Uranium Imports: A critical dose to step up generation

The performance and success of India’s nuclear power generation hinges on the import of the fuel to a great extent. A steady supply of uranium is good news.

Written by Anil Sasi | New Delhi | Published: July 27, 2016 2:19 am
uranium supply deal, india canada nuclear deal, india nuclear supply deal, india uranium supply deal, PM Modi, Kudankulam nuclear project, nuclear fuel, uranium shipment, nuclear fuel market, nuclear fuel, Kudankulam nuclear project India, nuclear reactors, IAEA In India, there are currently 21 reactors with an installed capacity of 5,780 MWe (mega watt electrical).

By the end of this calendar year, nearly 3,000 metric tonnes (MT) of nuclear fuel is likely to be shipped into India from three countries — the Russian Federation, Canada and the Republic of Kazakhstan. The uranium shipments expected in 2016 is a record for a single year and would, in quantitative terms, amount to nearly 53 per cent of total nuclear fuel imported into India since the country’s access to the global nuclear fuel market opened up in 2008.

Till now, about 5,559 MT has come into the country from these three nations, alongside France, while 2,937 MT is the anticipated supplies of nuclear fuel in the form of natural uranium ore concentrate and natural uranium oxide pellets during calendar year 2016. In India, there are currently 21 reactors with an installed capacity of 5,780 MWe (mega watt electrical), of which, eight reactors with aggregate capacity of 2,400 MWe are fuelled by indigenous uranium while the remaining 13 with a capacity of 3,380 MWe are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards and use imported uranium. The second unit of the Kudankulam nuclear project (1,000 MWe Unit-2) has also attained first criticality (start of controlled self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction in the reactor for the first time) on July 10, 2016, which also uses imported fuel.

A steady supply of uranium is good news for the country’s nuclear power sector, something that is expected to push up the performance of Indian nuclear power plants, as well as of the several fuel cycle facilities. The capacity factor — or operational efficiency — of the 21 nuclear power reactors currently running in the country was recorded at 73 per cent in the first three months of the current fiscal (April-June 2016). This includes the operational data for the first unit of the Kudankulam power project.

An improvement in gross nuclear generation in the coming months could be powered by a combination of two factors: international cooperation leading to augmentation of fuel supplies to 13 reactors that qualify for imported fuel, and a commensurate improvement in domestic fuel supplies for the other eight. Under the “separation plan” announced by the government in March 2006, negotiated after the July 2005 nuclear deal with the US, India was required to bring 14 reactors under IAEA Safeguards in a phased manner. Thirteen of these reactors — including RAPS 2 to 6 at Rawatbhata, Rajasthan, KAPS 1 and 2 at Kakrapar, Gujarat, NAPS 1 and 2 at Narora, Uttar Pradesh, TAPS 1 and 2 at Tarapur, Maharashtra, Kudankulam 1 in Tamil Nadu — are already under IAEA safeguards, and eligible to run on imported fuel. They are now operating at close to full capacity, officials of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), which runs the country’s nuclear power plants, said. The other reactors — KGS 1 to 4 at Kaiga, Karnataka, MAPS 1 and 2 at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, and TAPS 3 and 4 at Tarapur, Maharashtra — continue to use uranium sourced within the country.

Official sources said that the Department of Atomic Energy reckons the annual fuel need for operating the indigenous pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) at 85 per cent capacity is about 45 tonnes of uranium dioxide for the older 220 MWe units, 100 tonnes for the 540 MWe units and 125 tonnes for the new 700 MWe units. By contrast, the need of low enriched uranium for operating imported light water reactors (LWRs) at 85 per cent capacity factor are six tonnes for the older 160 MWe Tarapur units and 27 tonnes for 1,000 MWe units such as the twin Russian-built VVER-1000 reactor units at Kudankulam.

The total installed capacity is scheduled to go up to 9,980 MWe at the end of the current five-year plan period (March 2017), as seven new reactors are commissioned. These include the imported LWRs of Russian design, four indigenous PHWRs, and one indigenous prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR).

NPCIL had planned to start work on 16 new reactors with a total capacity of 16,100 MWe during the Twelfth Plan (2012-17). These included eight indigenous PHWRs of 700 MWe each with a total capacity of 5,600 MWe and eight LWRs based on international cooperation — with Russia, France and the US — totaling to a capacity of 10,500 MWe.

JSC TVEL Corporation, Russia

Date of Contract: 11.02.2009
Total Quantity to be procured: 2000 MT of Natural Uranium Oxide Pellets.
Total Quantity received: 1813 MT
Anticipated delivery in 2016: 187 MT
Status: The fuel is being procured through the Annual Supplements to the Contract, which concludes with the import of 187 MT of Pellets.

Date of Contract: 11.02.2009
Quantity to be procured: 58 MT of Enriched Uranium Oxide Pellets..
Total Quantity received: 58.30 MT
Anticipated delivery in 2016: Nil
Status: The Contract concluded with one-time supply of the fuel during 2009.

Date of Contract: 03.03.2015
Quantity to be procured: 42 MT of Enriched Uranium Oxide Pellets.
Total Quantity received: 42.15 MT
Anticipated delivery in 2016: Nil
Status: The Contract concluded with one-time supply of the fuel during 2015

JSC NAC KazatomProm, Kazakhstan

Date of Contract: 12.11.2009
Quantity to be procured: 2100 MT of Natural Uranium Ore Concentrate.
Total Quantity received: 2095.9 MT
Anticipated delivery in 2016:Nil
Status: The Contract concluded during 2014.

Date of Contract: 08.07.2015
Quantity to be procured: The Contract permits procurement of a minimum of 3750 MT and maximum 7000 MT of Natural Uranium Ore Concentrate.
Total Quantity received: 999.807 MT
Anticipated delivery in 2016:1500 MT
Status: The material is to be procured during 2015–2019.

AREVA, France

Date of Contract:17.12.2008
Total Quantity to be procured:300 MT of Natural Uranium Ore Concentrate.
Total Quantity received: 299.88 MT
Anticipated delivery in 2016: Nil
Status: The contract with Areva concluded with a one-time supply of the fuel during 2009.

Cameco, Canada

Date of Contract: 15.04.2015
Total Quantity to be procured: The Contract permits procurement of a minimum of 2750 MT and maximum 5500 MT of Natural Uranium Ore Concentrate
Total Quantity received: 250.74 MT
Anticipated delivery in 2016: 1,250 MT
Status: The nuclear fuel is to be procured during 2015–2020.

(Source: DAE)

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