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Status of Nuclear Power in India

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  • Published
    29th Dec, 2020
Status of Nuclear Power in India

Introduction

  • The global energy system is undergoing a rapid transition driven by emergence of new technologies, and various set of reasons. 
  • With the growth, global carbon emissions have been rising sharply since the start of the 20th century.
  • Though countries have adopted various policies in recent years to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in different sectors.
  • However, the implemented measures have not been sufficient to negate worsening global warming and climate change.
  • It was in this context that countries agreed to the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 meeting in December 2015.
    • Ahead of COP 21, member-states submitted voluntary pledges to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat to take action to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
  • The increasing threat of global warming means that developing countries such as India are under pressure to commit to carbon emission reduction targets and lessen their reliance on fossil fuels.
  • While India remains reluctant to commit to reduction targets and advocates the salience of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and Respective Capabilities (RC) along with a pointed reference to its low per-capita emissions, it nevertheless continues to expand its base of low-carbon sources of energy.
  • India’s NDC has outlined goals to reduce the carbon emissions intensity of its economy by 33-35 percent by 2030 as well as increase the clean energy electricity capacity to 40 percent of the total installed capacity in the same period.
  • Perhaps the most important source of energy for India in the coming decades is nuclear power, given its huge potential for growth, emission-free nature and consistent nature of production.
  • A significant expansion of nuclear power can both enable the connectivity of millions of Indians who currently lack access to the power grid and help it contribute to global efforts to tackle climate change by curbing its total carbon emissions.

Historical Development

  • Atomic Energy Act, 1948: A major step in the formulation of the Atomic Energy Programme in India was the passing of the Atomic Energy Act in 1948 (subsequently replaced by the Atomic Energy Act of 1962).
    • Under the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was constituted in 1948.
    • Uranium exploration and mining required for the nuclear power programme were some of the initial activities that were undertaken.
  • Department of Atomic Energy (DAE): The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) of the Government of India (GOI) was established in August 1954.
    • The Department is responsible for execution of policies laid down by the AEC.
    • It is engaged in research, technology development and commercial operations in the areas of Nuclear Energy, related High Technologies and supports basic research in nuclear science and engineering.
  • Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC): The importance of developing a strong research and development base for the nuclear power programme was recognized early on.
    • Thus, a decision was made, in 1954, to set up a research and development centre, now called Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay.
    • Research reactors APSARA (1956), CIRUS (1960), and DHRUVA (1985) and critical facilities were set up at the Centre.
    • A number of additional facilities and laboratories were built at the Centre to support the nuclear power programme and related nuclear fuel cycle activities.
    • The Research Centres in the Department extend the necessary R&D support to the nuclear power programme and associated fuel cycle activities.
  • Considering the population growth, low per capita electricity consumption and need for increasing the share of commercial energy sources, large-scale production of electric power was necessary.

How India started generating electricity from nuclear energy?

  • In 1947 when India became independent, its installed electric power capacity was only about 1.5 GW (e), which has now grown to about 298 GW(e) by 2015.
  • By the late 1950's, AEC had worked out the economics of generating electricity from atomic power reactors.
  • Based on this study, the Government decided to set up a series of nuclear power plants at locations away from coalmines and nearer to load centres.
  • The strategy adopted by the Indian nuclear power programme is to use the country's modest uranium and vast thorium resources.
  • In line with this strategy, a three-stage programme is envisaged.
    • Pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs): The first stage is based on setting up of pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) using indigenously available natural uranium producing electricity and plutonium and is in commercial domain.
    • Plutonium fuelled fast breeder reactors (FBRs): This is being followed by the second stage by plutonium fuelled fast breeder reactors (FBRs) producing electricity and more plutonium and uranium233 from thorium.
    • Thorium cycle: The third stage of reactors will be based on thorium cycle producing electricity and more uranium233. The design of a 300 MW Advanced Heavy Water Reactor is completed and construction of a critical facility for AHWR has been built and being operated.
  • The three stage process described above will enable the country to make efficient use of domestic uranium and thorium contributing significantly to attain true energy security beyond 2050.
  • India is pursuing fundamental and applied research in the field of plasma physics and thermonuclear fusion and development of technologies relevant to these fields.
  • The overall goal of pursuing thermonuclear fusion research is to develop it as a viable energy technology for future.
  • The first indigenously designed and fabricated Tokamak ADITYA was commissioned by the Institute of Plasma Research (IPR) in 1989 and has been regularly operated. 

