Mumbai: Even as the fate of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal remains uncertain, the Indian nuclear establishment is preparing to fall back on indigenous technologies and fuel sources. Shreyans Kumar Jain, chairman and managing director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, the government-owned company in charge of implementing India’s ambitious nuclear power programme, spoke to Mint about the company’s Plan B for the supply of nuclear fuel in case the deal with the United States falls through. Edited excerpts:
How critical is the 123 Agreement for the Indian nuclear power establishment?
According to the Planning Commission’s projections for energy requirement, the power capacity has to go up to 700 gigawatt from 150 gigawatt. We need to exploit all our energy sources, including nuclear resources where we have a fuel constraint. Without the 123 Agreement, we will have to scale down our nuclear power programme as we will not have access to global sources of nuclear fuel.
Shreyans Kumar Jain, chariman and MD, Nuclear Power Corp. of India
Is there any strategy for alternative fuel supply?
It is being worked out. We are not saying that imported fuel is the only source of supply. We have been exploring constantly. We have found indications — geological signatures — of the presence of uranium in many places in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. The Department of Atomic Energy has drawn an ambitious programme for the current Five Year Plan to double the availability of uranium in the country, though this may sound like a dream to most people.
Just how much do these new uranium find add to our reserves?
It is around one lakh additional tonnes. For a 220Mw plant, we need 50 tonnes of uranium annually and if we are talking about a 60-year life cycle, we would need 3000 tonnes of uranium per nuclear reactor. With the new finds, we can set up another 10,000Mw easily -- around 14 reactors if we are talking about 700Mw reactors -- and still have comfortable level of reserves left.
Several private companies have expressed interest in mining uranium. Will you open it up?
We are considering giving contracts to private miners. We will invest in their projects and buy back the uranium they produce.
Even now our plants are built entirely by the private sector and they have an exposure to the technology. In fact, they are waiting to get into the sector as owner-operators.
If the 123 Agreement falls through, does it make any sense for the private players to come in?
It will not make sense as they will not have access to fuel.
India has an ongoing collaboration with Russia which is supplying two reactors at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. Is this an option in case the deal with the US falls through?
Russia could supply these two light water reactors because of the grandfather clause — there was an intergovernmental agreement signed between the Russia and India before Russia entered the Nuclear Suppliers Group. So 123 (Agreement) is really laying a pipe to ensure an energy supply. While Russia as well as German, France and Canada are keen to supply us reactors and fuel, nothing can happen unless the 123 Agreement is signed.
In case the 123 Agreement does not come through what will happen to your capacity expansion plan?
Our plan has two elements – the indigenous element and the “additionality” (element; additional capacity based on imported reactors). We have talked about setting up 20,000 Mw by 2020, which will have 8000 Mw of light water reactors. If the 123 Agreement does not come through, 20,000Mw has to be scaled down to 14000Mw.
We had said that beyond 14000Mw, it will be possible for us to set up six to eight reactors at one site. Today we don’t know whether they will be 1000Mw or 1650 Mw capacity. If the addionality is available, it is possible to reach a capacity of 40,000Mw by 2020.
What is the cost of nuclear power today?
We have plants of different vintage. Tarapur 1 and 2 are our oldest plants and the cost here is Re1 per unit of electricity generated. Tarapur 3 & 4 are the latest plants and here the cost of generation is Rs2.65. The weighted average cost of tariff for the year 2006-07 was Rs2.13 per unit.
To set up a nuclear plant, we need to invest Rs5-Rs5.5 crore per Mw, about 20% higher than the cost of producing power through a thermal power plant, because of the additional safety features. But its life is 60 years compared to the 25-year life cycle of a thermal power plant. The cost per Mw over the lifetime of a nuclear power plants works out to Rs9.16 lakh compared to the Rs20 lakh for a thermal plant.