2013-14, a dismal year for most of the country’s core sector industries, was interestingly, the best 12-month period for atomic power generation in nearly a decade. The performance of Indian nuclear power plants, as well as of the several fuel cycle facilities, reached their highest levels last year. The capacity factor — or operational efficiency — of the 20 nuclear power reactors currently running in the country rose to a record 83 per cent.
Gross generation was powered by a combination of two factors: international cooperation leading to augmentation of fuel supplies to 10 reactors that qualify for imported fuel, and a sharp improvement in domestic fuel production for the other 10. The total installed capacity of all reactors is 4,780 mega watt electric (MWe).
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 14 reactors under IAEA safeguards in a phased manner.
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Ten of these reactors — RAPS 2 to 6 at Rawatbhata, Rajasthan, KAPS 1 and 2 at Kakrapar, Gujarat, and TAPS 1 and 2 at Tarapur, Maharashtra — are already under IAEA safeguards, and eligible to run on imported fuel. They are now operating at full capacity, officials of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), which runs the country’s nuclear power plants, said.
The other 10 reactors — KGS 1 to 4 at Kaiga, Karnataka, NAPS 1 and 2 at Narora, Uttar Pradesh, MAPS 1 and 2 at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, and TAPS 3 and 4 at Tarapur, Maharashtra — with a gross installed capacity of 2,840 MWe, continue to use uranium sourced within the country.
Supply from domestic mines was up 8 per cent in 2013-14, touching 812 metric tonnes, and resulting in higher capacity utilisation in these 10 reactors.
Two units at Narora will come under IAEA safeguards this year. One reactor, RAPS 1 at Rawatbhata, Rajasthan (100 MWe), is under extended shutdown for techno-economic assessment.
The Department of Atomic Energy reckons the annual fuel requirement 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 requirement of low enriched uranium for operating the imported light water reactors (LWRs) at 85 per cent capacity factor are 6 tonnes for the older 160 MWe Tarapur units and 27 tonnes for 1,000 MWe units such as the Russian-built units at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.
The total installed capacity is scheduled to reach 9,980 MWe at the end of the current five-year plan period (March 2017), as seven new reactors are commissioned. These include two 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 in the course of the 12th 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.