Nuclear Power In India
■ India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and expects to have 14,600 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020. It aims to supply 25 per cent of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
■ Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which has hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009.
■ Due to these trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium.
■ Now, foreign technology and fuel are expected to boost India’s nuclear power plans considerably. All plants will have high indigenous engineering content.
■ India has a vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle.
India’s primary energy consumption more than doubled between 1990 and 2011 to nearly 25,000 PJ. India’s dependence on imported energy resources and the inconsistent reform of the energy sector are challenges to satisfying rising demand.
Electricity demand in India is increasing rapidly, and the 1052 billion kilowatt hours gross produced in 2011 was more than triple the 1990 output, though still represented only some 750 kWh per capita for the year. With huge transmission losses—222 TWh (21 per cent) in 2011, this resulted in only about 774 billion kWh consumption. Gross generation comprised 836 TWh from fossil fuels, 33 TWh from nuclear, 131 TWh from hydro and 53 TWh from other renewables. Coal provides 68 per cent of the electricity at present, but reserves are effectively limited (Quoted resources are 293 billion tonnes, but much of this is in forested areas of eastern India—Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal. While the first three of these are the main producing states, nevertheless permission to mine is problematical and infrastructure limited) in 2013, 159 million tonnes was imported, and 533 million tonnes produced domestically. Gas provides 15 per cent, hydro 12 per cent. The per capita electricity consumption figure is expected to double by 2020, with 6.3 per cent annual growth, and reach 5000-6000 kWh by 2050, requiring about 8000 TWh/yr then. There is an acute demand for more and more reliable power supplies. One-third of the population is not connected to any grid.
At mid-2012, 203 GWe was on line with 20.5 GWe having been added in 12 months. In September 2012 it had 211 GWe. The government’s 12th five-year plan for 2012-17 is targeting the addition of 94 GWe over the period, costing $247 billion. Three quarters of this would be coal- or lignite-fired, and only 3.4 GWe nuclear, including two imported 1000 MWe units planned at one site and two indigenous 700 MWe units at another. By 2032 total installed capacity of 700 GWe is planned to meet 7-9 per cent GDP growth, and this was to include 63 GWe nuclear. The OECD’s International Energy Agency predicts that India will need some $1600 billion investment in power generation, transmission and distribution to 2035.
India has five electricity grids—Northern, Eastern, North-Eastern, Southern and Western. All of them are interconnected to some extent, except the Southern grid. All are run by the state-owned Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCI), which operates more than 95,000 circuit km of transmission lines. In July 2012 the Northern grid failed with 35,669 MWe load in the early morning, and the following day it plus parts of two other grids failed again so that over 600 million people in 22 states were without power for up to a day.
A KPMG report in 2007 said that transmission and distribution (T&D) losses were worth more than $6 billion per year. A 2012 report costed the losses as $12.6 billion per year. A 2010 estimate shows big differences among states, with some very high, and a national average of 27 per cent T&D loss, well above the target 15 per cent set in 2001 when the average figure was 34 per cent. Installed transmission capacity was only about 13 per cent of generation capacity.
Nuclear power supplied 20 billion kWh (3.7 per cent) of India’s electricity in 2011 from 4.4 GWe (of 180 GWe total) capacity and after a dip in 2008-09 this is increasing as imported uranium becomes available and new plants come on line. Some 350 reactor-years of operation had been achieved by the end of 2011. India’s fuel situation, with shortage of fossil fuels, is driving the nuclear investment for electricity, and 25 per cent nuclear contribution is the ambition for 2050, when 1094 GWe of base-load capacity is expected to be required. Almost as much investment in the grid system as in power plants is necessary. The target since about 2004 has been for nuclear power to provide 20 GWe by 2020, but in 2007 the Prime Minister referred to this as “modest” and capable of being “doubled with the opening up of international cooperation.” However, it is evident that even the 20 GWe target would require substantial uranium imports. In June 2009 NPCIL said it aimed for 60 GWe nuclear by 2032, including 40 GWe of PWR capacity and 7 GWe of new PHWR capacity, all fuelled by imported uranium. This 2032 target was reiterated late in 2010 and increased to 63 GWe in 2011. But in December 2011 parliament was told that more realistic targets were 14,600 MWe by 2020-21 and 27,500 MWe by 2032, relative to present 4780 MWe and 10,080 MWe when reactors under construction were on line in 2017 (The XII Plan proposals are being finalized which envisage start of work on eight indigenous 700 MW Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), two 500 MW Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs), one 300 MW Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) and eight Light Water Reactors of 1000 MW or higher capacity with foreign technical cooperation. These nuclear power reactors are expected to be completed progressively in the XIII and XIV Plans).
