Nuclear power in India

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Atomic Power Stations in India (view)
Location dot red.svg Active plants
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Nuclear power is the fourth-largest source of electricity in India after thermal, hydroelectric and renewable sources of electricity.[1] As of 2016, India has 21 nuclear reactors in operation in 7 nuclear power plants, having an installed capacity of 6780 MW[2][3] and producing a total of 30,292.91 GWh of electricity[4] while 6 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 2032",[5] 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".[6] There have been mass protests against the French-backed 9900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra and the Russian-backed 2000 MW Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu. The state government of West Bengal state has also refused permission to a proposed 6000 MW facility near the town of Haripur that intended to host six Russian reactors.[6] A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has also been filed against the government’s civil nuclear programme at the Supreme Court.[6][7]

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.[8] The country has also recently re-initiated its involvement in the LENR research activities,[9] 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.[10][11] A further research nuclear reactor and its first nuclear power plant were built with assistance from Canada.[12][13] 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.[12][13] 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.[citation needed] The technical and design information were given free of charge by AECL to India.[citation needed] The United States and Canada terminated their assistance after the detonation of India's first nuclear explosion in 1974.

Nuclear fuel reserves[edit]

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.[14] Due to dwindling domestic uranium reserves,[15] electricity generation from nuclear power in India declined by 12.83% from 2006 to 2008.[16] Following a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in September 2008 which allowed it to commence international nuclear trade,[17] India has signed bilateral deals on civilian nuclear energy technology cooperation with several other countries, including France,[18] the United States,[19] the United Kingdom,[20] Canada.[21] and South Korea.[22] India has also uranium supply agreements with Russia,[23][24] Mongolia,[25] Kazakhstan,[26] Argentina[27] and Namibia.[28] An Indian private company won a uranium exploration contract in Niger.[29]

Since March 2011, large deposits of uranium, has been discovered in the Tummalapalle belt and in the Bhima basin at Gogi in Karnataka by the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) of India. The Tummalapalle belt uranium reserves promises to be one of the top 20 uranium reserves discovery of the world. So far 44,000 tonnes of natural uranium has been discovered in the belt, which is estimated to have three times that amount.[30][31][32] The natural uranium deposits of the Bhima basin has better grade of natural uranium ore, even though it is smaller than the Tummalapalle belt.

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).[33]

Nuclear agreements with other nations[edit]

As of 2016, India has signed civil nuclear agreements with Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.[34] The 48-nation NSG granted a waiver to India on 6 September 2008 allowing it to access civilian nuclear technology and fuel from other countries.[35] India the only known country with nuclear weapons which is not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but is still allowed to carry out nuclear commerce with the rest of the world.[36]

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".[37]

Russia has an ongoing agreement of 1988 vintage with India regarding establishing of two VVER 1000 MW reactors (water-cooled water-moderated light water power reactors) at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu.[38] A 2008 agreement caters for provision of an additional four third generation VVER-1200 reactors of capacity 1170 MW each.[39] Russia has assisted in India’s efforts to design a nuclear plant for its nuclear submarine.[40] 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.[41][42]

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.[43] 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.[44] 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.[45]

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.[46]

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 Pohamba's 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.[47]

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.[48][49]

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[50] and Canada's heavy water nuclear 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.[51]

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.[52][53]

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.[54]

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.[55][56]

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UK Prime Minister David Cameron signed Civil Nuclear Agreement on 12 Nov, 2015.[57]

In November 2016 Japan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with India. Japanese nuclear plant builders saw this as potential lifeline given that domestic orders had ended following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and India is proposing to build about 20 new reactors over the next decade.[58]

Nuclear power growth in India[edit]

Nuclear power percentage in the world

India now envisages to increase the contribution of nuclear power to overall electricity generation capacity from 2.8% to 9% within 25 years.[59] By 2020, India's installed nuclear power generation capacity will increase to 20 GW.[60] As of 2009, India stands 9th in the world in terms of number of operational nuclear power reactors. Indigenous atomic reactors include TAPS-3, and -4, both of which are 540 MW reactors.[61] India's US$717 million fast breeder reactor[62]