Projections: Examination of reactor types and their potential for deployment in India

Pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs): 

  • India’s PHWRs are derivatives of the CANDU design using natural uranium as fuel.
    • Currently, the Indian PHWR programme consists of 220 megawatt (MW), 540 MW and 700 MW units.
    • At present, India is operating 18 PHWRs with a total installed capacity of 4.46 GW.
  • Four PHWRs of 700 MW rating each, two in Rajasthan and another two in Kakrapar, Gujarat are under construction.
  • Kakrapar reactors: The Kakrapar reactors in Gujarat were expected to be online this year, but a delay until next year is likely. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) currently lists their expected date of commercial operation as ‘under review’. 
  • Rajasthan reactors: The two reactors in Rajasthan originally scheduled to be online by mid-late 2016 also seems to be behind schedule, with at least a year’s delay. 

Assuming no further delays, all four reactors are expected to come online in 2017. Once the four reactors are added to India’s grid, the total installed nuclear capacity of PHWRs will increase to 7.26 GW. Extrapolating this to 2050 would give roughly 20 GW of PHWR capacity by 2050.

LWR (Russia): 

  • 1998: India signed a deal with Atomstroyexportof Russia in 1998 for up to eight VVER-1000 and VVER-1200 reactors.
  • The VVER is a Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) variant using Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) as fuel.
  • The completion of the first two VVER-1000 units at Kudankulam has faced severe delays.
    • In December 2014, Kudankulam 1 was connected to the electricity grid and began commercial operation. This marked the completion of a project that had been ongoing for over 14 years.
    • Kudankulam 2 is yet to come online with achievement of first criticality scheduled for some time in 2016.
  • 2014: In December 2014, NPCIL signed another contract with Atomstroyexport. The first pour of concrete is expected in 2016.
    • Given recent experience with units 1 and 2, it can be assumed that the total capacity of the Kudankulam VVERs by 2030 would be 4 GW with no other units constructed apart from units 1-4.
  • Extrapolating that rate of capacity addition to 2050 gives a total VVER capacity of 8.8 GW, assuming that further VVER units to be of 1.2 GW capacity.

European Pressurised Reactors EPR (France): 

  • EPRs are third-generation PWRs with advanced safety features, fuelled by LEU or mixed uranium plutonium oxide fuel.
  • In February 2009, Areva signed an MoU with NPCIL to build six 1.65 GW EPRs for the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant project and ensure fuel supply for the reactors for a period of 25 years. This project, however, has been in limbo since.
  • A pact was also signed between Areva and Larsen and Toubro (L&T) to produce some key components of the reactor domestically. 
  • The project could theoretically provide 9.9 GW of total capacity should it be realised. However, various issues are yet to be resolved.
    • For instance, Areva usually sources the outer reactor vessel from Japan. In the absence of an Indo-Japan civil nuclear cooperation agreement, however, this would not be possible.
  • Therefore, the pact between Areva and L&T will start production of heavy forgings in India.

Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR): 

  • India’s FBR plans are hinged on the success of its prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) of 500 MW being constructed at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu.
  • The PFBR has been under construction since 2004 and will use Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel, a mixture of both plutonium and uranium.
  • The idea is to produce more fuel from the reactor, which can be used for new reactors constructed in the future as well as produce fissile U-233 using a thorium blanket in the FBR, which will be used to fuel the third-stage of India’s nuclear programme, i.e., the indigenously designed thorium reactors.
  • If the PFBR is successfully operationalised, the country will have two additional FBRs of 470 MW in operation by 2030, with a capacity of 1.4 GW.
  • Another pair of units could come online by 2040 as the PFBR would be reaching the end of its first doubling period, giving four FBRs of 470 MW and 1 PFBR of 500 MW in operation.
  • Between 2040 and 2050, more FBRs would be required as India’s thorium reactors would begin operation and it can be assumed that the four FBRs would be doubled to eight.
  • Such a rate of growth would give eight FBRs and one PFBR by 2050, a total capacity of 4.3 GW.

Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWR): 

  • The large-scale deployment of AHWRs fuelled by thorium has long been a dream of the Indian atomic energy establishment.
  • Given India’s vast resources of thorium, a successful development of AHWR technology could significantly alter the potential of civil nuclear power in India.
  • The thorium fuel cycle operates by using thorium 232 (an isotope of thorium) as the fertile material in the reactor.
  • Thorium 232 is not fissile itself but upon absorption of a neutron undergoes a radioactive decay process that eventually yields uranium 233 (U 233), which is fissile.
  • As per information, India’s AHWR technology will be functional by the 2020s. However, large-scale deployment of thorium reactors is only expected by the 2040s, considering the need to obtain sufficient fissile material. 
  • It is necessary to obtain sufficient fissile material as the deployment of AHWRs depends on the successful large-scale construction of FBRs detailed above.
  • The AHWRs can be expected to provide up to 2.4 GW in 2050 in total.

Additional PWRs: 

  • NPCIL and Westinghouse signed a deal to set up six AP 1000 nuclear reactors in India. The AP 1000 is Westinghouse’s flagship new-generation PWR with a net electrical output of 1.1 GW.
  • The project site has been shifted to Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh, after the original site selected in Gujarat met with protests and faced delays.
  • Contractual agreements between NPCIL and Westinghouse are likely to be finalised by 2017 while engineering and site design work will begin immediately.
  • An inter-agency committee has been set up to work out the financing structure for the reactors with the US-based Exim Bank providing the capital for the project.

Plant

Type

Date

Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS), Maharashtra                             

BWR

October 28, 1969

Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS), Maharashtra              

PHWR

August 18, 2006

Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS), Maharashtra              

PHWR

September 12, 2005

Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS), Rajasthan              

PHWR

December 16,1973

Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS), Rajasthan              

PHWR

April 1,1981

Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS), Rajasthan              

PHWR

June 1, 2000

Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS), Rajasthan

PHWR

December 23, 2000

Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS), Rajasthan              

PHWR

February 4, 2010

Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS), Rajasthan              

PHWR

March 31, 2010

Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS), Tamilnadu

PHWR

January 27,1984

Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS), Tamilnadu

PHWR

March 21,1986

Kaiga Generating Station (KGS), Karnataka             

PHWR

November 16, 2000

Kaiga Generating Station (KGS), Karnataka             

PHWR

March 16, 2000

Kaiga Generating Station (KGS), Karnataka                            

PHWR

May 6, 2007

Kaiga Generating Station (KGS), Karnataka                            

PHWR

January 20, 2011

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Station (KKNPS), Tamilnadu              

VVER

March 31, 2017

Narora Atomic Power Station (NAPS), U.P             

PHWR

January 1,1991

Narora Atomic Power Station (NAPS), U.P             

PHWR

July 1,1992

Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS), Gujarat    

PHWR   

May 6, 1993

Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS), Gujarat

PHWR

September 1,1995

Post Fukushima upgrades in Indian NPPs:

Safety enhancement in Indian NPPs has been a continuous process. Immediately after the Fukushima (Japan) accident safety re-assessment of all Indian NPPs was carried out by NPCIL and AERB. These assessments brought out the requirements for further enhancement in safety, especially against severe external events.