The 16 PHWRS and LWRs are expected to cost $40 billion. The eight 700 MWe PHWRs would be built at Kaiga in Karnataka, Gorakhpur in Haryana’s Fatehabad District, Banswada in Rajasthan, and Chutka in Madhya Pradesh.
Longer term, the Atomic Energy Commission however envisages some 500 GWe nuclear on line by 2060, and has since speculated that the amount might be higher still: 600-700 GWe by 2050, providing half of all electricity. Another projection is for nuclear share to rise to 9 per cent by 2037.
The Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) is the main policy body and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of thermal nuclear power plants. At the start of 2010 it said it had enough cash on hand for 10,000 MWe of new plant. Its funding model is 70 per cent equity and 30 per cent debt financing. However, it is aiming to involve other public sector and private corporations in future nuclear power expansion, notably National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC)—see subsection below. NTPC is very much larger than NPCIL and sees itself as the main power producer. NTPC is largely government-owned. The 1962 Atomic Energy Act prohibits private control of nuclear power generation, though it allows minority investment. As of late 2010 the government had no intention of changing this to allow greater private equity in nuclear plants.
Nuclear reactors deployed in India
The two Tarapur150 MWe Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) built by GE on a turnkey contract before the advent of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty were originally 200 MWe. They were down-rated due to recurrent problems but have run well since. They have been using imported enriched uranium and are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. However, late in 2004 Russia deferred to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and declined to supply further uranium for them. They underwent six months refurbishment over 2005-06, and in March 2006 Russia agreed to resume fuel supply. In December 2008 a $700 million contract with Rosatom was announced for continued uranium supply to them.
The two small Canadian (Candu) PHWRs at Rajasthan nuclear power plant started up in 1972 & 1980, and are also under safeguards. Rajasthan 1 was down-rated early in its life and has operated very little since 2002 due to ongoing problems and has been shut down since 2004 as the government considers its future. Rajasthan 2 was restarted in September 2009 after major refurbishment, and running on imported uranium at full rated power.
The 220 MWe PHWRs(202 MWe net) were indigenously designed and constructed by NPCIL, based on a Canadian design. The only accident to an Indian nuclear plant was due to a turbine hall fire in 1993 at Narora, which resulted in a 17-hour total station blackout. There was no core damage or radiological impact and it was rated 3 on the INES scale—a ‘serious incident’.
The Madras(MAPS) reactors were refurbished in 2002-03 and 2004-05 and their capacity restored to 220 MWe gross (from 170). Much of the core of each reactor was replaced, and the lifespans extended to 2033/36.
Kakrapar unit 1 was fully refurbished and upgraded in 2009-10, after 16 years operation, as was Narora 2, with cooling channel (calandria tube) replacement.
Following the Fukushima accident in March 2011, four NPCIL taskforces evaluated the situation in India and in an interim report in July made recommendations for safety improvements of the Tarapur BWRs and each PHWR type. The report of a high-level committee appointed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) was submitted at the end of August 2011, saying that the Tarapur and Madras plants needed some supplementary provisions to cope with major disasters. The two Tarapur BWRs have already been upgraded to ensure continuous cooling of the reactor during prolonged station blackouts and to provide nitrogen injection to containment structures, but further work is recommended. Madras needs enhanced flood defences in case of tsunamis higher than that in 2004. The prototype fast breeder reactor (PFR) under construction next door at Kalpakkam has defences which are already sufficiently high, following some flooding of the site in 2004.
The Tarapur 3&4 reactors of 540 MWe gross (490 MWe net) were developed indigenously from the 220 MWe (gross) model PHWR and were built by NPCIL. The first—Tarapur 4—was connected to the grid in June 2005 and started commercial operation in September. Tarapur 4’s criticality came five years after pouring first concrete and seven months ahead of schedule. Its twin—unit 3—was about a year behind it and was connected to the grid in June 2006 with commercial operation in August, five months ahead of schedule. Tarapur 3 & 4 cost about $1200/kW, and are competitive with imported coal.
Future indigenous PHWR reactors will be 700 MWe gross (640 MWe net). The first four are being built at Kakrapar and Rajasthan. They are due on line by 2017 after 60 months construction from first concrete to criticality. Cost is quoted at about Rs 12,000 crore (120 billion rupees) each, or $1700/kW. Up to 40 per cent of the fuel they use will be slightly enriched uranium (SEU)—about 1.1 per cent U-235, to achieve higher fuel burn-up—about 21,000 MWd/t instead of one third of this. Initially this fuel will be imported as SEU.
Kudankulam 1&2: Russia’s Atomstroyexport is supplying the country’s first large nuclear power plant, comprising two VVER-1000 (V-412) reactors, under a Russian-financed US$ 3 billion contract. A long-term credit facility covers about half the cost of the plant. The AES-92 units at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu state have been built by NPCIL and also commissioned and operated by NPCIL under IAEA safeguards. The turbines are made by Leningrad Metal Works. Unlike other Atomstroyexport projects such as in Iran, there have been only about 80 Russian supervisory staff on the job. Construction started in March 2002.
