The first of the 10 indigenous Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) planned in India at Gorakhpur Haryana Anu Vidyut Pariyojana (GHAVP) is expected to have its first concrete pour soon. This would mark the beginning of the construction of the plant.

The Technical Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) AK Balasubrahmanian announced this during the 11th Nuclear Energy Conclave organised by Indian Energy Forum.

“GHAVP 1 and 2 are of standard design. First pour of concrete is expected very soon. This design we have made it the standard design,” Balasubrahmanian told Nuclear Asia. In the construction time line of a nuclear power plant, first pour of concrete is called the ‘zero’ month, when the foundation of the plant is laid.

Twenty months since the First Pour of Concrete, the structure is ready to receive equipment for installation. The installation of critical equipment is generally at 24 months. Subsequently, the steam generators and primary pumps are acquired in about 36 months. And the dome of the nuclear reactor is completed in 42 months. This 42 months schedule is part of the 60 months schedule for the construction of the nuclear reactor. The first phase of the project comprising of two units GHAVP-1&2 (2X700 MW) is expected to be completed in 2025.

The GHAVP is planned to have four reactor units. The 10 sanctioned PHWRs have come as a big order after a long hiatus for the industry players in the nuclear power sector. This means that it has come with its own challenges both in terms of “engineering and inputs for designs”. “The basic challenges are manufacturing cycle time without compromising on the quality and the cost. When we look at the fleet mode construction they are targeted to be implemented by 2031. There are overlapping schedule. The challenge is here to have industrial infrastructure, qualified manpower and finances,” Balasubrahmanian added.

The 10 PHWRs is unique, as unlike the past the Indian government has announced to bring nuclear power up north rather than confining the reactors to South India. This has also come with its own challenges. Geological, seismic and meteorological changes are there from one site to another. “Incidentally we have two types of sites at our hand – one is alluvial site like at Gorakhpur, Haryana. All the remaining sites are hard rock sites. This is a big dilemma for us. The qualification of the civil structure and the equipment would be different. So we are drawing two designs for qualification- basic design and basic layout remains the same. And the qualification of piping, pipe support and embedded parts will be site specific,” Balasubrahmanian added.

Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) Secretary KN Vyas also appreciated the learning curve that the construction of 10 PHWRs in fleet mode has offered. India presently has 17 new reactors in the offing and out of which seven are already under construction. “To increase standardisation and bring modularity into the construction of new plants, we are going in for fleet mode for construction, thereby reducing construction costs and speeding up construction times. Seventeen new reactors are now in the pipeline, with seven already under construction,” said Vyas. He is also the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Apart from Gorakhpur (Haryana), Kaiga (Rajasthan), Chutka (Madhya Pradesh) and Mahi Banswara (Rajasthan) have been chosen as sites for other nuclear power plants. The incumbent Indian government has been giving a push to the nuclear power generation in the country, however, unable to secure a seat at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) has been a dampener. The NSG has been the multilateral export control regime and a group of nuclear supplier countries. For some time the adequate supply of Uranium and the lack of economy of scale caused due to the lack of export avenues had slowed the growth of peaceful nuclear technology in the country. The Indian government has revised its target from 63 GW of nuclear-installed power by 2032 to 20 GW by the end of the next decade. Dr. Anil Kakodkar, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, expressed his disappointment at it. “The target of 63 GW is achievable if we get our act together…. Access to the imported uranium can accelerate the nuclear programme size as well as large scale thorium deployment. We have now much lesser constraints to move ahead,” Dr. Kakodkar added.

Dr. Kakodkar, also known as the architect of the Indo-US nuclear deal, also cited China’s growth in the nuclear power sector. He pointed that from 2002-2019, China added 43.5 GW to its capacity. “Expediting development of three stages technologies to utilise the Thorium reserves better, acquisition of Uranium related assets abroad and making Indian industry more competitive, can help the country in achieving its target,” Dr. Kakodkar said.

To make the nuclear energy competitive with respect to solar and wind energy, Dr. Kakodkar emphasised that the NPCIL should focus on cost competitiveness and short project gestation period. “Given our large energy endowments in terms of thorium and solar energy, can India become a net exporter of clean and safe energy,” he added.

Answering the queries of Dr. Kakodkar and expressing the enthusiasm of the Indian nuclear industry towards the construction of the 10 PHWRs, Senior Executive Vice President of Larsen & Toubro Ltd YS Trivedi said: “First steam generator for GHAVP will be delivered in 30 months, even though 48 months have been our planned delivery.” The indigenous nuclear reactor manufacturing has given a fresh impetus to the industry as the financial outlay for the project is huge.