India won’t buy GE reactors lacking reference plant: DAE secretary

Sekhar Basu says the government won’t buy GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s reactor models that haven’t been used in nuclear power plants before


A file photo of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Photo: Mint
A file photo of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Photo: Mint

New Delhi/New York: India won’t buy GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s atomic reactors that haven’t been used in nuclear power plants before, the country’s top atomic-energy bureaucrat said.

“Right now they have offered us reactors that do not have a reference plant,” Sekhar Basu, secretary at India’s Department of Atomic Energy, said in a phone interview referring to the need for an operating example. “We will not buy a reactor that doesn’t have a reference plant.”

GE Hitachi has signed an accord for supplying reactors for an atomic power plant at Kovvada in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh. India also has pacts with Westinghouse Electric Co., Electricite de France SA and Russia’s JSC Atomstroyexport for purchasing reactors. GE Hitachi Nuclear is a venture between General Electric Co. and Hitachi Ltd.

Reference plants for Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactors and EDF’s EPR pressurized-water reactors — both destined for India — should be ready by the time the two companies start construction in the country, Basu said.

Liability risk

India’s reservations come nine months after General Electric chairman Jeffrey Immelt said his company won’t risk building a nuclear plant in India, citing the nation’s nuclear liability law, which exposes equipment suppliers to claims and litigation if there is an accident. The law has stood in the way of India’s nuclear expansion plans, as reactor suppliers including GE and Westinghouse Electric Co. weigh risks of doing business in the country.

“GE Hitachi continues to have a strong interest in providing our technology to India for the eventual construction of multiple” economic simplified boiling-water reactors, or ESBWRs, the company said in an e-mailed statement. “We believe the path forward requires a sustainable regulatory environment, which would include a nuclear-liability law that channels liability to plant operators consistent with global best practices.”

India plans to expand its nuclear generation capacity 10-fold by 2032, for which it needs larger, foreign-designed reactors. Earlier this year, the nation ratified the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, or the CSC, a global treaty on nuclear liability, responding to demands from the global reactor suppliers.

First approval

Westinghouse is building four AP1000 reactors each in the US and China, while EDF is installing EPR reactors at plants in France, Finland and China. In May last year, the US. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved construction of the first plant to use GE Hitachi’s ESBWR design.

Westinghouse will get a site in Andhra Pradesh, after the original location in the western state of Gujarat faced local opposition, Reuters reported last month, citing Ajay Jain, Andhra Pradesh’s energy secretary.

The change in location for the Westinghouse plant isn’t finalized, Basu said.

“We will announce it when it’s decided,” he said. “If GE backs out, it is possible their site in Kovvada may be given to Westinghouse.”

EDF has a pact to build a plant in the western state of Maharashtra, while the Russian-designed reactors are being used for a plant in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Bloomberg

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