Home > In the Media > India, facing uranium fuel shortage, presses on with nuclear power programme

India, facing uranium fuel shortage, presses on with nuclear power programme

T.S. Subramanian in The Hindu

June 15, 2007

CHENNAI: Firm plans are under way to press ahead with India’s indigenous nuclear power programme should, for some reason, the proposed Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement not come through. The focus in the immediate future will be on pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) that have become the workhorse of the Indian nuclear power programme. These PHWRs use natural uranium as fuel, and heavy water as coolant and moderator.

S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), which designs, builds, and operates nuclear power reactors in India, told The Hindu : “As far as the indigenous PHWR programme is concerned, it is moving at the right pace, and the future is bright.”

Preparations are on course for the fifth nuclear power reactor at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan to reach criticality in August or September 2007. “Work is also progressing well,” Mr. Jain said, on two more heavy water reactors — Rajasthan-6 and Kaiga-4 in Karnataka — to be started up by March 2008. These three reactors have a capacity of 220 MWe each.

Mr. Jain noted that India would take a big step forward in its indigenous nuclear power programme when excavation will begin by the end of 2007 for two PHWRs of 700 MWe each at Kakrapar in Gujarat. “The design of the 700 MWe PHWR has been completed. Detailed engineering is in full swing.” These will be the biggest PHWRs to be built by the NPCIL.

India currently has 17 operating reactors, with a total installed capacity of 4,120 MWe. Of these, 15 are PHWRs. The other two are light water reactors (LWRs) built by the U.S. at Tarapur in Maharashtra. These LWRs use enriched uranium as fuel, and light water as coolant and moderator.

Real challenge

The real challenge is the nuclear fuel constraint. If the capacity factor of the indigenous PHWRs was at a high of 90 per cent in 2002-03, it has declined to 65 per cent. This reflects the serious shortage in the supply of natural uranium to fuel the PHWRs.

The opening of new uranium mines and mills has lagged behind the demand for the metal. There are uranium mines at Jaduguda, Turamdih, Bhatin, and Narwapahar, all in Jharkhand. A mill is operating at Jaduguda for processing the natural uranium into yellow cake, which is sent to the Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad to be fabricated into the fuel bundles that power the PHWRs.

According to Ramendra Gupta, Chairman and Managing Director of the Uranium Corporation of India Limited, the situation will soon be under control when a new mill at Turamdih for processing the natural uranium into yellow cake “will be commissioned for trial run” by the end of June 2007. A new mine at Bandurung in Jharkhand is already producing natural uranium ore, and the stockpile will be sent to the Turamdih mill once it is commissioned.

Land acquisition

“We have started the construction of a new mine at Mouldih, also in Jharkhand,” Mr. Gupta said. Environmental clearance has been given for constructing a uranium mine and mill near Thummalapalli in Kadapa district, Andhra Pradesh. Land acquisition is on.

A public hearing was held at Nongbah Jynrin in Meghalaya on June 12 on a uranium mine and mill to be set up near Domiasiat. “We will get over the mismatch era in the near future,” said Mr. Jain.

Five reactors are now under construction. They include the fifth and sixth PHWRs at Rajasthan, and the fourth at Kaiga, each with a capacity of 220 MWe. The NPCIL is also building two LWRs, each with a capacity of 1,000 MWe, at Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu.

The Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (BHAVINI), a public sector undertaking of the Department of Atomic Energy, is building a 500-MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu. These six reactors will have a total capacity of 3,160 MWe.

Of these six, Rajasthan-5 will attain criticality in August or September 2007. Rajasthan-6 and Kaiga-4 will be started up by March 2008. The PFBR will be commissioned in 2010.

The NPCIL has had a difficult time, over the past year-and-a-half, with the delay in the arrival of equipment from Russia for the two reactors at Kudankulam.

S.K. Agrawal, Director (Projects), NPCIL, told The Hindu : “The situation is under control now. Things are picking up. All the major equipment for both the units has arrived. Civil works had been completed 100 per cent for both the units.” Major equipment in the reactor building, including equipment for the nuclear steam supply system for unit-1, has been erected.

Installation on

“We are pulling up unit-2 to follow unit-1 closely,” Mr. Agrawal added. “Electrical systems are in an advanced stage of installation for this unit. Close monitoring is going on.” With “all-out efforts being made” to speed up the work, Kudankulam-1 will be operational in 2008 and its twin six months later.

As far as the new projects are concerned, the breaking of ground for the construction of two PHWRs of 700 MWe each will take place at Kakrapar by the end of 2007, and in Rajasthan for two more PHWRs of similar capacity in 2008. “Environmental clearance has been obtained for the projects at both the sites,” Mr. Agrawal explained.

Public hearing

A public hearing was held on June 2 at Tirunelveli for the construction of two more Russian LWRs of 1000 MWe each at Kudankulam (units-3 and 4).

In anticipation of the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement fructifying, pre-project activities are going on at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra for building two LWRs of 1,000 MWe each. According to informed sources, “If the agreement does not come through, we will build four more PHWRs of 700 MWe each at the existing sites. The next three years will be tough. After that, the situation will be under control.”

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