Russia is supplying all the enriched fuel through the life of the plant, though India will reprocess it and keep the plutonium (The original agreement in 1988 specified return of used fuel to Russia, but a 1998 supplemental agreement allowed India to retain and reprocess it). The first unit was due to start supplying power in March 2008 and go into commercial operation late in 2008, but this schedule has slipped by five years. In the latter part of 2011 and into 2012 completion and fuel loading was delayed by public protests, but in March 2012 the state government approved the plant’s commissioning and said it would deal with any obstruction. Fuel loading was in September, and unit 1 started up in mid-July 2013, with unit 2 expected to do so early in 2014. Unit 1 was connected to the grid in October 2013 and is expected in commercial operation in July 2014 after reaching full power, with unit 2 following in March 2015 after late 2014 start-up. Each is 917 MWe net.
While the first core load of fuel was delivered early in 2008 there have been delays in supply of some equipment and documentation. Control system documentation was delivered late, and when reviewed by NPCIL it showed up the need for significant refining and even reworking some aspects. The design basis flood level is 5.44m, and the turbine hall floor is 8.1m above mean sea level. The 2004 tsunami was under 3m.
A small desalination plant is associated with the Kudankulam plant to produce 426 m3/hr for it using four-stage multi-vacuum compression (MVC) technology. Another reverse osmosis (RO) plant is in operation to supply local township needs.
Kaiga 3 started up in February, was connected to the grid in April and went into commercial operation in May 2007. Unit 4 started up in November 2010 and was grid-connected in January 2011, but is about 30 months behind original schedule due to shortage of uranium. The Kaiga units are not under UN safeguards, so cannot use imported uranium. Rajasthan 5 started up in November 2009, using imported Russian fuel, and in December it was connected to the northern grid. RAPP 6 started up in January 2010 and was grid connected at the end of March. Both are now in commercial operation.
Under plans for the India-specific safeguards to be administered by the IAEA in relation to the civil-military separation plan, eight further reactors were to be safeguarded (beyond Tarapur 1&2, Rajasthan 1&2, and Kudankulam 1&2): Rajasthan 3&4 from 2010, Rajasthan 5&6 from 2008, Kakrapar 1&2 by 2012 and Narora 1&2 by 2014.
In mid-2008 Indian nuclear power plants were running at about half of capacity due to a chronic shortage of fuel. Average load factor for India’s power reactors dipped below 60 per cent over 2006-2010, reaching only 40 per cent in 2008. Some easing after 2008 was due to the new Turamdih mill in Jharkhand state coming on line (the mine there was already operating). Political opposition has delayed new mines in Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Telengana.
A 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) is under construction at Kalpakkam near Madras by BHAVINI (Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd), a government enterprise set up under DAE to focus on FBRs. It was expected to start up about the end of 2010 and produce power in 2011, but this schedule is delayed significantly. Construction was reported 94 per cent complete in February 2013. Four further oxide-fuel fast reactors are envisaged but slightly redesigned by the Indira Gandhi Centre to reduce capital cost. One pair will be at Kalpakkam, two more elsewhere. (See also section below.)
In contrast to the situation in the 1990s, most reactors under construction more recently have been on schedule (apart from fuel shortages 2007-09), and the first two—Tarapur 3&4—were slightly increased in capacity. These and future planned ones were 450 (now 490) MWe versions of the 202 MWe domestic products. Beyond them and the last three 202 MWe units, future units will be nominal 700 MWe.
The government envisages setting up about ten PHWRs of 700 MWe capacity to about 2023, fuelled by indigenous uranium, as stage 1 of its nuclear program. Stage 2—four 500 MWe FBRs—will be concurrent.
Construction costs of reactors as reported by AEC are about $1200 per kilowatt for Tarapur 3&4 (540 MWe), $1300/kW for Kaiga 3 & 4 (220 MWe) and expected $1700/kW for the 700 MWe PHWRs with 60-year life expectancy.
Nuclear industry developments in India beyond the trade restrictions
Following the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group agreement which was achieved in September 2008, the scope for supply of both reactors and fuel from suppliers in other countries opened up. Civil nuclear cooperation agreements have been signed with the USA, Russia, France, UK, South Korea and Canada, as well as Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Namibia. On the basis of the 2010 cooperation agreement with Canada, in April 2013 a bilateral safeguards agreement was signed between the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, allowing trade in nuclear materials and technology for facilities which are under IAEA safeguards. A similar agreement is being negotiated with Australia. Both will apply essentially to uranium supply.
