India - Plutonium Investigation n°10

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power has a small share in electricity generation in India. According to the IAEA, in 1997, India's ten nuclear power plants generated about 8.7 TWh, corresponding to 2.2% of the total electricity generated. Their total nominal capacity is given as 1,840 MWe. Other sources (e.g. CEA) give slightly higher values for both power output (1,931 MWe) and electricity generation in 1997 (10.1 TWh). The nuclear electricity generating capacity corresponds only to about twice the wind power capacity in the country. The first two commercial nuclear reactors were built by US General Electric.

These two reactors are the only boiling-water reactors (BWRs) in India. Figures for the power output of these reactors vary according to sources from 150 to 210 MWe. These two reactors went critical in 1969. They generated about 1.8 TWh in 1997.

The eight other reactors are almost entirely Indian-designed. These reactors are pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs). The first one however was built with Canadian participation.

Four other reactors are being constructed near Kota in Rajasthan and at Kaiga in Karnataka, about 60 km East of Karwar on the south-west coast just South of Goa. According to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), these reactors are in advanced stages of construction and are expected to go critical in 1999. The AEC had expected in September 1998 that the construction of two "indigenously designed" 500 MWe PHWRs at Tarapur would commence in October 1998. A bilateral agreement has been signed with the Russian government for the construction of two 1,000 MWe VVER Russian designed reactors. The Russians aim at drawing up a project report by year 2000 for building to begin then. The first reactor is expected by the industry to go critical in 2006, the second in 2007. The reactors are supposed to use low-enriched uranium imported from the Russian Federation.

According to reports, Indian officials say Russia will lend about 80% of the approximately US$ 2.5 billion which is estimated for the project financing. Taking the current state of the Russian economy, and how much it depends on foreign assistance, respecting the planned schedule might not be possible.

The AEC states that "detailed internal reviews and consultations" have recommended "an installed capacity of 20,000 MWe for nuclear power by the year 2020", that is roughly ten times the current power output. As with estimates from nuclear administrations of other countries on the development of nuclear power, AEC estimates have always been quite optimistic.

Since India has little indigenous uranium resources (less than 2% of the world's known economically recoverable resources), much energy has been devoted to designing nuclear power systems which would use thorium instead of uranium. India has a large share of the world's resources of thorium. Also, because of the limited uranium resources as well as because of its weapons ambitions, India has been interested in the plutonium industry. Plutonium, which is produced during the irradiation in a reactor of uranium fuel, could be used as the fissile material for mixed-oxides fuel (MOX). However, so far, plutonium and MOX fuel are only used on a demonstration basis.

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