In the biggest expansion of the country’s nuclear power industry, the Union Cabinet gave its approval Wednesday for the construction of 10 units of the new indigenous 700 MWe (mega watt electric) pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs). Never before have 10 nuclear reactors been cleared in one go. The addition of 7,000 MWe is more than the combined present installed capacity of 6,780 MWe. There are 22 reactors under operation as of today.
The new reactors are of significantly higher capacities compared to the PHWRs currently under operation — the standard PHWR being used in India is of 220 MWe though two 540 MWe reactors were installed in Tarapur in 2005 and 2006. The ten reactors will be installed in Kaiga in Karnataka (Unit 5 and 6), Chutka in Madhya Pradesh (Unit 1 and 2), Gorakhpur in Haryana (Unit 3 and 4) and Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan (Unit 1, 2, 3 and 4).
The decision to step up the indigenous civil nuclear reactor programme comes amid festering concerns over the deployment of imported light water reactor-based projects in collaboration with global vendors such as Toshiba-Westinghouse and Areva. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) will set up the projects deploying the proposed 700 MWe reactor units, which mark a big leap for the state-owned NPCIL that has so far been building smaller-sized 220 MWe and 540 MWe reactor units as part of the country’s indigenous nuclear power programme.
Prior to the Cabinet announcement, NPCIL has said it is planning to commence work on 16 new reactors by March 2017, including 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 — totalling a capacity of 10,500 MWe, a source working in the Department of Atomic Energy said.
“A total of 7,000 MWe capacity will be added. It will help produce clean energy,” Power Minister Piyush Goyal said at a briefing after the Cabinet meeting. Officials indicated that “substantial economies of scale” are being targeted, alongside “maximisation of cost and time efficiencies” by adopting the fleet mode for execution of the projects based on the 700 MWe units. “As the government marks three years of its nation and people-centric governance, in a first of its kind project for India’s nuclear power sector, the ten new units will come up in fleet mode as a fully homegrown initiative. It would be one of the flagship ‘Make in India’ projects in this sector,” an official statement issued after the Cabinet meeting said.
Likely manufacturing orders of close to Rs 70,000 crore are expected to come through to the domestic industry on account of the projects and are expected to generate more than 33,400 jobs in direct and indirect employment. The Cabinet decision, the statement said, “reflects the government’s commitment to prioritise the use of clean power in India’s energy mix, as part of low-carbon growth strategy and to ensure long-term base load requirement for the nation’s industrialisation”.
Sites for nuclear power plants are selected after carrying out extensive studies by specialised national agencies at the siting stage and the sites are recommended after these meet the criteria laid down in the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) code on Site Evaluation of Nuclear Facilities.