The Russian PWR types were apart from India’s three-stage plan for nuclear power and were simply to increase generating capacity more rapidly. Now there are plans for eight 1000 MWe units at the Kudankulam site, and in January 2007 a memorandum of understanding was signed for Russia to build four more there, as well as others elsewhere in India. A further such agreement was signed in December 2010, and Rosatom announced that it expected to build no less than 18 reactors in India. At least some of the new units are expected to be the larger 1200 MWe AES-2006 versions of the first two. Russia is reported to have offered a 30 per cent discount on the $2 billion price tag for each of the phase 2 Kudankulam reactors. This is based on plans to start serial production of reactors for the Indian nuclear industry, with much of the equipment and components proposed to be manufactured in India, thereby bringing down costs.
Between 2010 and 2020, further construction is expected to take total gross capacity to 21,180 MWe.
The nuclear capacity target is part of national energy policy. This planned increment includes those set out in the Table below including the initial 300 MWe Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR). The benchmark capital cost sanctioned by DAE for imported units is quoted at $1600 per kilowatt.
In 2005 four sites were approved for eight new reactors. Two of the sites—Kakrapar and Rajasthan—would have 700 MWe indigenous PHWR units, Kudankulam would have imported 1000 or 1200 MWe light water reactors alongside the two being built there by Russia, and the fourth site was greenfield for two 1000 MWe LWR units—Jaitapur (Jaithalpur) in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra state, on the west coast. The plan has since expanded to six 1600 MWe EPR units here.
NPCIL had meetings and technical discussions with three major reactor suppliers—Areva of France, GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse Electric Corporation of the USA for supply of reactors for these projects and for new units at Kaiga. These resulted in more formal agreements with each reactor supplier early in 2009, as mentioned below.
In April 2007 the government gave approval for the first four of these eight units: Kakrapar 3&4 and Rajasthan 7&8, using indigenous technology. In mid-2009 construction approval was confirmed, and late in 2009 the finance for them was approved. Site works at Kakrapar were completed by August 2010. First concrete for Kakrapar 3 & 4 was in November 2010 and March 2011 respectively, after Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) approval. The AERB approved Rajasthan 7 & 8 in August 2010, and site works then began. First concrete was in July 2011. Construction is then expected to take 66 months to commercial operation. Their estimated cost is Rs 123.2 billion ($2.6 billion). In September 2009 L&T secured an order for four steam generators for Rajasthan 7 & 8, having already supplied similar ones for Kakrapar 3&4. In December 2012 L&T was awarded the $135 million contract for balance of turbine island for Rajasthan 7 & 8.
In late 2008 NPCIL announced that as part of the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12), it would start site work for 12 reactors including the rest of the eight PHWRs of 700 MWe each, three or four fast breeder reactors and one 300 MWe advanced heavy water reactor in 2009. NPCIL said that “India is now focusing on capacity addition through indigenisation” with progressively higher local content for imported designs, up to 80 per cent. Looking further ahead its augmentation plan included construction of 25-30 light water reactors of at least 1000 MWe by 2030.
Early in 2012 NPCIL projections had the following additions to the 10.08 GWe anticipated in 2017 as “possible”: 4.2 GWe PHWR, 7.0 GWe PHWR (based on recycled U), 40 GWe LWR, 2.0 GWe FBR.
In June 2012 NPCIL announced four new sites for twin PHWR units: at Gorakhpur/ Kumbariya near Fatehabad district in Haryana, at Banswada in Rajasthan, at Chutka in Mandla district and at Bheempur also in Madhya Pradesh. Initially these would add 2800 MWe, followed by a further 2800. Site work has started at Gorakhpur with Haryana state government support.
The EIA report for Chutka Madhya Pradesh power plant was released in March 2013, the expected cost for two units is Rs 16550 crores ($2.78 billion). Construction start is planned for June and December 2015, with completion in December 2020 and June 2021.
NPCIL is also planning to build an indigenous 900 MWe PWR, the Indian Pressurised Water Reactor (IPWR), designed by BARC in connection with its work on submarine power plants. A site for the first plant is being sought, a uranium enrichment plant is planned, the reactor pressure vessel forging will be carried out by Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and NPCIL’s new joint venture plant at Hazira, and the turbine will come from Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL).
Meanwhile, NPCIL is offering both 220 and 540 MWe PHWRs for export, in markets requiring small- to medium-sized reactors.
Uranium resources and mining in India
India’s uranium resources are modest, with 102,600 tonnes U as reasonably assured resources (RAR) and 37,200 tonnes as inferred resources in situ (to $260/kgU) at January 2011 (4 38 per cent vein-type deposits, 12 per cent sandstone (Meghalaya), 12 per cent unconformity [Lambapur-Peddagattu in AP], and 37 per cent other—‘strata-bound’ [Cuddapah basin, including Tummalapalle]). In February 2012, 152,000 tU was claimed by DAE. Accordingly, India expects to import an increasing proportion of its uranium fuel needs. In 2013 it was importing about 40 per cent of uranium requirements.
