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India Amongst Nuke Haves


Amar Nararen


Nuclear power is the fourth-largest source of electricity in India after thermal, hydroelectric and renewable sources of electricity. As of 2013, India has 21 nuclear reactors in operation in seven nuclear power plants, having an installed capacity of 5780 MW and producing a total of 30,292.91 GWh of electricity While six more reactors are under construction and are expected to generate an additional 4,300 MW.

In October 2010, India drew up an ambitious plan to reach a nuclear power capacity of 63,000 MW in 2030, but, after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, populations around proposed Indian NPP sites have launched protests, raising questions about atomic energy as a clean and safe alternative to fossil fuels. There have been mass protests against the French-backed 9900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra and the Russia-backed 2000 MW Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu. The state government of West Bengal has also refused permission to a proposed 6000 MW facility near the town of Haripur that intended to host six Russian reactors.A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has also been filed against the government’s civil nuclear programme at the Supreme Court.

Despite this opposition, the capacity factor of Indian reactors was at 79% in the year 2011-12 compared to 71% in 2010-11. Nine out of twenty Indian reactors recorded an unprecedented 97% capacity factor during 2011-12. With the imported uranium from France, the 220 MW Kakrapar 2 PHWR reactors recorded 99% capacity factor during 2011-12. The availability factor for the year 2011-12 was at 89%.

India has been making advances in the field of thorium-based fuels, working to design and develop a prototype for an atomic reactor using thorium and low-enriched uranium, a key part of India’s three stage nuclear power programme. The country has also recently re-initiated its involvement in the LENR research activities, in addition to supporting work done in the fusion power area through the ITER initiative.

India’s and Asia’s first nuclear reactor was the Apsara research reactor. Designed and built in India, with assistance and fuel from the United Kingdom, Apsara reached criticality on August 4, 1956 and was inaugurated on January 20, 1957. A further research nuclear reactor and its first nuclear power plant were built with assistance from Canada. The 40 MW research reactor agreement was signed in 1956, and CIRUS achieved first criticality in 1960. This reactor was supplied to India on the assurance that it would not be used for military purposes, but without effective safeguards against such use. The agreement for India’s first nuclear power plant at Rajasthan, RAPP-1, was signed in 1963, followed by RAPP-2 in 1966. These reactors contained rigid safeguards to ensure they would not be used for a military programme. The 200 MWe RAPP-1 reactor was based on the CANDU reactor at Douglas Point and began operation in 1972. Due to technical problems the reactor had to be downrated from 200 MW to 100 MW The technical and design information were given free of charge by AECL to India. The United States and Canada terminated their assistance after the detonation of India’s first nuclear explosion in 1974.

India’s domestic uranium reserves are small and the country is dependent on uranium imports to fuel its nuclear power industry. Since early 1990s, Russia has been a major supplier of nuclear fuel to India. Due to dwindling domestic uranium reserves, electricity generation from nuclear power in India declined by 12.83% from 2006 to 2008.Following a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in September 2008, which allowed it to commence international nuclear trade, India has signed bilateral deals on civilian nuclear energy technology cooperation with several other countries, including France, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and South Korea. India has also uranium supply agreements with Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Namibia. An Indian private company won a uranium exploration contract in Niger..


Large deposits of natural uranium, which promises to be one of the top 20 of the world’s reserves, have been found in the Tummalapalle belt in the southern part of the Kadapa basin in Andhra Pradesh in March 2011. The Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) of India, which explores uranium in the country, has so far discovered 49,000 tonnes of natural uranium (U3O8) in just 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) of the 160 kilometers (99 mi) long belt and there are indications that the total quantity could be three times that amount.


In recent years, India has shown increased interest in thorium fuels and fuel cycles because of large deposits of thorium (518 000 tonnes) in the form of monazite in beach sands as compared to very modest reserves of low-grade uranium (92 000 tonnes).


The nuclear agreement with USA led to India issuing a Letter of Intent for purchasing 10,000 MW from the USA. However, liability concerns and a few other issues are preventing further progress on the issue. Experts say that India’s nuclear liability law discourages foreign nuclear companies. This law gives accident victims the right to seek damages from plant suppliers in the event of a mishap. It has deterred foreign players like General Electric and Westinghouse Electric, a US-based unit of Toshiba, with companies asking for further clarification on compensation liability for private operators.


Russia has an ongoing agreement of 1988 vintage with India regarding establishing of two VVER1000 MW reactors (water-cooled water-moderated light water power reactors) at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu. A 2008 agreement caters for provision of an additional four, third generation VVER-1200 reactors of capacity 1170 MW each. Russia has assisted in India’s efforts to design a nuclear plant for its nuclear submarine. In 2009, the Russians stated that Russia would not agree to curbs on export of sensitive technology to India. A new accord signed in Dec 2009 with Russia gives India freedom to proceed with the closed fuel cycle, which includes mining, preparation of the fuel for use in reactors, and reprocessing of spent fuel.

