading the fuel and achieving criticality. The first step in that direction is the completion of the systems for the flushing of the open reactor. That process has started and we hope to complete it soon. We should start the cold commissioning of the reactor in September, followed by hot commissioning, with the ultimate goal of loading the nuclear fuel into the reactor by November-end or December.
The Indian and Russian specialists working on the project are looking forward to this great event [of the first reactor achieving criticality]. It will be another chapter in the time-tested friendship of the two countries.
When do you expect the first unit to be commissioned?
We are confident that Unit-1 will start producing power early next year. As per the progress achieved so far, we expect Unit-2 also to go critical next year. We are making all efforts to keep the gap in the criticality between the two units to less than a year.
Will NPCIL also build the third, fourth, fifth and sixth reactors at Kudankulam?
Definitely. The latest IGA signed between the two countries, in December 2008, outlines the extension of nuclear cooperation at Kudankulam but is not limited to it. As per the IGA, one more site will be made available to Russia for future cooperation. The prime responsibility of constructing the reactors will lie with NPCIL. We have convinced our Russian friends that a stage has been reached where we must maximise localisation.Indigenisation?
Yes. So, unlike Kudankulam 1 and 2, where all the designs and material supplies were made by the Russians, the indigenisation content in Units 3 to 6 will gradually increase and touch a level of 80 per cent in the total project implementation.
We are ready to launch the expansion programme at Kudankulam. We have completed the grading and levelling of the site for Units 3 and 4. We have got all the statutory clearances to take up the construction work. We have also received the techno-commercial offer from the Russians. We hope to conclude an agreement with the Russians [on Units 3 and 4] in the near future with the aim of starting the ground work early next year.
Will NPCIL also build the French reactors to come up at Jaitapur in Maharashtra?
The Government of India has authorised NPCIL to negotiate with foreign vendors regarding the technology, the product and the terms for setting up the nuclear power plants and also their economics. So NPCIL has signed memoranda of understanding with Areva of France, and General Electric and Westinghouse of the U.S.
The technical discussions with Areva are almost complete. We have reached an agreement on the technical features of the European Pressurised Reactor [EPR of 1,650 MWe capacity] of Areva.
The model of cooperation will be identical to that of Kudankulam. The localisation component will increase gradually and reach a level of 80 per cent. This is the model on which we are having a dialogue with other partners as well. NPCIL will build these plants and we are getting ready for launching this programme in a big way.
India had signed an agreement with Russia for importing 2,000 tonnes of natural uranium to fuel its PHWRs
The yellowcake from Areva and a consignment from Russia have reached the Nuclear Fuel Complex [NFC] in Hyderabad. We have, after getting the clearance of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], started the fabrication of fuel from this imported raw material. I flagged off the first consignment of the fabricated fuel on July 11 at the NFC for use in the second reactor at the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station [RAPS], which [the second unit] is already under safeguards.
We expect the entire initial core load of fabricated fuel to be made available at RAPS-2 in August. We plan to start the reactor in August and it will be producing its full power of 200 MWe by September. The indigenous fuel supply also has improved. The mill and the mine at Turamdih [in Jharkhand] have added to the supply of natural uranium fuel from Jaduguda. We have, therefore, increased the power level of our reactors to 65 per cent from less than 50 per cent. I plan to take them to 70 per cent.
RAPS 5 and 6, and Kaiga-4 [in Karnataka] are waiting for fuel. As per the Separation Plan, Rajasthan 5 and 6 will be put under the IAEA safeguards. Kaiga-4 will be outside that domain. So RAPS 5 and 6 also become eligible for the use of imported fuel. The fuel is getting ready. If the fuel fabrication plans at the NFC are achieved we hope that by this year-end both RAPS 5 and 6 will be commissioned and they will start operating at their full capacity.
With the increased flow of indigenous uranium, we hope that fuel will be available in another six to eight months, and Kaiga-4 will start operating.
Are our problems over as far as the uranium supply is concerned?
As the CMD of NPCIL, I feel that I have come out of a bad dream. The turnaround is taking place and we want to march ahead.
What is the status of the PFBR (500 MWe) construction?
By this year-end, the construction of the nuclear island building will be 100 per cent complete. We have received the main vessel, the inner vessel, the core-catcher, the core support structure and the roof beam. All the critical components of the core are at the site. The pumps and the heat exchangers are in an advanced stage of completion.
From September onwards, we will witness a series of critical activities in the PFBR construction. The work on conventional island building has picked up. Our target is achieving criticality in 2011.