The Indian nuclear power industry is expected to undergo a significant expansion in the coming years, in part due to the passing of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. This agreement will allow India to carry out trade of nuclear fuel and technologies with other countries and significantly enhance its power generation capacity.[63] When the agreement goes through, India is expected to generate an additional 25,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020, bringing total estimated nuclear power generation to 45,000 MW.[64]

Risks related to nuclear power generation and prompted Indian legislators to enact the 2010 Nuclear Liability Act which stipulates that nuclear suppliers, contractors and operators must bear financial responsibility in case of an accident. The legislation addresses key issues such as nuclear radiation and safety regulations, operational control and maintenance management of nuclear power plants, compensation in the event of a radiation-leak accident, disaster clean-up costs, operator responsibility and supplier liability.[65] A nuclear accident like the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster would have dire economic consequences in heavily populated India as did the 1984 Union Carbide Bhopal disaster, the world's worst industrial disaster, covered extensively in Dominique Lapierre's 2009 prize winning book Five Past Midnight in Bhopal.[66]

India has already been using imported enriched uranium for light-water reactors that are currently under IAEA safeguards, but it has developed other aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle to support its reactors. Development of select technologies has been strongly affected by limited imports. Use of heavy water reactors has been particularly attractive for the nation because it allows Uranium to be burnt with little to no enrichment capabilities. India has also done a great amount of work in the development of a thorium centred fuel cycle. While uranium deposits in the nation are limited there are much greater reserves of thorium and it could provide hundreds of times the energy with the same mass of fuel. The fact that thorium can theoretically be utilised in heavy water reactors has tied the development of the two. A prototype reactor that would burn Uranium-Plutonium fuel while irradiating a thorium blanket is under construction at Kalpakkam by BHAVINI - another public sector enterprise like NPCIL

Uranium used for the weapons programme has been separated from the power programme, using uranium from indigenous reserves. This domestic reserve of 80,000 to 112,000 tons of uranium (approx 1% of global uranium reserves) is large enough to supply all of India's commercial and military reactors as well as supply all the needs of India's nuclear weapons arsenal. Currently, India's nuclear power reactors consume, at most, 478 tonnes of uranium per year.[67] Even if India were quadruple its nuclear power output (and reactor base) to 20 GW by 2020, nuclear power generation would only consume 2000 tonnes of uranium per annum. Based on India's known commercially viable reserves of 80,000 to 112,000 tons of uranium, this represents a 40–50 years uranium supply for India's nuclear power reactors (note with reprocessing and breeder reactor technology, this supply could be stretched out many times over). Furthermore, the uranium requirements of India's Nuclear Arsenal are only a fifteenth (1/15) of that required for power generation (approx. 32 tonnes), meaning that India's domestic fissile material supply is more than enough to meet all needs for it strategic nuclear arsenal. Therefore, India has sufficient uranium resources to meet its strategic and power requirements for the foreseeable future.[67]

Former Indian President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam, stated while he was in office, that "energy independence is India's first and highest priority. India has to go for nuclear power generation in a big way using thorium-based reactors. Thorium, a non fissile material is available in abundance in our country."[68] India has vast thorium reserves and quite limited uranium reserves.[69][70]

The long-term goal of India's nuclear program has been to develop an advanced heavy-water thorium cycle. The first stage of this employs the pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) fueled by natural uranium, and light water reactors, which produce plutonium incidentally to their prime purpose of electricity generation. The second stage uses fast neutron reactors burning the plutonium with the blanket around the core having uranium as well as thorium, so that further plutonium (ideally high-fissile Pu) is produced as well as U-233. The Atomic and Molecular Data Unit (AMD) has identified almost 12 million tonnes of monazite resources (typically with 6-7% thorium). In stage 3, Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWR) would burn thorium-plutonium fuels in such a manner that breeds U-233 which can eventually be used as a self-sustaining fissile driver for a fleet of breeding AHWRs. An alternative stage 3 is molten salt breeder reactors (MSBR), which are believed to be another possible option for eventual large-scale deployment.[71]

