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Against the broader global narrative that increasingly points in the direction of a failed ‘nuclear renaissance’, the latest edition of Atomexpo in Moscow offers an emphatic counter. While there may be no denying that nuclear is in trouble, triggered first by the Fukushima incident in Japan and then tumbling natural-gas and solar prices have called into question the economics of nuclear energy itself. The latest sucker punch has come in the form of the fall of some of its pedigreed flagbearers — Toshiba’s recent decision to pull its US nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse out of the construction business, French utility Areva’s struggle with a €10 billion accumulated loss and Exelon, the largest nuclear operator in the US, facing a near 60 per cent drop in its share value compared with its peak in 2008.
In Moscow, at the ninth international nuclear industry forum Atomexpo 2017 that started here on June 19 — an expo of hi-tech solutions and products of over 90 leading international nuclear power enterprises that focus on safety and cost competitiveness — the overarching message was a reaffirmation that the nuclear business is still recession-proof in this part of the world. The forum organised by the Russian state atomic power corporation Rosatom — the largest international expo and business platform in the world — partly reflects the continuing robustness of the Russian nuclear industry that has bucked the downturn across most other geographies. India too is part of the nuclear growth story, considering that it accounted for a tenth of the 10 GW nuclear capacity added globally last year.
Valery Limarenko, the president of JSC Atomstroyexport, which is building the Kudankulam project, indicated that while work is progressing well for setting up a third and fourth reactor units at the coastal Tamil Nadu site. He said the proposed reactors to be set up at the recently signed fifth and sixth units at Kudankulam would be identical to the VVER-1000 units deployed earlier at the site. He also said he expects the Indian side to propose another site where another six reactors can be set up. India had earlier proposed the Haripur site in West Bengal, but the proposal was dropped in light of land acquisition hurdles expected in the state.
The Russian nuclear industry at the expo is represented by over 40 companies under the fold of its umbrella nuclear organisation Rosatom — not surprising considering that it comes at a time when Russia has been working hard on increasing its competitive edge in the nuclear plant construction market through serial production of new reactors across markets, including in India. Rosatom currently has eight reactor units in Russia and 36 nuclear reactors in various stages of planning and construction in more than a dozen countries (the largest internationally) and eight in Russia. These include in Jordan, Hungary, Egypt, Iran, Finland, Turkey and Argentina.
The Russian participants include Rosenergoatom Concern, TVEL Fuel Company of Rosatom, Atomenergomash group and JSC Atomstroyexport while those from abroad include the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, Rolls-Royce of the UK, China National Nuclear Corporation, National Atomic Company Kazatomprom of Kazakhstan, Areva NP and Schneider Electric (both French).
This year, the main focus of the forum is on ‘Nuclear technology – its safety, ecology, stability, with a plenary session on the ‘atom as a basis for zero carbon energy future’. Not surprising, since the biggest threat to nuclear is perhaps not internal but from outside — solar and wind increasing the move towards grid parity that could critically knock off nuclear from its perch as the most viable non-fossil fuel-based ‘green’ option.
For Russia, the expo this year is pretty much a show of strength. This year’s edition is expected to top the economic potential of the agreements and memorandums signed on the sidelines of Atomexpo 2016 worth $10 billion.