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India to ink uranium supply & tech deal with Kazakhstan in Jan

nursultan-nazarbayevState-run Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd (NPCIL) will enter into a nuclear cooperation pact with Kazakhstan’s state-owned Kazatomprom soon.  Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev is expected to sign the agreement during his visit to India starting 23 January, 2009.

“Kazakhstan has signed strategic agreements with Russia, China and Japan. A similar agreement will be signed with India during the Kazakhstan president’s visit (that starts on 23 January),” said Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry.

“A team from Kazatomprom is coming next week to Mumbai to work out the details with NPCIL. One of the elements of this agreement is uranium supply from Kazatomprom,” Ramesh said.

While Kazatomprom wants a comprehensive nuclear agreement, India wants to leverage its agreement with Kazatomprom not only to source uranium but also use the Kazakhstan company’s 10 percent stake in Westinghouse Electric Corp. to tap nuclear power generation technology as well. Toshiba Corp. has a 67 percent stake in Westinghouse.

Westinghouse is among the overseas nuclear power generation equipment firms such as state-owned French energy firm Areva SA, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Inc., a joint venture between General Electric Co. and Hitachi Ltd, and Russia’s Atomstroyexport that are in talks with NPCIL to supply 1,600MW reactors based on European technology.

Currently, only NPCIL, a public sector undertaking of the department of atomic energy, is mandated to set up nuclear plants in India. However, with India and the US having signed a historic nuclear deal, the atomic power sector is expected to be opened up to private and public sector firms.

Foreign nuclear power firms are eyeing Indian orders potentially worth $14 billion (Rs68,460 crore) after the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in September allowed the country entry into nuclear commerce, from which it had been shut out for 34 years. India has signed bilateral nuclear cooperation deals with the US, France and Russia since.

“If we get reactors along with guaranteed fuel supply, it is welcome from any source as long as the reactor-building technology is reliable. However, we require enriched uranium fuel and the supplier needs to give that,” said R. Rajaraman, professor emeritus, theoretical physics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Kazakhstan is currently the world’s second largest producer of uranium after Australia. While Australia caters to 23 percent of the world’s uranium needs followed by Kazakhstan (15 percent), the central Asian country is expected to become the world’s largest producer by 2010.

India’s uranium reserves are estimated to be some 78,000 tonnes —around 0.8 percent of the world’s reserves—which can support around 10,000 mw of generation. But delays in uranium mining projects have resulted in a demand-supply mismatch. As a result, the country’s 17 reactors are operating at 46 percent capacity because of a shortage of uranium, the fuel that powers them.

India will receive its first uranium imports in three decades from countries such as France and Canada by April, ending the isolation from nuclear commerce that ensued from its first atomic test. Out of India’s installed power generation capacity of at least 140,000 mw, nuclear energy accounts for only 4,120 mw. NPCIL plans to create additional generating capacity of 3,160 mw by 2012 and achieve 20,000 mw of installed nuclear power capacity by 2020.

According to KPMG’s India Energy Outlook report, the department of atomic energy hopes to build 250,000 mw nuclear capacity by 2050 to meet power requirements.