The approach adopted for these safety enhancements is outlined below:

  1. Re-confirmation of capability to withstand currently defined site specific design / review basis levels of external events for individual plants. This included revisiting the results of earlier PSRs and review of need for further strengthening, as necessary.
  2. Assessment of margins available for beyond the design / review bases levels of external events. The objective of this assessment was to find out if cliff edges were close to the design basis /review basis levels and to suggest modifications such that minimum safety functions can be performed in such situation.
  3. Enhancing the capability of the plants to perform the safety functions under extended SBO / extended loss of heat sink through the design provisions. Towards this, NPCIL carried out safety assessment for extended SBO and augment the capability for continued heat removal for 7 days. The measures being incorporated based on the above assessments include:

    • Alternate provisions for core cooling and cooling of reactor components including identification / creation of alternate water sources and providing hook-up points to transfer water for long term core cooling,
    • Provision of portable DGs / power packs
    • Battery operated devices for plant status monitoring
    • Additional hook up points for adding up water to spent fuel storage pools
  4.  Review and strengthening of severe accident management provisions particularly with respect to:
      
    • Hydrogen Management
    • Containment venting
  5. Creation of an On-Site Emergency Support Centre at each NPP site which should remain functional under extreme events including radiological, with adequate provisions of communication, monitoring of plant status and having capacity for housing essential personnel for a minimum period of one week.

    Significant progress has been made in all the areas identified for post Fukushima upgrades for each of the operating NPP in the country.

    Current Issues and Development on Nuclear Power

    A. Energy Policy

    • The Integrated Energy Policy of the country recognizes that nuclear power based on indigenous resources can provide long term energy security for the country and recommends continued support for the three-stage program and development of the thorium fuel cycle.
    • It also recommends exploring the possibility of setting up large nuclear capacities based on imports once the necessary agreements for international cooperation are in place.

    B. Privatisation and Deregulation

    • The nuclear power generation and related fuel cycle activities are under the Central Government, NPCIL, a wholly owned company of GOI.
    • The 500 MWe PFBR is being set up by BHAVINI which is another PSU under DAE registered on 22nd October 2003 for this purpose. DAE, is responsible for setting up and operating the nuclear power plants.
    • The other related fuel cycle (both front-end and back end) activities are carried out by the different units of DAE, GOI.
    • As of now, there is no equity participation by the private sector in the area of nuclear power generation.
    • In order to facilitate having possibility of joint ventures with other public sector company, the Atomic Energy Act 1962 was amended in the year 2015. This is essentially aimed to attract investment in the nuclear power sector for capacity addition.

    C. Role of the Government in nuclear R&D

    • Most of the R&D related to nuclear power is funded and carried out by the Department of Atomic Energy under Government of India.
    • However through extra mural research funding, the R&D is also carried out in some of academic research institutions outside the Department of Atomic Research Centre.

    D. Nuclear Energy and Climatic Change

    • India is a large country and so needs a large electricity generating capacity. Power generation in India was 4.1 billion kWhr in 1947-48 and in 2014-15; it was about 1272 billion kWhr including captive power.
    • In the next 50 years, it may increase by a factor of 12 or more.
    • At present, a major component of electricity is generated using fossil fuels and there are environmental concerns like green house gas (GHG) emissions associated with the energy generation using fossil resources.

    E. Safety and Waste Management Issues

    • Utmost attention is given to safety in nuclear power plants. The overriding attention to safety encompasses the entire gamut of activities associated with nuclear power plants (NPPs), that is, siting, design, construction, commissioning, and operation.
    • In all these activities, a major effort is devoted to ensuring safety of operating personnel, public as well as the environment.
    • A systematic approach using well-defined principles is followed in the design of the nuclear power plants to provide the required safety features adopting principles of defence-in-depth, diversity and redundancy.
    • Nuclear Power Plants are constructed in accordance with the design intent, and with required quality of workmanship to very strict quality standards.
    • Commissioning of the systems to test and demonstrate adequacy of each system and the plant as a whole by actual performance tests to meet the design intent is carried out before commencing the operation of the plant.
    • Operation of the plant is carried out as per defined and approved procedures defining the safety limits for various system parameters, in technical specifications that are thoroughly reviewed by the internal safety committees and approved by AERB.
    • Further AERB, through formal clearances that authorise actions and stipulate specific conditions, enforces safety at various stages of the plant. These include site approval, review and approval of design of systems important to safety and authorisations for construction, commissioning and operation and safety review during operational phase. The regulatory framework in India is indeed robust.
    • All these measures are for ensuring safe operation of the plants, safety of occupational workers and members of public.
    • All nuclear power plant sites in India are self-sufficient in the management of radioactive waste generated there.
    • Adequate facilities have been provided for handling, treatment and disposal of relevant wastes at these sites.
    • Management of radioactive wastes is carried out in conformity with the guidelines specified by the Regulatory Authorities based on internationally accepted principles in line with the guidelines laid down by the international agencies.

