By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai�:�The year 2015 could be said as the one of strengthening the foundation for increased foreign participation in the domestic nuclear sector by clearing doubts on nuclear liability, signing a uranium souring agreement, civil nuclear cooperation agreements with a couple of countries.
The year also saw India taking steps to increase the local content in the reactors imported from Russia.
During his visit to Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said cooperation between the two countries in the nuclear sector was increasing.
"We are making progress on our plans for 12 Russian nuclear reactors at two sites. The agreement today (December 24, 2015) will increase Indian manufacturing content in these reactors. It supports my mission of Make in India," he said.
During the year, India finalised an administrative arrangement with the US on monitoring, inspection and other safeguards of nuclear items sourced from that country.
Indian atomic power plant operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and AREVA, France signed a pre-engineering agreement.
To meet the concerns of nuclear liability the Indian Insurance Pool with a corpus of Rs.1,500 crore (over $225 million) was set up. However, the policy covering the public liability risks is yet to be issued as NPCIL wants some changes in its conditions.
The year also saw the shutting down of the first 1,000 MW unit of NPCIL at Kudankulam in Tirunelvelli district for refuelling and maintenance; and the start of sodium loading in the upcoming 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam, around 70 km from here.
"Next year will see lot of action. In January, the first unit at Kudankulam will restart generation. The second 1,000 MW unit at Kudankulam and the PFBR are expected to go critical - beginning of the fission process - for the first time," Atomic Energy Commission chairman Sekhar Basu told IANS.
He said India will be signing the remaining agreements with Russia for the third and fourth units at Kudankulam, estimated to cost around Rs.40,000 crore.
"Sometime mid next year the site work would begin for the next two units. The project construction period will be seven years starting next year," Basu said.
In a statement issued after his talks with Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: "We have agreed on India's assigning another plot for the construction of Russian power units, where we intend to use the latest...reactors built with the application of the latest and safest technologies."
"We intend to begin the construction of the third and fourth units (at Kudankulam) in the near future. Negotiations are underway on units five and six," he said.
According to Putin, these are all practical steps for implementing the Strategic Vision of Russian-Indian Cooperation in Peaceful Nuclear Power Use signed a year ago.
"It contains plans to jointly build in India at least six more power units over a period of 20 years," Putin said.
On the purchase of reactors from other suppliers like AREVA or from the US, Basu said talks are on but the price of their equipment is one issue.
He said the suppliers have to reduce their prices and Areva has to complete its restructuring process.
Basu said India is open for turnkey projects. Foreign suppliers seem to be interested in the Russian model - providing finance and equipment - adopted for the Kudankulam project.
As for the other major on-going projects, Basu said steps are on to provide increased funding for the Rs.9,600 crore fast reactor fuel recycling facility (FRFCF) coming up at Kalpakkam.
"The project is expected to go on stream in 2018. However it is linked to the operation of the PFBR," Basu said.
Construction of four India-designed 700 MW pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWR) at Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS) in Gujarat and the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS) are progressing at a quick pace and the first one is expected to go on stream b end 2016 or early 2017, NPCIL officials said.
On uranium mining, Basu said no new facility was opened in 2015 while improved productivity is expected at Tummalapalle mine in Andhra Pradesh with alkali leaching technology.
A large underground mine and process plant at Tummalapalle in Andhra Pradesh has been constructed.
In addition, a new underground mine and plant at Gogi in Karnataka, anopen pit mine at Kylleng Pyndensohiong Mawathabah(KPM) in Meghalaya, one open pit and three underground mines at Lambapur in Andhra Pradesh, and one uranium mining project in Sikar district of Rajasthan are in different stages of implementation, the government said in response to a question in the Lok Sabha.
During the year, an agreement was signed with CAMECO of Canada for 3,000 tonnes of uranium ore concerntrate (UOC) during 2015-20. A contract was also signed with Kazatomprom of Kazakhstan for 5,000 tonnes of UOC.
"Investing overseas in uranium mining has been talked about for some time but has not progressed. It needs sizeable investment and if some private party in India invests in uranium mine overseas than sourcing it can be made," Basu remarked.
Basu said the amendment to the Atomic Energy Act will enable more players - mainly joint ventures between NPCIL and public sector units - to come into the field.
"Fund crunch is the main issue. Banks are not willing to fund nuclear power projects," Basu said.
* Approval given for around Rs.1,600 crore India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) Project to be located in Tamil Nadu.
* The NPCIL achieved generation of 36,826 million units from January 1, 2015 to December 15, 2015, with overall capacity factor of 77 percent.
* Land acquisition is in progress for the two nuclear plants at Chutka in Madhya Pradesh and Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan.
* Sekhar Basu takes over as chairman AEC and secretary, Deparment of Atomic Energy.
* Shiv Abhilash Bhardwaj appointed chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)
Agreement signed with Japan on peaceful use of nuclear energy.(IANS)