BHEL wins huge order from India’s nuclear operator for 32 reactor head assemblies

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India’s state-run electrical equipment maker Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd announced earlier this month that it has won an order from the government-owned operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) for the supply of 32 reactor header assemblies for country’s indigenously-developed 700 MW pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) to be set up at four different locations.

In a statement, BHEL said that this was the first order placed under NPCIL’s Fleet Mode Procurement programme that will help significantly boost Indian domestic manufacturing.

The Indian government has earlier approved the fleet mode construction of ten PHWRs of 700 MW capacity each at a total estimated cost of $16.3 billion. The fleet mode of construction of multiple units ensures standardisation, lower costs and speeding up the setting up of nuclear power plants in the country.

BHEL said it has been associated with all the three stages of the Indian nuclear power programme as the primary supplier to NPCIL for reactor headers, steam turbines, steam generators, motors and other equipment. Till date, all the reactor header assemblies for 700 MW PHWR projects in India have been supplied by BHEL. Besides, some 75 percent of PHWR plants in the country are equipped with BHEL-supplied turbine and generator sets.

The NPCIL Chairman S.K. Sharma announced last year that India will construct ten new PHWR units in the fleet mode, thereby facilitating procurement activities, manufacturing and construction of these units. The 10 planned reactors are units 5 and 6 at the Kaiga in Karnataka state, units 1 and 2 at Chutka in Madhya Pradesh, 4 units at Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan and units 1 and 2 at Gorakhpur in Haryana.

In July last year, India achieved criticality with its first indigenously built 700 MW PHWR for the Kakrapar unit 3 in Gujarat state. Three other PHWRs are already under construction – Kakrapar unit 4, and Rajasthan 7 and 8 in Rajasthan. India currently has 22 reactors in operation with a total capacity of 6,780 MW. 8 reactors are under construction with a combined capacity of 6,200 MW. On completion of these under construction, NPCIL’s capacity will reach 12,980 MW by 2025.

In addition, the government has given administrative approval and financial sanction for 12 new reactors with a total capacity of 9,000 MW. India’s current nuclear power capacity is expected to increase to 22,480 MW by 2031 on the completion of these proposed projects.

Nuclear energy is set to make a comeback as more nuclear power projects (NPPs) are planned in future with improved designs, lower costs, better safety features and lower waste management concerns, India’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman K.N. Vyas told mediapersons last year.

“To increase standardisation and bring modularity into the construction of new plants, we are going in for fleet mode for construction, thereby reducing costs and speeding up construction times. Seventeen new reactors are now in the pipeline, with seven already under construction,” Vyas said. “A revised target of 20 gigawatts (GW) has been set till the end of next decade, which I think is highly attainable. In my opinion, the financial outlay is expected to be staggering enough to encourage most industrialists,” he said.

“It does appear that with the increasing pressure to meet the decarbonisation requirement, nuclear shall eventually make a comeback with improved designs, lower costs, better safety features and lower waste management concerns, making them attractive propositions once again, especially in view of the intermittency of wind and solar energies,” Vyas added.

The Minister for Atomic Energy Jitendra Singh has said that NPPs need to be spread across the country. “Atomic power plants were restricted in southern India. Now the government is setting up nuclear plants in other parts of the country,” Singh had announced.

Currently two Russian-made VVER units of 1,000 MW capacity each are operating at the Kudankulam NPP (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu state. Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom are the equipment suppliers and technical consultants for KNPP, where 4 more VVER-1000 units are under construction. As per an intergovernmental agreement, Rosatom will also help construct 6 more units in India at another location.

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