Nuclear power is considered an ideal solution to India’s twin challenges of meeting a huge energy requirement and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With a present installed base of 6.7 GW, the government’s target is to reach 13,480 MW by 2024-25 and 22,480 MW by 2031. To this end, the government has been taking steps to drive nuclear power capacity addition.
India’s commercial nuclear power programme was launched in 1969 with Units 1 and 2 (160 MW each) of the Tarapur Atomic Power Plant (TAPP) in Maharashtra being put into operation by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). Today, NPCIL operates 22 reactors with an aggregate capacity of 6,780 MW, which accounts for 1.96 per cent of the total installed capacity. The nuclear power plants in the country comprise the 1,400 MW TAPP in Maharashtra, the 1,180 MW Rajasthan Atomic Power Plant (RAPP), the 440 MW Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) in Tamil Nadu, the 880 MW Kaiga Generating Station in Karnataka, the 440 MW Narora Atomic Power Station in Uttar Pradesh, the 440 MW Kakrapar Atomic Power Station in Gujarat and the 2,000 MW Kudankulam Nuclear Power Station (KKNPS) in Tamil Nadu. The latest among these is the 1,000 MW KKNPS Unit 2, which was operationalised in March 2017. The nuclear power generation during 2018-19 was 37,813 MUs as compared to 36,102 MUs in 2014-15, recording a compound annual growth rate of 1.16 per cent in the past five years. However, plant load factors (PLFs) have witnessed a decrease from 80.74 per cent during 2014-15 to 63.67 per cent during 2018-19.
At present, nine nuclear reactors of 6,700 MW are under construction. These are Units 7 and 8 of the RAPP (700 MW each), Units 3 and 4 of the KAPP (700 MW each), Units 3 and 4 of the KKNPS (1,000 MW each), and Units 1 and 2 (700 MW each) of the Gorakhpur Haryana Anu Vidyut Pariyojana (GHAVP) by NPCIL. While Units 3 and 4 of the KKNPS are being built using equipment secured from Russia’s Rosatom, the other units will use indigenously designed 700 MW pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs). The KKNPS Units 3 and 4 are expected to be commissioned by 2023. The first phase of the GHAVP comprising Units 1 and 2 is expected to be completed in 2025, while the RAPP and the KAPP are likely to be commissioned by 2020. In addition, a 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor is being implemented by BHAVINI at Kalpakkam. It is expected to approach its first criticality by 2020.
The government gave administrative approval and financial sanction for 12 reactors in June 2017 with a total capacity of 9,000 MW. These include 10 PHWRs of 700 MW each which will be manufactured indigenously. These reactors will be installed at Chutka in Madhya Pradesh (Units 1 and 2), Gorakhpur in Haryana (Units 3 and 4), Kaiga in Karnataka (Units 5 and 6), and Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan (Units 1 to 4). The reactors entail an estimated investment of Rs 1,050 billion and are scheduled to be commissioned by 2031. KKNPS Units 5 and 6 have also been approved by the government. Several sites have received in-principle approval for setting up reactors with foreign collaboration in the future. These include Jaitapur (6×1,650 MW) in Maharashtra, which will be built in cooperation with France; Kovvada (6×1,208 MW) in Andhra Pradesh and Chhaya Mithi Virdi (6×1,000 MW) in Gujarat in cooperation with the US; Haripur (6×1,000 MW) in West Bengal with Russia; and Bhimpur (4×700 MW) in Madhya Pradesh with indigenous PHWRs.
The way forward
However, on the home front, nuclear power is facing stiff opposition from local populations, environmentalists and non-governmental organisations due to safety and environmental concerns (following the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011). This has delayed several nuclear projects indefinitely. A case in point is the KKNPP, which was scheduled to be commissioned in 2007-08 but was delayed by eight to nine years. Another challenge for the segment is the declining cost competitiveness of nuclear power vis-à-vis other energy sources. Unless resolved, these issues may continue to hamper nuclear power’s growth prospects in the short term.