India’s ambitious plan to set up 10 indigenous reactors to augment nuclear power by 7,000 MWe is a transformational step towards nuclear energy self-sufficiency. The Union Cabinet’s approval for new plants of 700 MWe capacity each marks the biggest expansion in the country’s history because the combined capacity of these new units will more than double the current installed nuclear capacity. The latest initiative will not only ensure self-sufficiency but also secures India’s position as a potential exporter. A significant feature of the new plan is that all the proposed plants are pressurised heavy water-based reactors (PHWRs) to be built indigenously by State-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). It demonstrates the mastery that Indian nuclear scientists have attained over all aspects of indigenous PHWR technology. The new reactors, to be completed within five years, will have state-of-the-art technology, meeting the highest standards of safety and form the key part of a plan to triple India’s nuclear power capacity by 2025. It is expected that the new plants would create Rs 70,000 crore worth of business for domestic manufacturers and generate about 33,400 jobs. At present, the country has 22 nuclear plants, generating 6,780 MWe. A total of 37,674 million units of nuclear energy was generated in 2016-17 at a capacity factor of 80%. Nuclear energy is a smart option for a country like India where millions of people still don’t have access to power and the domestic energy consumption demand has more than doubled since 2000.
The rising incomes are boosting the energy demand. According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2015, India’s power sector needs to increase production by nearly four-fold by 2040 to meet the growing demand. The 2005 Indo-US civil nuclear agreement, signed by the UPA-I government in 2005, opened new avenues of nuclear business for the country, ending a prolonged international isolation due to nuclear tests. The Nuclear Suppliers Group agreement opened an opportunity for sourcing fuel from other countries. India now has civil nuclear cooperation agreements with several countries, including France, Russia, UK, US and Japan. There is a need to leverage international experience to improve efficiency in project implementation, operations and possible expansion. Keeping in view the indigenous expertise, the domestic industry is well placed to supply all the required components and materials for the new reactors. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and NPCIL have completed the design of a 900MWe reactor using enriched uranium as fuel, referred to as the Indian pressurised water reactor. It is hoped that India will acquire capabilities to supply enriched uranium from its own enrichment facilities within a decade.