March 15, 2010

Indian nuclear energy chief: Russia has an advantage: it has a reactor, others can only show papers

The chairman of India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Srikumar Banerjee

RIA Novosti's correspondent in India Yevgeny Bezeka talks to the chairman of India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) Srikumar Banerjee and Nuclear Power Corporation India Ltd chief S K Jain

India and Russia finalized an agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy in December. It was stressed that the agreement “goes beyond 123 agreement”. What does this mean? What are the main highlights of the agreement?

If we make a comparison between an Indo-US agreement and Indo-Russian agreement there are some special points of advantage in Indo-Russian one.

First, it is reprocessing rights upfront of the spent fuel in safeguarded facility in India.

Second, it is more broad based. Indo-Russian agreement today is not just for setting up of nuclear power stations. It goes beyond. We may eventually have joint facilities for nuclear fuel fabrication.

We can also have broad based R&D in the nuclear energy area. We are working on detailes of this. There is a possibility that we would be signing of some memorandum of understanding with the Russian team when they visit us very soon.

Further defining of R&D programme and scope of our power stations coming in future will be detailed out in future agreements.

How far can cooperation with Russia go in terms of fuel supply and production? Which projects are under discussion? Will India participate in the Russian initiative to set up facilities for n-fuel?

The first point here is that India wants to become a donor country and not just a recipient. Since India has it's own technology for the entire fuel cycle, it will be appropriate that India would become a donor country.

We have some limitation in our uranium reserve, which is not very large, but we have a large thorium reserve.

Getting a raw material, it is possible for us to process it into fuel of different type. If we have a properly safeguarded and accountable system, we can get raw material from some place, process it, and in this processing it is also possible to have a joint ventures with other countries.

India is also a world's largest producer of heavy water. The quality of heavy water which is available from India is perhaps the best today, puritywise also. India has a strength of making zyrconium alloy of any specification. Competence in fuel design of Indian scientists and engineers for defferent types of reactors is no less. So we can be a donor country.

How interesting is the Russian offer to India to become a stakeholder in the Angarsk facility?

India is interested as a donor country. And we are looking into it. It is attractive, but requires a very detailed techno commercial dealings which have not been completed.

We have to evaluate the facility, and economics here comes as a major factor. It is not just a political arrangement.

So I cannot straight away say that India is joining just now, but India has a capability of joining as an equal partner in some of these activities.

What do you think about an international market of plutonium for peaceful use in the energy sector? Is this a realistic perspective?

This question is a bit early today. Eventually India may be in a position to provide plutonium to other countries, but today our programme does not have so much plutonium to provide it to international market. This will require a very stringent material accounting system, safeguarding system, and safeguard veryfication system. That is why this question is a little premature.

India constructs its first fast breeder reactor. Russia already runs an FBR. Is cooperation possible in this sector?

Now we are debating on the R&D sector, where one of the areas is a fast reactor area, but it has not been accepted yet, only in the stage of discussion.

How will India deal with spent nuclear fuel?

We do not believe in open fuel cycle. Closed fuel cycle has two advanteges – first, you are not wasting this fertile material, you can tap the energy as much as about 50 to 100 times of the starting Uranium 235. Second advantage – your waste volume gets minimized.

Here you generate it into plutonium, take out plutonium, take out others parts, which can burnt in fast reactors and the volume of the waste will be kept in repository.

If we are importing some reactors from Russia, we will also have some spent fuel, when reprocessed we shall have some plutonium, which we will be feeding into our safeguarded fast reactors. At some stage we shall have some safeguarded fast reactors.

France is utilizing plutonium in MOX fuel in the light water reactors, which is not impossible. But the problem is, that you do not generate more plutonium. We have not decided yet, maybe we shall you some MOX, but more than that we would like to multiply plutonium in the fast reactor.

So we must develop reprocessing units to take out fuel from imported reactors, after reprocessing we should have fuel fabrication, and than converting it a a fast reactor fuel, and have fast reactors burn this safeguarded waste fuel.

India has done much in the sector of thorium reactors. Are there plans to cooperate with Russia on thorium reactors, where India has far-reaching plans, given the huge resources of this element here?

We have shared a huge amount of information in our INPRO (Innovative Project for the Nuclear Reactors) programme, which was originally initiated by Russians in IAEA. In that we have been participating and exchange all data regarding our Advanced Inverter Reactor.

But when it come to intellectual property rights, are we sharing say joint for the reactor design? Not yet. But this what we may do eventually once we have the R&D cooperation.

Also important to consider thorium utilization in the existing types of reactors. In fact, Kurchatov institute in early 90s had a plan for examining thorium burning in VVER reactors.

Did you dicuss this with your Russian colleagues?

We have mentioned that but it has not come to serious discussion yet.

