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India widens N-fuel base, signs up Uzbek firm for uranium supplies

The $3.5 billion firm from Uzbekistan is a first-time entrant in the Indian atomic fuel market.

Written by Anil Sasi | New Delhi |
Updated: August 27, 2014 9:12:19 am
NMMC signed up to supply 2,000 metric tonnes of Uranium ore concentrate to India. (Reuters photo) NMMC signed up to supply 2,000 metric tonnes of Uranium ore concentrate to India. (Reuters photo)

State-owned Uzbek mining major NMMC (Navoi Mining & Metallurgy Combine), one of the world’s top ten uranium and gold producers, has signed up to supply 2,000 metric tonnes of Uranium ore concentrate to India over the next four years (2014-2018).

The $3.5 billion firm from Uzbekistan is a first-time entrant in the Indian atomic fuel market and joins a list of suppliers from France, Russia and Kazakhstan. Diversification of the uranium suppliers’ list is part of India’s strategy to counterbalance the fuel risk for the country’s nuclear reactors that are eligible to use imported uranium. “The contractual agreement with the Uzbek firm is a step in this direction,” an official involved in the exercise said.

Augmentation of fuel supplies to the 10 reactors that currently qualify for imported fuel, and the freeing up of domestic fuel production for use in the other 10 that are in operation, have been responsible for the surge in nuclear generation from the country’s reactors, the cumulative capacity of which adds up to 4,780 megawatt electric (MWe).

India has bought over Rs 2,600 crore worth of uranium ore concentrate from NAC Kazatomprom of Kazakhstan and natural uranium di-oxide pellets from Russia’s state-owned firm JSC TVEL Corporation since April 2011. The buoyant uranium imports have enabled the capacity factor or operational efficiency of the 20 nuclear reactors currently running in the country rose to a record 83 per cent in 2013-14.

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In quantitative terms, in the last four years, India received a total of 2,215 tonnes of uranium from Kazakhstan and Russia, including a shipment of 118 tonnes from Russia early this fiscal. Till March 2011, the country had received 868 tonnes of uranium from France, Russia and Kazakhstan, comprising 300 tonnes of natural uranium concentrate from Areva, 58 tonnes as enriched uranium dioxide pellets from Areva, 210 tonnes as natural uranium oxide pellets from Russia’s TVEL and 300 tonnes as natural uranium from Kazatomprom.

The Department of Atomic Energy estimates 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.

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. 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, which runs the country’s nuclear plants, said.

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