Cabinet nod for nuclear reactors bid to make up for lost time?
- India has lost six years on a wild goose expedition that cost its domestic nuclear industry dear.
- Faster clearances, more efficient regulations are some of the things the nuclear sector needs.
NEW DELHI: The Modi government’s decision to ramp up generation of nuclear power with indigenous reactors takes India back full circle.
In the process, India has lost six years on a wild goose expedition that cost its domestic nuclear industry dear.
The cabinet decision earlier this week to set up ten nuclear reactors comes days after the Japanese lower House cleared the India-Japan nuclear agreement, a major milestone. Also 2017-18 will see the first uranium supplies from Australia.
But in essence, India is back at 2009 when the Indo-US nuclear deal had just been completed and it hadn’t yet thrown itself into the deep hole of nuclear liability law (CNLDA). The 2010 law not only scared away foreign investors, it crippled the domestic nuclear industry.
The cabinet decision tries to put this back on the rails, hoping to give a fresh lease of life to the domestic industry.
With 10 reactors on the anvil, suppliers can take advantage of the economies of scale. The weak link, say sources in the industry, is NPCIL, which is hobbled in terms of capacity. “If we are going to build big, NPCIL needs to have a cadre of nuclear managers, because scientists cannot be managers,” said a source.
Faster clearances, more efficient regulations are some of the things the sector needs. Haryana, for instance, has been waiting for its reactor in Gorakhpur for several years now. To put 10 reactors on stream, decisions have to become more corporatised, say industry leaders, aware of the tight government control over all nuclear issues.
It took the combined ingenuity of Indian bureaucrats and finance mavens and a willing suspension of disbelief by India’s key nuclear partners to overcome that liability.
With an insurance pool in place, enforced clarity in rules and regulations and extensive outreach to the global nuclear industry, the government finally managed to put this issue behind.
The initial idea after the nuclear deal was that it would open up Indian nuclear industry alongside attracting foreign nuclear reactors, fuel and technology.
India had been making pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) for years and had evolved from 200MW reactors to 700MW currently, and the promise of 1,000MW reactors in the near future. The deal would allow India to import light water reactors (LWRs) and perhaps give fresh energy to
After several years of battling through the clauses, the government went back to where they had started — Indian companies that build reactors for NPCIL were termed “vendors” not “suppliers”, thereby getting out of a very sticky situation arising from the liability structures of the 2010 law. That used to be the law earlier.
India’s quest for LWRs has seen advanced negotiations with Westinghouse and Areva, though both baulked at the liability law making progress glacial.
The Russians, who were the only foreign supplier of reactors, drove a harder bargain — Russian reactors in India are not only NSG-proof (Russia had grandfathered the first two), they are also governed by an India-Russia inter-governmental agreement, not any domestic Indian law.