Growing opportunities of localisation in Indo-Russian nuclear cooperation  

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There are increasing opportunities for further indigenisation of production in the construction of units 5 and 6 of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu state, being built with the assistance of the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, according to a senior Rosatom official. 

 
Additional opportunities for local equipment manufacturers will be created through the proposed construction of a second nuclear power plant in India with Russian assistance, which is currently under negotiation between the Indian and Russian governments, Olga Lukerchik, Chief Expert at Rosatom’s engineering division ASE, said at a panel discussion in New Delhi earlier this month. 

 
The panel discussion on “Equipment Manufacturing Capacity build up and expectations from DAE (Department of Atomic Energy) for Atmanirbharta (Self-reliance),” was held during the Nuclear Energy Conclave organised by the India Energy Forum.  

 
The first two units in KNPP have been commissioned in 2014 and 2017, respectively, while construction work is underway at the site to erect 4 more units of 1,000 MW each. 

 
“Undoubtedly, an important issue is the involvement of Indian manufacturers in the Kudankulam NPP construction project. The successful operation of the first and second units, part of the supplies for which were carried out by Indian companies, may be considered as a positive example of our cooperation today,” Lukerchik said in her presentation. 

 
“We set ourselves the goal of expanding the opportunities for Indian companies to participate in Rosatom projects. In order to make this possible, it is necessary to carry out work on the harmonisation of regulatory and technical requirements between manufacturers and project documentation. With the active support of our Indian partners, I am confident that this challenging undertaking will succeed,” she added.  

The event hosted more than 100 senior representatives from leading Indian and foreign agencies and companies in the nuclear field. Along with the Rosatom speaker, the session was attended by representatives from the Department of Atomic Energy, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, BHEL, Larsen & Toubro and other leading enterprises.    

The state-run operator NPCIL’s former Chairman S.K. Jain had told Nuclear Asia earlier that a crucial element of the nuclear cooperation with Russia is the understanding that it would significantly increase Indian industrial manufacturing capacity in the area of sophisticated technology. Thus, a supplementary agreement signed in 2014 with Russia mentions “Localization of Manufacturing in India for the Russian-Designed Nuclear Reactor Units”, which provided for indigenous manufacturing of equipment and fuel assemblies for Russian designed nuclear plants in India.  

 
While critical components such as reactor pressure vessels, coolant pumps and steam generators, among others, are supplied by Rosatom companies, the share of Indian industry in manufacturing equipment in the turbine Island and in the rest of the NPP has always been at a high level ever since the construction of the first unit at Kudankulam, Jain said.  

 
“From a beginning in the last century, when 100 percent of the project was supplied by the Russians on a turnkey basis, the circumstances changed in the new millennium. The USSR had split up, and with sanctions ended, India was able to sign civil nuclear cooperation deals with many countries, obtaining more favourable terms, including assurances on indigenisation of production,” Jain said.  

“Right from the start at Kudankulam, all the civil works for erection (of the NPP) were handled by the Indian side, while the Russians provided the technical expertise in terms of the warranties and guarantees. We have now moved further ahead on localisation, to the extent that, for instance, the entire electrical system, the water system of the plant are supplied by India,” he added.  

In the early part of the last decade, Russia had offered to localise the production of major reactor components and sub-systems for building new NPPs in India. During his 2014 visit to New Delhi, Russian President Vladimir Putin had described nuclear export to India as “not just trading goods or services or even technology – it is the creation of an entire industry, a new industry for India.” As a result, the two countries formally incorporated “localisation of manufacturing of equipment and fuel assemblies” in the 2014 Indo-Russian strategic vision document, which paved the way for the construction of the KNPP Units 3 and 4.  

While Rosatom has repeatedly expressed its commitment to progressively raise the local component in the remaining units, an NPCIL study on Kudankulam has indicated a planned increase in the construction and manufacturing workshare for Indian companies in KNPP Units 3-6. 

“Russians have been very open as far as technology is concerned and have not hesitated about sharing knowhow on items like pressure vessel technology, for instance. Whatever we have asked for, they have given,” Jain said.  

From India’s perspective, nuclear cooperation with Russia would significantly help increase Indian manufacturing content and would be a boost for domestic industry. India has fully developed its indigenous capability with Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) as seen in achieving criticality in 2020 with the 700 MW third unit at the Kakrapar NPP in Gujarat state. In the wake of India’s nuclear development programme, Indian industry has also successfully acquired capabilities to develop major reactor components, sub-systems, and assemblies.  

There is another dimension of “localisation” in Indo-Russian cooperation in the atomic sphere – one that involves joint projects in third countries. A beginning has been made in the area of joint projects with the ongoing construction of the first NPP in neighbouring Bangladesh at Rooppur, in which Rosatom is also the equipment supplier and technical consultant. In 2018, Bangladesh became the first initiative under an Indo-Russian agreement to undertake atomic energy projects in third countries. However, since India is still not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), it cannot directly participate in the construction of nuclear reactors overseas. India’s role in its maiden nuclear venture abroad is restricted to supply of some non-critical equipment and materials, and training of personnel.