Supply of six nuclear reactors: Question mark on Russia inputs, India evaluates French push at Jaitapur

Amid mounting uncertainties over the civil nuclear partnership with Russia in the wake of the Ukraine war, there are indications of fresh progress on the much-delayed deal with French power utility EDF for the supply of six EPR (European Pressurised Water Reactors) nuclear reactors.

The Department of Atomic Energy is actively examining a binding techno-commercial offer submitted by the French state-owned power company to help build six third-generation EPR reactors at Jaitapur in Maharashtra.

A high-level team from EDF was here late last month.

New Delhi had accorded an “in-principle” approval of the site at Jaitapur in Maharashtra for setting up of six reactors of 1650 MWe (megawatt electric) each as part of an umbrella nuclear deal signed with France in September 2008.

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However, that proposal has been hanging fire on account of multiple factors, including the slowdown in nuclear projects globally post the Fukushima incident and internal reorganisation at French nuclear utility Areva (which was subsequently taken over by EDF).

If the Jaitapur deal takes off, it would be the largest nuclear power generating site in the country with a total capacity of 9,900 MWe and one of the biggest-ever export deals for the French side.

Sources said the issue of the techno-commercial offer came up during delegation level talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron in May.

At present, Russia is the only country setting up imported Light Water Reactor-based nuclear projects in India, despite the fruition of international cooperation in nuclear energy well over a decade ago.

Russia has been involved in the project at the Kudankulam site under a pact signed in 1998, with 2000 MWe of capacity – Units 1&2 (2X1000 MWe) currently in operation. Work is being launched for four more reactors: Units 3 to 6 (KKNPP 3&4 and KKNPP 5&6, 4X1000 MWe).

Alongside the French, discussion on project proposals with technology partners from the US for Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh (6 X 1208 MWe) is still work in progress.


A bigger n-power basket

If Jaitapur takes off, it will be the largest n-power site in the country with a capacity of 9000 MWe. Given the war in Europe, there is also a need to diversify the nuclear cooperation basket. Also, New Delhi is factoring in the patchy French record on deadline management on EPR projects across the world.

As of February 2022, KKNPP 3&4 and KKNPP 5&6 had an overall physical progress of 58.22 per cent and 8.12 per cent respectively but sources indicated that the Kudankulam project completion schedule “is likely to be impacted” as components and equipment to be imported from Ukraine and Russia may be delayed due to logistical and ocean freight challenges arising out of the conflict.

Rosatom, the Russian nuclear organisation, is not an entity under sanctions at present but the current conflict, sources said, underlines the need for a more diverse nuclear cooperation basket.

Speaking to The Indian Express on the progress of the Jaitapur project, Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador of France to India, said: “These are all big projects, big issues and for the long-term and we have to address them very professionally through discussions. We have technical aspects, commercial aspects, financial aspects, and you have the aspect of safety and all that needs to be done in a professional manner and that is what we are doing right now. Both governments feel that it’s a major cooperation and that it’s a key project for fighting against climate change but also for real autonomy.”

Flagging what he called India’s “amazing job” in terms of renewable energy, Lenain said: “…everybody was impressed with the announcement made by Prime Minister Modi at COP (climate change conference). You also need to have some stable source of energy — currently it is coal. If you want to get out of coal, nuclear power would be the best. The discussions have been very positive.”

There are 22 reactors with a capacity of 6780 MWe in operation in India and one additional reactor Kakrapar-3 (700 MWe) has been connected to the grid on January 10, 2021.

While the EPR is EDF’s next-generation nuclear reactor, there are lingering concerns over delays given the record of EPR-based projects across the world.

For example, the EPR-based Flamanville 3 reactor project in France, already a decade late, has seen cost quadruple since 2004 and fuel loading at the project has been pushed back by up to six months.

In China, EDF said, inspections of fuel assemblies at its Taishan 1 EPR reactor showed “mechanical wear of certain assembly components”, which had already been observed in many French reactors.

China General Nuclear Power Group, which operates the Taishan plant with EDF, shut down one of its reactors in August to investigate fuel damage, after EDF said it was examining a potential issue linked to a build-up of radioactive gases. Its other EPR site, in Finland at Olkiluoto 3, started critical functions last month after multi-year delays and cost over-runs.

In India, EDF subsidiary, Framatome, which has had a cooperation agreement with L&T for the manufacturing of certain components of the nuclear island, is among the partnerships likely to be leveraged by the French utility to ensure that the localisation content goes up and costs are kept low. A detailed query sent to EDF on the issue did not elicit a response.

While indications are that there are no specific cost benchmarks, the two Russian-design reactor units (KKNPP units 3 & 4) coming up at Kudankulam entailed an initial sanctioned project cost of Rs 39,849 crore (in 2014), translating into a cost of nearly Rs 20 crore per MWe as against the average project cost of Rs 7-10 crore per MWe for existing nuclear projects based largely on indigenous PHWR (pressurised heavy water reactor) technology.

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