Exploration is carried out by the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD). Mining and processing of uranium is carried out by Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL), also a subsidiary of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), in Jharkhand near Calcutta. Common mills are near Jaduguda (2500 t/day) and Turamdih (3000 t/day, expanding to 4500 t/day). Jaduguda ore is reported to grade 0.05-0.06 per centU. All Jharkhand mines are underground except Banduhurang. Another mill is at Tummalapalle in AP, expanding from 3000 to 4500 t/day.
In 2005 and 2006 plans were announced to invest almost US$ 700 million to open further mines: in Jharkand at Banduhurang, Bagjata and Mohuldih; in Meghalaya at Domiasiat-Mawthabah (with a mill); and in Telengana at Lambapur-Peddagattu (with mill 50km away at Seripally), both in Nalgonda district.
In Jharkand, Banduhurang is India’s first open cut mine and was commissioned in 2007. Bagjata is underground and was opened in December 2008, though there had been earlier small operations 1986-91. The Mohuldih underground mine was commissioned in April 2012. The new mill at Turamdih serving these mines was commissioned in 2008. It is 7 km from Mohuldih.
In Andhra Pradesh and Telengana there are three kinds of uranium mineralisation in the Cuddapah Basin, including unconformity-related deposits in the north of it. The Tummalapalle belt with low-grade strata-bound uranium mineralisation is 160 km long, and appears increasingly prospective—AMD reports 37,000 tU in 15 km of it.
In Telengana, the new northern inland state subdivided from Andhra Pradesh in 2014, the Lambapur-Peddagattu project in Nalgonda district 110 km southeast of Hyderabad has environmental clearance for one open cut and three small underground mines (based on some 6000 tU resources at about 0.1 per centU) but faces local opposition. The central government had approved Rs 637 crore for the project, with processing to be at Seripally, 54 km away in Nalgonda district. In 2014 UCIL was preparing to approach the state government and renew its federal approvals for the project. A further deposit near Lambapur-Peddagattu is Koppunuru, in Guntur district of AP, now under evaluation, and Chitrial.
In August 2007 the government approved a new US$ 270 million underground mine and mill at Tummalapalle near Pulivendula in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, at the south end of the Basin and 300 km south of Hyderabad. Its resources have been revised upwards by AMD to 53,6500 tU (Dec 2011) and its cost to Rs 19 billion ($430 million), and to the end of 2012 expenditure was Rs 11 billion ($202 million). The project was opened in April and first commercial production was in June 2012, using an innovative pressurised alkaline leaching process (this being the first time alkaline leaching is used in India). Production is expected to reach 220 tU/yr, and in 2013 mill capacity was being doubled at a cost of Rs 8 billion ($147 million). An expansion of or from the Tummalapalle project is the Kanampalle U project, with 38,000 tU reserves. Further southern mineralisation near Tummalapalle are Motuntulapalle, Muthanapalle, and Rachakuntapalle.
In Karnataka, UCIL is planning a small uranium mine in the Bhima basin at Gogiin Gulbarga area from 2014, after undertaking a feasibility study, and getting central government approval in mid-2011, state approval in November 2011 and explicit state support in June 2012. A portable mill is planned for Diggi or Saidpur nearby, using conventional alkaline leaching. Total cost is about $135 million. Resources are 4250 tU at 0.1 per cent (seen as relatively high-grade) including 2600 tU reserves, sufficient for 15 years mine life, at 127 tU/yr, from fracture/fault-controlled uranium mineralisation. UCIL plans also to utilise the uranium deposits in the Bhima belt from Sedam in Gulbarga to Muddebihal in Bijapur.
In Meghalaya, close to the Bangladesh border in the West Khasi Hills, the Domiasiat-Mawthabah mine project (near Nongbah-Jynrin) is in a high rainfall area and has also faced longstanding local opposition partly related to land acquisition issues but also fanned by a campaign of fearmongering. For this reason, and despite clear state government support in principle, UCIL does not yet have approval from the state government for the open cut mine at Kylleng-Pyndengsohiong-Mawthabah—KPM– (formerly known as Domiasiat) though pre-project development has been authorised on 422 ha. However, federal environmental approval in December 2007 for a proposed uranium mine and processing plant here and for the Nongstin mine has been reported. There is sometimes violent opposition by NGOs to uranium mine development in the West Khasi Hills, including at KPM/ Domiasiat and Wakhyn, which have estimated resources of 9500 tU and 8000 tU respectively. Tyrnai is a smaller deposit in the area. The status and geography of all these is not known, beyond AMD being reported as saying that UCIL is “unable to mine them because of socio-economic problems”. Mining is not expected before 2017.