After the Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed to allow nuclear exports to India, France was the first country to sign a civilian nuclear agreement with India, on 30 September 2008.During the December 2010 visit of the French President Nicholas Sarkozy to India, framework agreements were signed for the setting up two third-generation EPR reactors of 1650 MW each at Jaitapur, Maharashtra by the French company Areva. The deal caters for the first set of two of six planned reactors and the supply of nuclear fuel for 25 years. The contract and pricing is yet to be finalised. Construction is unlikely to start before 2014 because of regulatory issues and difficulty in sourcing major components from Japan due to India not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.   


India and Mongolia signed a crucial civil nuclear agreement on 15 June 2009 for supply of Uranium to India, during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Mongolia making it the fifth nation in the world to seal a civil nuclear pact with India. The MoU on “development of cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of radioactive minerals and nuclear energy” was signed by senior officials in the department of atomic energy of the two countries.


On 2 September 2009, India and Namibia signed five agreements, including one on civil nuclear energy, which allows for supply of uranium from the African country. This was signed during President Hifikepunye Pohambas five-day visit to India in May 2009. Namibia is the fifth largest producer of uranium in the world. The Indo-Namibian agreement in peaceful uses of nuclear energy allows for supply of uranium and setting up of nuclear reactors.


On 14 October 2009, India and Argentina signed an agreement in New Delhi on civil nuclear cooperation and nine other pacts to establish strategic partnership. According to official sources, the agreement was signed by Vivek Katju, Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and Argentine foreign minister Jorge Talana. Taking into consideration their respective capabilities and experience in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, both India and Argentina have agreed to encourage and support scientific, technical and commercial cooperation for mutual benefit in this field.


The Prime Ministers of India and Canada signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in Toronto on 28 June 2010, which when all steps are taken, will provide access for Canada’s nuclear industry to India’s expanding nuclear market and also fuel for India’s reactors. Canada is one of the world’s largest exporters of uranium and Canada’s heavy water technology is marketed abroad with CANDU-type units operating in India, Pakistan, Argentina, South Korea, Romania and China. On 6 November 2012, India and Canada finalised their 2010 nuclear export agreement, opening the way for Canada to begin uranium exports to India.


On 16 April 2011, India and Kazakhstan signed an inter-governmental agreement for Cooperation in peaceful uses of Atomic Energy, that envisages a legal framework for supply of fuel, construction and operation of atomic power plants, exploration and joint mining of uranium, exchange of scientific and research information, reactor safety mechanisms and use of radiation technologies for healthcare. PM Manmohan Singh visited Astana where a deal was signed. After the talks, the Kazakh President Nazarbaev announced that his country would supply India with 2100 tonnes of uranium and was ready to do more. India and Kazakhstan already have civil nuclear cooperation since January 2009 when Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Kazakh nuclear company KazAtomProm signed an MoU during the visit of Nazarbaev to Delhi. Under the contract, KazAtomProm supplies uranium which is used by Indian reactors.


South Korea became the latest country to sign a nuclear agreement with India after it got the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) in 2008. On 25 July 2011 India and South Korea signed a nuclear agreement, which will allow South Korea with a legal foundation to participate in India’s nuclear expansion programme, and to bid for constructing nuclear power plants in India.


In 2014, India and Australia signed a civil nuclear agreement, which allows the export of uranium to India. This was signed in New Delhi during Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 4 September 2014. Australia is the third largest producer of uranium in the world. The agreement allows supply of uranium for peaceful generation of power for civil use in India.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UK Prime Minister David Cameron signed Civil Nuclear Agreement on 12 Nov, 2015.

Anti-nuclear protests

Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, populations around proposed Indian NPP sites have launched protests that had found resonance around the country. There have been mass protests against the French-backed 9900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra and the Russian-backed 2000 MW Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu. The Government of West Bengal refused permission to a proposed 6000 MW facility near the town of Haripur that intended to host 6 Russian reactors. But, that now is disputed: it’s possible for Bengal to have its first nuclear power plant at Haripur despite resistance.

A Public-interest litigation (PIL) has also been filed against the government’s civil nuclear programme at the Supreme Court. The PIL specifically asks for the “staying of all proposed nuclear power plants till satisfactory safety measures and cost-benefit analyses are completed by independent agencies”. But the Supreme Court said it was not an expert in the nuclear field to issue a direction to the government on the nuclear liability issue.