French Prez to visit India early next year, Jaitapur nuclear plant negotiations accelerated: Amb Ziegler

Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India
Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India

During the visit of former president of France Francois Hollande to India in 2016, both countries had decided to fast pace the negotiations on the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in the coastal town in Maharashtra. Six 1,650 MW EPR nuclear reactor units are planned to come up at Jaitapur in what is being termed as the biggest nuclear power plant in the world in terms of total capacity of nearly 10,000 MW.

The two sides have been aiming to conclude the techno-commercial negotiations by the end of 2016, but the economic meltdown of the French nuclear giant Areva (it has been taken over by EDF France) has thrown the schedule off the track. French firm EDF restarted the negotiations for the project with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).

The 9th edition of the India Nuclear Energy 2017, an exhibition for the nuclear energy sector in India organised by UBM in Mumbai, saw huge participation from French companies. France’s Ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler spoke to Nuclear Asia about the issues like liability clause that EDF France and NPCIL are discussing. Ambassador Ziegler said in the interview that France’s President Emmanuel Macron is expected to visit India early next year and the negotiations on the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant are on a faster road.

The French President is expected to arrive in India soon. Can we expect any forward movement on the Jaitapur nuclear power plant project?

The President of France will be visiting India in early 2018. He will be making a state visit in India and it will coincide with the funding summit of the International Solar Alliance. So, yes he will be coming soon. On the Jaitapur project, everything is moving in the right direction and we have been progressing much faster. We have sponsors. We have a very positive mood on these negotiations and I am confident that we will be able to conclude it soon. When it will be I cannot tell you. We are moving forward and definitely on a faster path than we used to be.

What are the irritants or issues that are holding back the finalisation of the contract between the NPCIL and EDF?

Well there are no specific issues. There are various aspects – industrial aspect, financing and cost aspect. There are liability aspects and all these issues we are discussing, we are negotiating. It will be a major project. It will be the largest ever power plant built in the world. So it is not something that can happen overnight. So, it is pretty normal that we have thorough negotiation on such a project. But once again it is moving very well, very positively and we should be in a position to finalise it.

The Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant, which will be a reference site for Jaitapur project, an anomaly was discovered in it. So is that an issue?

No, there is not issue. Flamanville is on track. The nuclear reactor will start functioning at the end of next year. As you know we have several EPR projects being developed around the world. The major one is in United Kingdom. When you have countries such as the UK, China, Finland or India, which are investing into a technology, you can consider that it is reliable technology.

What would you tell the detractors of the project who have been saying that EPR reactor is an expensive bet for India and that it is not proven yet?

Once again it is not a technology that will be functional in 10 years of 15 years from now. It will be functioning next year actually. Some months from now, you will have EPR reactors functioning. In that aspect it is definitely a proven technology. Coming to the cost, it is part of the negotiation, of course the energy that will be produced from the EPR have to be affordable for the end user. It is an aspect of the negotiation and we are involved; and we are taking full consideration of this aspect. A nuclear power plant is a big investment, but it is investment for 60 years to come. And the total capacity will be once again of 10 GW, which is absolutely major.

There is a debate going on in France on the scale of nuclear energy. Last government wanted to scale down the share of nuclear power in the total energy mix. How would you explain that?

I think we all want low-carbon or non-carbon energy. And we have to tackle this issue very seriously and in a very urgent manner. Low-carbon and non-carbon energy means for the decades to come a mix of renewable and nuclear. We tried to reach a level of 50 per cent through renewables, which we are very confident that we will achieve it. But in the meantime the mix between renewable and nuclear is a necessity, it is absolute obvious. If India likewise wants to achieve its commitments especially in the framework of Paris Agreement in 2015, we will have to rely for years to come on this mix between renewable and nuclear. I have no doubt about it.