As the Indian Parliament began its first session in 2021, it was time for stock taking, including of the nuclear sector. Replying to a question by a member, the Minister for Atomic Energy Jitendra Singh told the Lower House that the country currently has 22 nuclear reactors in operation with a total capacity of 6,780 MW, and one more unit – Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP)-III of 700 MW capacity located in Gujarat state – was synchronised with the grid on January 10, 2021.
KAPP Unit 3, which became India’s first fully indigenously built pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) of 700 MW capacity, is operated by the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). This is the highest capacity achieved by an indigenously designed and fabricated reactor, and had attained its first criticality, or controlled self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction, in July last year.
Singh also informed Parliament that the government has granted administrative approval and financial sanction for construction of 12 more nuclear power reactors, of which 10 are for indigenously built 700 MW (PHWRs) to be set up in the fleet mode, as well as for 2 Light Water Reactors (LWRs) to be set up in cooperation with the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom.
The fleet mode of construction of the 10 PHWRs, to be built indigenously at a total estimated cost of $16.3 billion, ensures standardisation, lower costs and speeding up the setting up of nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the country. 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 his reply, Singh also indicated that while the two units at Chutka proposed to be completed by 2031, would use natural uranium as fuel, the units 5 and 6 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu, where Rosatom is the equipment supplier and technical consultant and which is expected to be constructed by 2026-27, would use enriched uranium as nuclear fuel.
Currently, 8 reactors are under construction in the country with a combined capacity of 6,200 MW. On completion of these under construction, NPCIL’s capacity will reach 12,980 MW by 2025. India’s current nuclear power capacity is expected to increase to 22,480 MW by 2031 on the completion of these proposed projects. Two Russian-made VVER units of 1,000 MW capacity each are currently operating at the Kudankulam NPP, 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.
India has also decided to enhance its domestic industrial capabilities in Light Water Reactors (LWRs), which it lacks at present. In this connection, the former NPCIL Chairman S.K. Jain told Nuclear Asia that 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 PHWRs, as witnessed in achieving criticality with the second 700 MW unit at the Kakrapar NPP. 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.
Singh also informed Parliament that 534 hectares of land has been acquired for the 4 700 PHWRs proposed to be set at Gorakhpur in Haryana in two phases. The first two units are expected to commence operations in 2026–27, while Gorakhpur units 3 and 4 are expected start operating in 2027-28.
Regarding the manpower requirement at the planned Gorakhpur NPP, the Minister in his written reply said “the employment potential during construction will follow a bell curve with about 8,000 persons at the peak. On becoming operational, each of the twin unit station is expected to generate employment (direct and indirect) for about 2,000 persons. In addition, large employment potential is generated with the contractors/ vendors and from business opportunities that emerge consequent to the increase in economic activity at the site.”
On the issue of nuclear waste generated in solid, liquid and gaseous forms during the operation of the four units proposed at Gorakhpur, Singh said that, like other operating NPPs in the country, these “will be of low and intermediate radioactivity level, which will be managed at the site in the dedicated waste management facilities. The wastes will be appropriately treated, concentrated and subject to volume reduction.”
“The concentrates will be immobilized in inert materials like cement, bitumen, polymers etc. and stored inspecially constructed structures located at the site under monitoring. The radioactivity level of the stored wastes reduces with time and by the end of the plant life, falls to a very low level. The treated liquids and gases will be diluted and discharged under monitoring, ensuring that the discharges are well within the limits set by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)”, Singh added.