The construction of the first two units of the Kudankulam Power Project is nearing its end. When it will produce its first electricity?

Whenever we are talking anywhere and it is such that “you have started Kudankulam so many years back and still it is not there when coming we dont know”. It is a big problem for us.

This is an important point for us, because whenever I meet anybody in any part of the country – common people, academic people and politicians – they ask me this question.

When it is functional, we shall get a tremendous strength to face our people, to face our politicians – to say: This is a success!

If I could comfortably say that yes – we have joined hands with Russians, and here is reactor running and performing well - I would have been not in an apologetic position but in an aformatic position.

When is the contract for next two units at Kudankulam expected to be signed?
S.K. Jain: We are planning to do it in April-May.

Which model of reactors will that be?

S.K.Jain: Kudankulam-1 and 2 - will be same.
Dr. Banerjee: Same reactros at the same site is a big advantage, because for regular maintanance you need the same crew, they can run different units. When reactros are different you cannot use same people. Second, exchange of spares - the advantage tremendous.

Which reactors will India choose in Haripur, West Bengal, where a site has been allocated in 2009 to build another plant with Russian equipment?

At different site we can have different type of reactor.

There seems to be a strong opposition from local residents against the construction of the power plant. Locals don't allow NPCIL to come close. Will you be able to convince those people?

There are many fishermen. Their concern is whether there will be any change in temperature of water (near plant). Temperature is already at the level of 30 degrees plus. We have done very serious environmental survey. After all these studies we have found that there will be about 5 degrees to 7,5 degrees and (there will be) no degradation at all.

With such background it our duty to go to local people to expain, to try to convince and win their heart.

Today it is not only about fish. The issue has become political. What can the solution be?

West Bengal is a state where there is a requirement for industrial growth. It is also extremely power hungry state. Haripur is also not far away from an oil field. If we can prove, that even there you can run a nuclear power station in a cost effective manner, this will be an extremly big gain for us.

If Kudankulam would have been working, we would have arranged one train of people coming from Hariput to Kudankulam to show how safe it is.

So, the launch of Kudankulam would be like a watershed for you?


How many units may you build in Haripur?

SK Jain: Six.
Dr. Banerjee: We are keeping every energy park to be able to handle 10 thousand megawatts.

Many experts believe that the Russian atomic energy machine-building industry cannot satisfy the growing demand within the country or abroad. What is your view?

I don't see that. Indian industry is quite capable of producing many things. Only in some key sectors there will be some key sectors there will be a necessity of Russian production capacity.

When will the first unit appear in Haripur?

S.K.Jain: There is a vision and a commitment. Commitment only on 5-year basis. All other is vision. We have in a coming Plan from 2012-2017 plan to complete Kudankulam 3-4 and 5-6.
Dr Banerjee: They will be joined to the grid
S.K. Jain: And complete all preproject activities at Haripur. Ground breaking should be before 2017.
Dr. Banerjee: Our plan is to construct two reactors at a time. Kudankulam 1 and 2 finishes by March 2011. Soon 3 and 4 will start. After a gap of two years another two will start. This (limitation) is not only on our side, it is also on manufacturer's side.

What is the benchmark cost for taking the decision on the reactor?

The capital cost of reactors that we got sanctioned is only 1600 dollars per kilowatt. These are the four reactors which have been sanctioned for us.

Your Russian partners would be interested to reach a long-term agreement on reactors to facilitate long-term planning. What do you think about the serial production of reactors?

We can talk on general issues. But projects in India are approved on the basis of Five Year Plan period. If I say today that we have a serial setting up of reactors, it will not really be a commitment, because our plan is only five years.

So we have an overall plan up till 2050, but we have to have concrete planning for the next 5 years. This is serial way is not a right approach. Instead of serial production we say a roadmap. In that we see Russian participation as important.

Is the Indian nuclear industry ready to cope with the growing number of projects? Which problems do you have to solve?

We have a system. In a year we are handling 250 scientists and engeniers. This number, I think, we have to enhance by 100 or so. Apart of our own training system, many universities in the country have started giving education in nuclear engeneering.

India has already alloted sites for the construction of n-plants on the basis of technology from the United States, France, and Russia. How important is the cost when it comes to signing contracts?

Whenever we are placing a project with the government, we have to show that we will be able to sell the power at competitive rate. Without that government is not going to agree to any project. This is a fundamental point.

But if today I would have got Kudankulam 1 running at 90% plus load factor, than I would have no difficulty. And there Russia is getting a biggest advantage: nobody else can demonstrate that.

It is within Russia's reach to show within two months that we are at this level, and this is how nicely it is operated. That immediately will sell the idea, that these are good reactors.

Russians can demonstrate. Others cannot demonstrate they have only papers. You have a reactor.

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