Oct 3, 2008

India - France plans to sell large 1,600 MW reactor to India

K. Venugopal
Paris, Oct 2 France’s nuclear energy establishment is delighted at the prospect of dealing again with India. It did not matter that the US Senate had not formally voted for the Indo-US nuclear deal; the French were raring to go and their agreement with India was signed during the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s stopover in Paris on September 30.
“We have been waiting ten years for this,” said a senior industry executive, who did not wish to be quoted.Preparatory work
France is likely to be among the first off the block as the world’s nuclear industry tries to bid for a piece of the action which will see India adding up to 40,000 MW of capacity with imported reactors in the next decade.
Although negotiations over the deal took many months more than anticipated, a lot of preparatory work has been done in the meantime. Time was not really lost, aver industry executives. Yet, nuclear plants take time to build; even if the contracts are signed today by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India with a supplier such as Areva of France, it would take at least six to eight years before the project can start supplying electricity.
What France plans to sell to India is the large 1,600 MW reactor, indeed, the largest of kind in commercial operations in the world. The biggest reactor working in India is the 540 MW model that debuted in Tarapur, Maharashtra, a couple of years ago. All other domestic reactors are 235 MW or smaller.
Although there has been no formal agreement to the effect, the understanding is that Areva, the French company the majority of whose shares are owned by the Government, and the one that has built all the 56 nuclear power reactors working in France, will supply equipment for the four reactors that NPCIL will set up at Jaitapur, a greenfield site in Maharashtra. The French have already seen the site.
France is confident of its nuclear power prowess: over three-fourth of the country’s electricity is provided by nuclear power stations that were pressed into service in the 1970s as a strategic move to rid itself of dependence on imported energy.Areva exports
France has not added much to its nuclear capacity in the past few years but Areva has exported four reactors to China and is helping the local company there to build several more.
And it is not just nuclear power plants that France hopes to sell. With uranium mining interests in many parts of the world, Areva could also be there bidding to sell natural uranium to power India’s home-made reactors which are currently low on fuel and, therefore, operating far below their capacity.
The French do not make the kind of fuel that India’s heavy water reactors use. But they can supply the natural uranium that India can fabricate the fuel with. The fuel can start coming in a few months of the contracts being signed, said Dr S.K. Jain, Managing Director, NPCIL, in an interview to Business Line recently.
The French touch may be felt in months rather than years.

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