Russia has proposed a plan to involve India in building Russian-designed nuclear power stations in third countries. The cooperation is to be extended to the area of joint extraction of natural uranium and the production of nuclear fuel and atomic waste elimination. Russia has also offered to build over 20 nuclear power units in India, up from the 12 offered earlier.
The Russian proposal to jointly build nuclear power plants is significant, considering that Rosatom — the State-owned Russian nuclear utility — has 29 nuclear reactors in various stages of planning and construction in more than a dozen countries (the largest internationally). These include in Jordan, Hungary, Egypt, Iran, Finland, Turkey and Argentina.
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The new proposals, offered by the Russians as a plank to build on their head-start in the Indian nuclear market, is expected to lay the foundation for what is being termed by Moscow as “long-term, mutually beneficial cooperation in the nuclear sector”, an official involved in the delegation-level talks between the two sides in the Russian city of Ufa said.
The Russian proposal builds on a package of inter-governmental and inter-departmental documents signed on the sidelines of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India late last year, as part of a ‘strategic vision for strengthening Indian-Russian cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear power’.
Last week, India and Russia had reviewed their bilateral relations as Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Putin for a 90-minute interaction at Ufa, ahead of the BRICS Summit in the central Russian city.
The nuclear cooperation includes building on negotiations to sign an advance contract for the design of the third and fourth reactor units to come up at the Kudankulam site in Tamil Nadu.
Russia, in accordance with an inter-governmental agreement of 1988 and a supplement to it signed in 1998, is building the Kudankulam nuclear power project, the first 1,000 MWe (mega watt electric) unit of which was connected to the national grid in 2013. It is now operating under the one-year warranty maintenance period, which will last until the end of 2015. A second identical reactor is ready for commissioning.
Last year, the Russian Federation and India had signed a general framework agreement on the construction of the second phase (the third and fourth power units) of the nuclear power plant.
The biggest challenge for the new set of VVER reactors to be set up with Russian assistance is the costing aspect, particularly given the question marks raised by vendors on the uncertainties surrounding the Indian domestic nuclear liability law. The two new Russian-design VVER-1000 reactor units (KKNPP 3 & 4) to be set up in Tamil Nadu, which would come up at the Kudankulam site where two identical units (KKNPP 1 & 2) are nearing commissioning, entail a sanctioned project cost of Rs 39,849 crore. This would translate into a cost of nearly Rs 20 crore per MWe (mega watt electric) as against the established benchmark of project cost of Rs 7-10 crore per MWe for existing nuclear projects, based largely on the indigenous PHWR (pressurised heavy water reactor) technology.
An official on the Indian side said that cost estimates are being fixed keeping the Russian ruble as the currency peg, something that should be to the advantage of India considering the sharp depreciation of the ruble against major currencies ever since the Ukraine-related international sanctions were slapped against Russia.
The first set of Russian VVER reactor-based projects set up in the country at Kudankulam — KKNPP 1 & 2 — had a sanctioned cost of Rs 17,270 crore, which is up for revision currently.