Fracture/fault-controlled uranium mineralisation similar to that in Karnataka is reported in the 130 km long Rohil belt in Sikar district in Rajasthan, with 4800 tU identified so far. AMD reports further uranium resources in Chattisgarh state (3380 tU), Himachal Pradesh (665 tU), Maharashtra (300 tU), and Uttar Pradesh (750 tU). However, India has reasonably assured resouirces of 319,000 tonnes of thorium—about 13 per cent of the world total, and these are intended to fuel its nuclear power program longer-term (see below).
In September 2009 largely state-owned Oil & Natural Gas Corporation ONCC proposed to form a joint venture with UCIL to explore for uranium in Assam, and was later reported to be mining uranium in partnership with UCIL in the Cauvery area of Tamil Nadu.
By December 2008, Russia’s Rosatom and Areva from France had contracted to supply uranium for power generation, while Kazakhstan, Brazil and South Africa were preparing to do so. The Russian agreement was to provide fuel for PHWRs as well as the two small Tarapur reactors, the Areva agreement was to supply 300 tU.
In February 2009 the actual Russian contract was signed with TVEL to supply 2000 tonnes of natural uranium fuel pellets for PHWRs over ten years, costing $780 million, and 58 tonnes of low-enriched fuel pellets for the Tarapur reactors. The Areva shipment arrived in June 2009. RAPS 2 became the first PHWR to be fuelled with imported uranium, followed by units 5 & 6 there.
In January 2009 NPCIL signed a memorandum of understanding with Kazatomprom for supply of 2100 tonnes of uranium concentrate over six years and a feasibility study on building Indian PHWR reactors in Kazakhstan. NPCIL said that it represented “a mutual commitment to begin thorough discussions on long-term strategic relationship.” Under this agreement, 300 tonnes of natural uranium was to come from Kazakhstan in the 2010-11 year. Another 210 t would come from Russia. A further agreement in April 2011 covered 2100 tonnes by 2014. In March 2013 both countries agreed to extend the civil nuclear cooperation agreement past 2014. In September 2009 India signed uranium supply and nuclear cooperation agreements with Namibia and Mongolia. In March 2010 Russia offered India a stake in the Elkon uranium mining development in its Sakha Republic, and agreed on a joint venture with ARMZ Uranium Holding Co. In March 2013 negotiations for a bilateral supply treaty with Australia were to commence.
In July 2010 the Minister for Science & Technology reported that India had received 868 tU from France, Russia & Kazakhstan in the year to date: 300 tU natural uranium concentrate from Areva, 58 tU as enriched UO2 pellets from Areva, 210 tU as natural uranium oxide pellets from TVEL and 300 tU as natural uranium from Kazatomprom.
As of August 2010 the DAE said that seven reactors (1400 MWe) were using imported fuel and working at full power, nine reactors (2630 MWe) used domestic uranium.
Uranium fuel cycle
India’s main nuclear fuel cycle complex is at Hyderabad in Telengana, established in 1971. It plans to set up three more to serve the planned expansion of nuclear power and bring relevant activities under international safeguards. The first of the three will be at Kota in Rajasthan, supplying fuel for the 700 MWe PHWRs at Rawatbhata and Kakrapar by 2016. Capacity will be 500 t/yr plus 65 t of zirconium cladding. The second new complex will supply fuel to ten 700 MWe PHWRs planned in Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The third, including an enrichment plant, will supply fuel for light water reactors and is proposed for Chitradurga in the south of Karnataka state.
DAE’s Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) at Hyderabad has six facilities under safeguards, listed in the Annex to India’s Additional Protocol with IAEA. This includes several facilities related to fuel fabrication, as part of the civil-military separation.
The NFC undertakes refining and conversion of uranium, which is received as magnesium diuranate (yellowcake) and refined to UO2. The main 600 t/yr plant fabricates PHWR fuel (which is unenriched). A small (25 t/yr) fabrication plant makes fuel for the Tarapur BWRs from imported enriched (2.66 per cent U-235) uranium. Depleted uranium oxide fuel pellets (from reprocessed uranium) and thorium oxide pellets are also made for PHWR fuel bundles. Mixed carbide fuel for FBTR was first fabricated by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in 1979.
Heavy water is supplied by DAE’s Heavy Water Board, and the seven plants are working at capacity due to the current building program.
A very small centrifuge enrichment plant—insufficient even for the Tarapur reactors—is operated by DAE’s Rare Materials Plant (RMP) at Ratnahalli near Mysore, primarily for military purposes including submarine fuel, but also supplying research reactors. It started up about 1992 as a unit of BARC, and is apparently being expanded to some 25,000 SWU/yr. A conversion plant is also being built there at RMP. DAE in 2011 announced that it would build a larger centrifuge complex, the Special Material Enrichment Facility (SMEF), at Karnataka, also as part of BARC and having both civil
and military purposes. Construction had not started at the end of 2013. India’s enrichment plants are not under international safeguards. Some centrifuge R&D is undertaken by BARC at Trombay.
