September 20, 2008
India Has Big Plans for N-Power Utilisation
By Indrani Bagchi
NEW DELHI: With the nuclear deal squeezing past the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), India can finally make some realistic projections about the use of nuclear power in its energy mix.
And if early indications are anything to go by, nuclear power could emerge as a major energy source in the country.
Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), the PSU that spearheads the country's nuclear power programme, is certainly planning big. It wants to have GE, Areva, Toshiba-Westinghouse and Rosatom build two reactors each - hoping to generate an additional 8,000 MW through these projects. NPCIL's S P Jain has gone on record after the NSG waiver to say this was part of a $40 billion reactor- building programme.
Like SEZs, there are plans to build "nuclear parks" solely dedicated to producing nuclear energy, he added.
To source uranium, India is likely to choose Russia as its easiest supplier, certainly till the Australians turn around. Kazakhstan is a potentially big source, as is Canada. Then there's the private sector.
An Indian company has already ventured into remote Niger for mining uranium. This small Saharan country in Africa is rich in uranium and not even a member of the NSG! China has already set a foot in the country, but India's Taurian Resources Pvt Limited, Mumbai, a Rs 300-crore company, recently won a contract which gives it exclusive rights over 3,000 sq km of Sahara desert known to be rich in uranium deposits.
According to the company's projections, the area is likely to hold at least 30,000 tonnes of uranium. The estimate seems way too optimistic, but it's a promising start.
All this shows that PM Manmohan Singh's projection of the country producing 20,000 MW (or 20 GW) of nuclear power by 2020 could well be realized. In fact, the PM has said that N-power's share could be as high as 40 GW - equivalent to a third of India's total current generation.
The PM's projections, based on department of atomic energy figures, factored in imported nuclear fuel but not new nuclear power plants. The projections may actually fall short of the actual numbers if you take into account the possible entry of private sector players in this sector. It's well known that everybody from Reliance Power, Tata Power and JSW are itching to get their hands into this sunrise sector.
To be sure, India needs more power. The country's peak time power shortfall at the moment is 14.8% of demand and the gap is expected to widen. At present, India's total power generation stands at 124 GW. Of that, coal comprises 55%, hydroelectric 26%, natural gas 10%, renewables 5% and nuclear only 3%.
The primary reason for India's poor nuclear power production has been chronic uranium shortage, which incidentally was the main driving force for the India-US nuclear deal in the first place. According to NPCIL,
India has 17 reactors in six states that produced 4,120 MW in 2007. In addition, about 2,660 MW are under various stages of construction.
Srikumar Banerjee, head of BARC, estimates that with its domestic uranium reserves, India will be able to produce just 10 GW by 2020. In an interview he was quoted as saying, "We are building eight new 700 MW reactors and if the new mines open up, as we've planned, then by 2020 we will add 5,600 MW to the existing 4,120 MW." India's uranium mines are mainly in Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh - all Naxalite territory and much of it out of bounds for UCIL.
In Meghalaya - another uranium site - there are serious environmental objections. There's been a good find in Domiasiat near the Bangladesh border, but that too is subject to security issues.
Besides, the worst kept secret about Indian uranium is its poor quality - UCIL's claims of 600 to 700 parts per million ore concentrations (0.06% to 0.07%) have been contested by independent experts who say its closer to 0.03%.
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