Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd., (NPCIL), the state-owned company spearheading India's nuclear power program, is holding discussions with four of the world’s top nuclear equipment suppliers for the initial $14-billion stage of its $60-billion nuclear powerplant building program.
The international nuclear equipment suppliers include two U.S. vendors, General Electric and Westinghouse, France’s Areva and Russia’s Rosatom.Exploratory talks are centering on possible formation of a joint venture between NPCIL and the suppliers, according to newspaper reports of comments by S.K. Jain, NPCIL chairman and managing director.
Coal-burning powerplants dominate India’s generation industry, but the country is pushing to increase its nuclear power generation from 3% of its demand to 25% by 2050, according to the Uranium Information Center (UIC), Melbourne, Australia. Achieving that goal would multiply
India’s current 3,500-MW nuclear generation capacity 100 times. But India is straining against three decades of international isolation resulting from its refusal to join the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The country’s nuclear industry, from uranium exploration and mining through power generation to weapons production and waste management, is largely indigenous, UIC says. Most of its 17 reactors are rated 202 net MW or lower.
 Russian firm Atomstroyexport is supplying India’s first large nuclear powerplants, two 1,000-MW VVER-1000 pressurized-water reactors in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. NPCIL is being provided the plant diagram and other details for Kodamkulam 1 and 2 so that they can manage the plant themselves and make repairs on their own if necessary. Unit 1 is scheduled for commercial operation in December and Unit 2 next year. They will be commissioned and operated under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, says UIC.
But opening the door to trade in nuclear technology will require congressional approval of the March 2006 U.S.-India Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a group of supplier countries that cooperate to stop nuclear proliferation. It also will require agreement by the Indian government’s Communist allies and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, both of which want a
 review of the U.S.-India accord, which they claim infringes India’s sovereignty.
France has already agreed to work with India to build nuclear reactors, though Congress has yet to give its final approval for participation by U.S. suppliers. The agreement, which would allow sharing of nuclear fuel and expertise in return for India’s action to separate its civilian and military nuclear programs, is still under close scrutiny in Congress.
How the plants would be built is still uncertain. India plans to build 40,000 MW of nuclear capacity by 2020, equivalent to a third of current generation. The country needs to increase its use of nuclear energy to meet soaring energy needs and reduce its reliance on coal-fired powerplants.
NPCIL proposes to set up several nuclear power stations through joint ventures with international partners but right now it plans to set up four plants at selected sites in the states of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. NPCIL will initially order two reactors of 1,000 MW at each of the locations. The four suppliers will not be permitted to own equity in the projects under Indian law.
GE has held “conversations” with NPCIL about constructing pairs of reactors at four to six sites, says Timothy J. Richard, director of international energy policy. “I wouldn’t call them negotiations,” he adds. Under current law, “we can talk with them about publicly available information and can have briefings on what they’re thinking of doing,” he says. Suppliers cannot provide details about their reactors. “To my knowledge, they haven’t talked to us about joint ventures,” he adds.
A Westinghouse spokesman says, “Westinghouse is, of course, interested in all nuclear markets, but anything we do in India or anywhere else, will be in full compliance with the laws and requirements of the U.S. government.”