Fuel fabrication at up to 900 t/yr is by DAE’s Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad. DAE is setting up a second Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC)—a PHWR fuel plant at Kota in Rajasthan, next to the Rawatbhata power plant—to serve the larger new reactors and those in northern India. It will have 500 t/yr capacity, from 2017, and government approval of Rs 2400 crore (24 billion rupees, $393 million) for this was in March 2014. Each 700 MWe reactor is said to need 125 t/yr of fuel. A third fuel fabrication plant is planned, with 1250 t/yr capacity, in Telengana, Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh. The company is proposing joint ventures with US, French and Russian companies to produce fuel for those reactors.
Reprocessing: Used fuel from the civil PHWRs is reprocessed by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay, Tarapur and Kalpakkam to extract reactor-grade plutonium for use in the fast breeder reactors. Small plants at each site were supplemented by a new Kalpakkam plant of some 100 t/yr commissioned in 1998 in connection with Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), and this is being extended to reprocess FBTR carbide fuel. Apart from this all reprocessing uses the Purex process. A new 100 t/yr plant at Tarapur was opened in January 2011, and further capacity is being built at Kalpakkam. Partitioning of Purex product in a multi-step solvent extraction process is being undertaken in a demonstration facility at Tarapur.
Reprocessing capacity early in 2011 was understood to be 200 t/yr at Tarapur, 100 t/yr at Kalpakkam and 30 t/yr at Trombay, total 330 t/yr,
all related to the indigenous PHWR program and not under international safeguards. An away-from-reactor (AFR) fuel storage and another
store at Tarapur are under safeguards from 2012 and 2014 and are listed in the AP Annex.
The Power Reactor Thoria Reprocessing Facility (PRTRF) was under construction at BARC in October 2013, and is designed to cope with high gamma levels from U-232. The recovered U-233 will be used in the AHWR Critical Facility.
India will reprocess the used PWR fuel from the Kudankulam and other imported reactors and will keep the plutonium. This will be under IAEA safeguards, in new plants.
In April 2010 it was announced that 18 months of negotiations with the USA had resulted in agreement to build two new reprocessing plants to be under IAEA safeguards, likely located near Kalpakkam and near Mumbai—possibly Trombay. In July 2010 an agreement was signed with the USA to allow reprocessing of US-origin fuel at one of these facilities. Later in 2010 the AEC said that India has
commenced engineering activities for setting up of an Integrated Nuclear Recycle Plant with facilities for
both reprocessing of used fuel and waste management.
Fast Reactor Fuel Cycle Facility (FRFCF)
To close the FBR fuel cycle a Fast Reactor Fuel Cycle Facility has long been planned, with construction originally to begin in 2008 and
operation to coincide with the need to reprocess the first PFBR fuel.
The PFBR and the next four FBRs to be commissioned by 2020 will use oxide fuel. After that it is expected that metal fuel with higher breeding capability will be introduced and burn-up is intended to increase from 100 to 200 GWd/t.
In 2003 a facility was commissioned at Kalpakkam to reprocess mixed carbide fuel using an advanced Purex process. In 2010 the AEC said that used mixed carbide fuel from the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) with a burn-up of 155 GWd/t was reprocessed in the Compact Reprocessing facility for Advanced fuels in Lead cells (CORAL). Thereafter, the fissile material was re-fabricated as fuel and loaded back into the reactor, thus ‘closing’ the fast
reactor fuel cycle.
In July 2013 the government approved construction of the Rs 9,600 crore (96 billion rupees, $1.61 billion) FRFCF at Kalpakkam. Work was expected to start in 2013, initially under the auspices of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR). It will serve the PFBR nearby, and will have capacity to cater for three such reactors.
Thorium fuel cycle development in India
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 PHWRs fuelled by natural uranium, and light water reactors, which produce plutonium incidentally to their prime purpose of electricity generation.
Stage 2 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.
Then in stage 3, Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWRs) will 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 firming up as an option for eventual large-scale deployment. See R&D section under IGCAR.
In 2002 the regulatory authority issued approval to start construction of a 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam and this is now under construction by BHAVINI. It is expected to be operating in 2014, fuelled with uranium-plutonium oxide (the reactor-grade Pu being from its existing PHWRs). It will have a blanket with thorium and uranium to breed fissile U-233 and plutonium respectively. This will take India’s ambitious thorium program to stage 2, and set the scene for eventual full utilisation of the country’s abundant thorium to fuel reactors. Six more such 500 MWe fast reactors have been announced for construction, four of them by 2020. This fleet of fast reactors will breed the required plutonium which is the key to unlocking the energy potential of thorium in AHWRs. This will take another 15-20 years, and so it will still be some time before India is using thorium energy to any extent.