On 7 June 2014, Kudankulam-1 became the single largest power generating unit in India (1000 MWe).[72]

Nuclear power plants[edit]

Currently, twenty-two nuclear power reactors have a total install capacity of 6,780 MW (3.5% of total installed base).[73][74]

Kudankulam power plant
Power station Operator State Type Units Total capacity (MW)
Tarapur NPCIL Maharashtra BWR
160 x 2
540 x 2
Rawatbhata NPCIL Rajasthan PHWR 100 x 1
200 x 1
220 x 4
Kudankulam NPCIL Tamil Nadu VVER-1000 1000 x 2 2,000[75]
Kaiga NPCIL Karnataka PHWR 220 x 4 880
Kakrapar NPCIL Gujarat PHWR 220 x 2 440
Kalpakkam NPCIL Tamil Nadu PHWR 220 x 2 440
Narora NPCIL Uttar Pradesh PHWR 220 x 2 440
Total 1000x2, 540x2, 220x14
200x1, 160x2, 100x1

The projects under construction are:[76][77]

Power station Operator State Type Units Total capacity (MW) Expected Commercial Operation
Rajasthan Unit 7 and 8 NPCIL Rajasthan PHWR 700 x 2 1,400 Unit 7: June 2016
Unit 8: December 2016
Kakrapar Unit 3 and 4 NPCIL Gujarat PHWR 700 x 2 1,400 Unit 3: Late 2016/Early 2017, Unit 4: 2017
Madras (Kalpakkam) Bhavini Tamil Nadu PFBR 500 x 1 500 March 2017
Kudankulam NPCIL Tamil Nadu VVER-1000 1000 x 2 2,000[78] 2022-2023[77]
Total 1000x2, 700x4, 500x1 5,300

The planned projects are:[78][79][80]

Power station Operator State Type Units Total capacity (MW)
Jaitapur Maharashtra EPR 1650 x 6 9,900[81]
Kovvada Andhra Pradesh AP1000 1100 x 6 6,600[82][83]
t.b.d. (was Mithi Virdi (Viradi)) Andhra Pradesh AP1000 1100 x 6 6,600
t.b.d. (was Haripur) Andhra Pradesh VVER-1000 1000 x 6 6,000
Gorakhpur NPCIL Haryana PHWR 700 x 4 2,800[84][85]
Bhimpur NPCIL Madhya Pradesh PHWR 700 x 4 2,800[86][81]
Mahi Banswara NPCIL Rajasthan PHWR 700 x 4 2,800[81]
Kaiga NPCIL Karnataka PHWR 700 x 2 1,400
Chutka NPCIL Madhya Pradesh PHWR 700 x 2 1,400
Madras BHAVINI Tamil Nadu FBR 600 x 2 1,200[81]
Tarapur AHWR 300 x 1 300
Total 1650x6, 1100x12
1000x6, 700x16, 600x2, 300x1

Note: Some sites may be abandoned if not found technically feasible or due to strategic, geopolitical, international and domestic issues.

The details of the nuclear power generation capacity in the country are given below :[87]

Fiscal Year Total nuclear
electricity generation
Capacity factor
2008–09 14,921 GW·h 50%
2009–10 18,798 GW·h 61%
2010–11 26,472 GW·h 71%
2011–12 32,455 GW·h 79%
2012–13 32,863 GW·h 80%
2013-14 35,333 GW·h[88] 83%

Anti-nuclear protests[edit]

Global public support for energy sources (Ipsos 2011)

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.[6] There have been mass protests against the French-backed 9,900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra and the Russian-backed 2,000 MW Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu. The Government of West Bengal initially refused permission to a proposed 6,000 MW facility near the town of Haripur that intended to host 6 Russian reactors.[6][89] But now it's possible for Bengal to have its first nuclear power plant at Haripur despite resistance.[90]

A Public-interest litigation (PIL) has also been filed against the government’s civil nuclear program 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".[7][91] 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.[92]

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