Working to a plan

Published : Jun 16, 2006 00:00 IST



Interview with S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited.

When the third reactor at Tarapur went critical, you announced that India's target was to generate 40,000 MWe of nuclear power by 2030. The earlier target was 20,000 MWe by 2020. How will you reach the new target?

From this particular target, it may seem that we are day-dreaming. However, at NPCIL, we really did some brainstorming. It is the directive of the Prime Minister to generate 40 gigawatt, that is, 40,000 Mwe, of nuclear power [by 2030]. If this task is given to NPCIL, how is it going to fulfil it? Today, the Department of Atomic Energy is working simultaneously at five sites - Kudankulam, Rawatbhatta, Kaiga, Tarapur and Kalpakkam. This means the country has the infrastructure to work simultaneously at five sites. We launch projects with a pair of reactors where we do the excavation simultaneously. With a difference of six months to one year, the second reactor is completed. In the new scenario - the scenario which we have considered - we are prepared to launch 10 reactors of 1,000 MWe each, that is, a pair each at five sites at a time. We have also established that the next pair at the same site can be started after civil works and major construction work are completed at that site. In other words, when the plant is ready for commissioning four years after the construction begins.

It means that after four years we can launch 10 more reactors at the same sites. With this particular sequencing, within the next 15 years we can complete the construction and commissioning of 25 to 30 reactors - two reactors a year. If we can identify four or five sites at a time, then we can take up these projects.

Kudankulam is already an identified site. Jaitapur is another site, which we are preparing. We are also identifying new candidate-sites. We will complete that job this year-end. The plan is to have four or five coastal sites where there will be the possibility of erecting imported reactors.

Are you confident of reaching 40,000 MWe of nuclear power by 2030?

We have natural uranium, which can support 10,000 MWe through the PHWR [Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor] route. We are already generating about 3,900 MWe from the PHWRs. Four more PHWRs are in the final stages of construction. They are of 220 MWe each. We will now go for eight units of PHWRs of 700 MWe each. Of these, the government has already approved the construction of two each at Rawatbhatta and Kakrapar. If international cooperation takes final shape and India gets access to global nuclear power technology, it is possible to set up a large number of 700 MWe reactors of our own technology, with imported fuel.

With imported natural uranium?

Yes. We have mastered PHWR technology and we are confident about it. The other agreements [for importing Light Water Reactors, or LWRs] will take some time. But we know well our PHWRs. The existing inland sites such as Rawatbhatta, Kaiga, Kakrapar and Narora are available, where we can set up four to six 700 MWe plants. So enough sites are available. If this possibility of importing natural uranium is available to us, then we can use our own technology to put up PHWRs with imported fuel in a big way. Within a year of this nuclear agreement, we will be able to have a clearer picture of the actual combination of how many LWRs and PHWRs we will have.

Russia is to supply four more LWRs for Kudankulam. France wants to sell reactors for Jaitapur. Where will the Americans come in?

With regard to the agencies [countries] that will participate in our nuclear power programme expansion, you already know that the Russians are supplying two units at Kudankulam and the site has enough space for four more reactors. We recently analysed the situation further and we found that with minor adjustments, we will be able to accommodate six reactors at Kudankulam. That is two plus six more, a total of eight reactors. With the land already acquired, we will be able to construct a total of eight reactors.

Our preference is to set up reactors of the same type and of the same country at one site. If this is done, the total management of the reactors, and its components and spare parts will be easy and it will be cost-effective. We can share the resources of one reactor with the others. The cost will be optimum and it will prove to be economical. We are preparing three or four candidate-sites. We will keep them in reserve, one for France, one for America and one for Russia. These three are the major suppliers of nuclear power technology. Japan is a potential supplier. However, so far, they have not indicated any interest in becoming a nuclear power plant supplier.

As far as America is concerned, it has a reactor design called AP 1,000 MWe, which suits the type of reactor we are considering. In addition, they have a design for another reactor called Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR). We do not have technical information about this reactor. But we do not rule out considering this reactor in future. AP 1,000 has been developed by Westinghouse. ABWR has been developed by General Electric.

Has the joint task force of India and Russia begun work to speed up the construction of the two reactors at Kudankulam?

A meeting of the task force has taken place, and S.K. Agrawal, Director (Projects), NPCIL, was deputed to Moscow. There were intense discussions with the Russian organisations and they have identified the areas where focussed attention is required so that delays could be reduced. The second round of conclusive meeting is expected to take place in the near future and only then will a clear picture emerge with regard to the actual delay the plant has suffered.

India has only two LWRs at Tarapur and will build many more at Kudankulam, Jaitapur and the new sites. What steps are you taking to recruit more people to operate and maintain these LWRs?

LWRs were the first reactors to be constructed in India. So we have a solid 40 years of operational and maintenance experience in LWR technology. For the two LWRs coming up at Kudankulam, our engineers, supervisors, technicians and maintenance personnel have been trained in the Russian Federation. We have set up a big training centre at Kudankulam, which is equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The most modern simulators will be installed there. That centre will be in a position to train about 100 engineers and 200 technicians every year.

We plan to have a mix of engineers and technicians. One is of the type that is specifically qualified for nuclear technology. Plus, we would like to recruit some experienced people, who are working in related fields. A combination of these will work out in a big way. Another contingent will consist of experienced people from our existing stations, whom we will train at Kudankulam.

The third will be from the market. We have absolutely no plans to hire the services of foreigners for operation and maintenance [of the LWRs]. We have good manpower. Our system is unique and good.

Are you confident that the U.S. will amend its laws to allow the export of nuclear reactors to India? What time frame do you expect?

I expect it in the near future. It should be this year itself because it is not only the U.S. but the global requirement. Two countries - India and China - are on a major growth path and they are going to be energy guzzlers. They will have to increase the share of nuclear power in a big way. If they continue to rely on fossil fuel, the price of fossil fuel will be dictated by the consumption made in these two countries, which will have an adverse impact on the global economy. This scenario and the greenhouse gas effect are the two compulsions that the world will have to face. These three reasons are good enough for a favourable decision from the U.S. Congress.

India is to build its own 700 MWe PHWRs, which will use natural uranium as fuel. But natural uranium is in short supply in India.

I indicated the approach - that we can import natural uranium.

Are you confident that you will get enough supplies of natural uranium in India itself? The Meghalaya government seems to be a stumbling block in uranium exploitation.

Definitely. It is a matter of time. We will be in a position to convince the local population. The DAE is equipped with technologies to exploit precious minerals even while environmental interests are protected. These projects are in the larger interests of the country and the region.

The National Thermal Power Corporation says it will install nuclear power plants. Will you join hands with it?

When the programme has to be taken up on a large scale, we will be happy to join hands with all agencies and organisations that are planning to diversify to nuclear power technology. Today, NPCIL, with its experience in nuclear power plant construction, operation and maintenance, has the core strength to support any such organisation.

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