So far about one tonne of thorium oxide fuel has been irradiated experimentally in PHWR reactors (Notably Kakrapar 1&2, Rajasthan 2-4, Kaiga 1&2 have irradiated 232 fuel bundles to maximum burn-up of 14 GWd/t.) and has reprocessed and some of this has been reprocessed, according to BARC. A reprocessing centre for thorium fuels is being set up at Kalpakkam in connection with Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR).
In October 2013 BARC said that premature deployment of thorium would lead to sub-optimal use of indigenous energy resources, and that it would be necessary to build up a significant amount of fissile material before launching the thorium cycle in a big way for the third stage (though the demonstration AHWR should be operating by 2022). Incorporation of thorium in the blankets of metal-fuelled fast breeder reactors would be after significant FBR capacity was operating. Hence thorium-based reactor deployment is expected to be “beyond 2070”. Surplus U-233 from FBR blankets could be used in HTRs including molten salt breeder reactors. See R&D section under IGCAR.
Design of the first 300 MWe AHWR (920 MWt, 284 MWe net) was completed early in 2014 at BARC. It is mainly a thorium-fuelled reactor but is versatile regarding fuel. Construction of the first one is due to start in the 12th plan period to 2017, possibly 2016, for operation about 2022, though no site has yet been announced. By mid-2010 a pre-licensing safety appraisal had been completed by the AERB and site selection was in progress. The AHWR can be configured to accept a range of fuel types including U-Pu MOX, Th-Pu MOX, and Th-U-233 MOX in full core, the U-233 coming from reprocessing in closed fuel cycle. A co-located fuel cycle facility is planned, with remote handling for the highly-radioactive fresh fuel (In 2008 an AHWR critical facility was commissioned at BARC “to conduct a wide range of experiments, to help validate the reactor physics of the AHWR through computer codes and in generating nuclear data about materials, such as thorium/uranium-233 based fuel, which have not been extensively used in the past.” It has all the components of the AHWR’s core including fuel and heavy water moderator, and can be operated in different modes with various kinds of fuel in different configurations).
The 300 MWe AHWR will have vertical pressure tubes in which the light water coolant under high pressure will boil at 285°C, circulation being by convection. Thermal efficiency is 30.9 per cent. It is moderated by heavy water. There are 452 fuel assemblies, with burn-up of 38 GWd/t. A large heat sink or “gravity-driven water pool” with 7000 cubic metres of water is near the top of the reactor building and has a safety function. It has a slightly negative void coefficient of reactivity and several advanced passive safety features to enable meeting next-generation safety requirements such as 72-hour grace period for operator response, elimination of the need for exclusion zone beyond the plant boundary, 100-year design life, and high level of fault tolerance. The advanced safety characteristics have been verified in a series of experiments carried out in full-scale test facilities. It is claimed that per unit of energy produced, the amount of long-lived minor actinides generated is nearly half of that produced in current generation light water reactors. A high level of radioactivity in the fissile and fertile materials recovered from the used fuel of the AHWR, and their isotopic composition, preclude the use of these materials for nuclear weapons (9.5 per cent of the plutonium is Pu-238).
In 2009 the AEC also announced an export version of the AHWR, the AHWR300-LEU. This will use low-enriched uranium plus thorium (Th-LEU MOX) as a fuel, dispensing with the plutonium input. About 39 per cent of the power will come from thorium (via in situ conversion to U-233, cf two-thirds in AHWR), and burn-up will be 61 GWd/t. Uranium enrichment level will be 19.75 per cent, giving 4.21 per cent average fissile content of the U-Th fuel. The design is based on once-through fuel cycle during its lifetime. While closed fuel cycle is possible, this is not required or envisaged, and the used fuel, with about 8 per cent fissile isotopes can be used in light water reactors. Plutonium production will be less than in light water reactors, the fissile proportion will be less and the Pu-238 portion three times as high. With also a significant level of gamma-emitting U-232 in the used fuel, there is inherent proliferation resistance. The design is intended for overseas sales, and the AEC says that “the reactor is manageable with modest industrial infrastructure within the reach of developing countries”.
A third variety is the AHWR-Pu, which will have Pu-Th MOX and Th-U-233 MOX fuel. An NPCIL presentation early in 2012 had LEU AHWRs being fueled with LEU-thorium, while U-233 and thorium from fast reactors, along with used fuel from those AHWRs, fueled accelerator-driven subcritical molten salt reactors. Thorium was evidently the main fuel for both these types. Also AHWR-LEU produces half as much minor actinides as LWR.
(Source: World Nuclear Association)