    F. Other Issues and Developments

    • The NPPs presently in operation are generating electricity at competitive tariffs. Measures to reduce construction period of NPPs, standardisation and scaling up unit sizes have been taken to further improve the economic competitiveness of nuclear power.
    • The nuclear power technology, as is evident from the excellent performance of the indigenously constructed plants of the first stage nuclear power programme, in India has matured. The current emphasis is on accelerating the growth of nuclear capacity addition. The factors receiving attention are:
      • Launching indigenously designed 700 MWe. PHWRs
      • Launching of AHWR 300 MWe- a technology demonstration project for utilisation of thorium for electricity generation.
      • Setting up large capacity LWRs based on imports
      • Focus on further enhancement of performance and safety of NPPs in operation

    National Laws and Regulations in Nuclear Power

    The Atomic Energy Act 1962 is the main law. This Act is amended in 2015. The various activities relating to the Indian atomic energy programme are governed by this Act. A number of rules, codes, and regulations covering the entire nuclear fuel cycle have been defined by AERB as well as DAE under the Atomic Energy Act of 1962, for instance:

    Rules:

    • Atomic Energy (Arbitration procedure) Rules, 1983;
    • Atomic Energy (Working of mines, minerals and handling of prescribed substances) Rules, 1984;
    • Atomic Energy (Safe disposal of radioactive waste) Rules, 1987;
    • Atomic Energy (Factories) Rules, 1996;
    • Atomic Energy (Control of irradiation of foods) Rules, 1996.
    • Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules, 2004.

    Notifications

    • Prescribed substances, prescribed equipment and Technology, 2006.
    • Guidelines for Nuclear Transfers (Exports), 2006.

    Exports of Nuclear and nuclear related items are regulated under the following legislations:

    • Atomic Energy Act 1962.
    • Foreign Trade (Development and Regulations) Act 1992.
    • The weapons of Mass Destruction and their delivery systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act 2005.

    Conclusion

    Indigenous PHWRs have a cost advantage, use natural uranium and offer India the chance to master a type of nuclear reactor technology. No country in the world has built a sizeable fleet of nuclear reactors without a significant buildup using domestic resources and technology. Predictability of construction and delivery is the key to ramping up nuclear power, a fact evidenced by all nations with civil nuclear programmes. To maintain pace of development, it is important to build a constant and reliable supply chain of nuclear materials.

    If India is able to perfect the building and operation of its 700-MW PHWR technology, it can rapidly scale up construction of those reactors across the country unhindered by international politics, tricky bilateral agreements, unreliability of foreign supply chains and massive costs.

    The challenges with both domestic and foreign reactors mean that India must adopt a two-pronged strategy: It should push for the smaller indigenous reactors, and commit domestic resources and finances to that. This will ensure India becomes an established international player in nuclear power technology and allow it to scale up civil nuclear capacity. Successful demonstration of this technology will allow India to build PHWRs in other countries, earning it valuable capital for further expanding the fleet of PHWRs at home.

    By creating a mature domestic market for nuclear power with a sizeable installed capacity of both indigenous and foreign reactors, India will become an important player in the global civil nuclear commerce. It can then seek membership of exclusive clubs, with both economic and technological weight backing geopolitical moves, instead of the other way around.