West Bengal’s loss of a nuclear project could well be Andhra Pradesh’s gain. The southern state is likely to be designated as the second nuclear site for a Russian-designed reactor-based project that was originally supposed to come up at Haripur in West Bengal. The Russians have been pushing hard over the last four years for the finalisation of a second site for setting up a nuclear park housing at least six VVER-1000 reactor units of the same type that are being deployed in partnership with Russian state-owned firm Atomstroyexport at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.
“Discussions between the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Government of Andhra Pradesh for location of the second Russian technology-based nuclear power project are at an advanced stage,” a DAE official said. Kerala, Karnataka and Odisha were also learnt to be in the reckoning for housing the units to be built with Russian assistance.
In case of Andhra Pradesh, the Centre has already shortlisted the Kovvada site to build a project with the assistance of GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy and discussions are currently on with an US-based nuclear vendor to arrive at a project proposal. Incidentally, Andhra had turned down its initial electricity allocation of 530 MWe (mega watt electric) from the Kudankulam project a decade ago. Andhra Pradesh’s renewed nuclear push marks a sharp departure from the state’s strategy from last decade to focus on gas-based capacity, most of which is now struggling for lack of fuel. A team of officers from the DAE and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) are learnt to have had a series of meetings with the senior officers of the Andhra government to discuss the feasibility of identifying a second coastal site to set up a nuclear plant in the state. “Discussion are at an advanced stage,” the official said.
At present, there are just three states — Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu — that have two or more nuclear sites. The VVER-1,000 project at Andhra, once finalised, would be the second Russian-assisted station after the 2,000 MWe Kudankulam nuclear project in Tamil Nadu. The DAE’s site selection committee had, in 2008 earmarked the Haripur site as a second site for the Russians to build a twin 1,000 MWe atomic project, identical to the one at Kudankulam.
In 2011, though, Rosatom, the Russian counterpart of India’s DAE, had asked India for an alternate site after protests at Haripur.
At the Kovvada site in Andhra Pradesh, where GE-Hitachi Nuclear is expected to deploy two of its ESBWR-series reactors, pre-project activities — land acquisition and associated rehabilitation, obtaining statutory clearances, site investigations to obtain data for design inputs — are in progress. While the exact schedule would depend on the date of commencement of work after the conclusion of agreements and project sanction, the generation of electricity is likely after about 7 years from actual start of construction.
In late 2013, when the first 1,000 MWe unit of the Kudankulam project was scheduled to be commissioned, a slugfest had erupted among the power-starved southern states to ensure that new claimants are kept out. Andhra Pradesh, which turned down its allocation of 530 MWe of power from the 2,000 MWe project when the share of the generated electricity was initially firmed up nearly a decade ago, had then stepped up its demand for access to the Centre’s 300 MWe “unallocated” quota.
But Tamil Nadu, the host state and biggest beneficiary, had then lobbied hard to completely exclude Andhra Pradesh from the “unallocated quota”.
“Andhra Pradesh was not in favour of taking power when the construction of the plant began in 2002-03. The state was tentatively allocated 530 MWe power from the project but APTRANSCO (Andhra Pradesh’s state-owned power utility) expressed unwillingness, and thus the power was re-distributed among other states,” said a government official. According to an order issued by the union power ministry in 2007, Andhra Pradesh was the only southern state excluded from the allocations.