Nuclear power in India

Nuclear power in India

Nuclear power is the fourth-largest source of electricity in India after thermal, hydroelectric and renewable sources of electricity.[1] As of 2010, India has 20 nuclear reactors in operation in six nuclear power plants, generating 4,780 MW[2] while seven other reactors are under construction and are expected to generate an additional 5,300  MW.[3]

In October 2010, India drew up "an ambitious plan to reach a nuclear power capacity of 63,000 MW in 2032".[4] However, especially since the March 2011 Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster, "populations around proposed Indian NPP sites have launched protests that are now finding resonance around the country, raising questions about atomic energy as a clean and safe alternative to fossil fuels".[5] Assurances by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that all safety measures will be implemented, have not been heeded, and there have thus been mass protests against the French-backed 9900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra and the 2000 MW Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu. The state government of West Bengal state has also refused permission to a proposed 6000 MW facility near the town of Haripur that intended to host six Russian reactors.[5]

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has also been filed against the government’s civil nuclear program at the apex Supreme Court. The PIL specifically asks for the "staying of all proposed nuclear power plants till satisfactory safety measures and cost-benefit analyses are completed by independent agencies".[5][6]

India is involved in the development of nuclear fusion reactors through its participation in the ITER project and is a global leader in the development of thorium-based fast breeder reactors.[7]


Nuclear fuel reserves

India's domestic uranium reserves are small and the country is dependent on uranium imports to fuel its nuclear power industry. Since early 1990s, Russia has been a major supplier of nuclear fuel to India.[8] Due to dwindling domestic uranium reserves,[9] electricity generation from nuclear power in India declined by 12.83% from 2006 to 2008.[10] Following a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in September 2008 which allowed it to commence international nuclear trade,[11] India has signed bilateral deals on civilian nuclear energy technology cooperation with several other countries, including France,[12] the United States,[13] the United Kingdom,[14] Canada.[15] and South Korea.[16] India has also uranium supply agreements with Russia,[17][18] Mongolia,[19] Kazakhstan,[20] Argentina[21] and Namibia.[22] An Indian private company won a uranium exploration contract in Niger.[23]

Large deposits of natural uranium, which promises to be one of the top 20 of the world's reserves, have been found in the Tummalapalle belt in the southern part of the Kadapa basin in Andhra Pradesh in March 2011. The Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) of India, which explores uranium in the country, has so far discovered 44,000 tonnes of natural uranium (U3O8) in just 15 km of the 160-kilometre-long belt.[24]

Nuclear agreements with other nations

The nuclear agreement with USA led to India issuing a Letter of Intent for purchasing 10,000 MW from the USA. However, liability concerns and a few other issues are preventing further progress on the issue.

Russia has an ongoing agreement of 1988 vintage with India regarding establishing of two VVER 1000 MW reactors (water-cooled water-moderated light water power reactors) at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu.[25] A 2008 agreement caters for provision of an additional four third generation VVER-1200 reactors of capacity 1170 MW each.[26] Russia has assisted in India’s efforts to design a nuclear plant for itsnuclear submarine.[27] In 2009, the Russians stated that Russia would not agree to curbs on export of sensitive technology to India. A new accord signed in Dec 2009 with Russia gives India freedom to proceed with the closed fuel cycle, which includes mining, preparation of the fuel for use in reactors, and reprocessing of spent fuel.[28][29]

France was the first country to sign a civilian nuclear agreement with India on 30 September 2008 after the complete waiver provided by the NSG.[30] During the December 2010 visit of the French President Nicholas Sarkozy to India, deals worth $10 billion were signed for the setting up two third-generation European Pressurized Reactors/Evolutionary Power Reactors (EPR) of 1650 MW each at Jaitapur, Maharashtra by the French company Areva. The deal caters for the first set of two of six planned reactors and the supply of nuclear fuel for 25 years.[31]

India and Mongolia signed a crucial civil nuclear agreement on 15 Jun 2009 for supply of Uranium to India, during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Mongolia making it the fifth nation in the world to seal a civil nuclear pact with India. The MoU on “development of cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of radioactive minerals and nuclear energy” was signed by senior officials in the department of atomic energy of the two countries.[32]

On 02 September 2009, India and Namibia signed five agreements, including one on civil nuclear energy which allows for supply of Uranium from the African country. This was signed during President Hifikepunye Pohamba's five-day visit to India in May 2009. Nambia is the fifth largest producer of uranium in the world. The Indo-Namibian agreement in peaceful uses of nuclear energy allows for supply of Uranium and setting up of nuclear reactors.[33]

On 14 Oct 2009, India and Argentina signed an agreement in New Delhi on civil nuclear cooperation and nine other pacts to establish strategic partnership. According to official sources, the agreement was signed by Vivek Katju, Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and Argentine foreign minister Jorge Talana. Taking into consideration their respective capabilities and experience in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, both India and Argentina have agreed to encourage and support scientific, technical and commercial cooperation for mutual benefit in this field.[34][35]

The Prime Ministers of India and Canada signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in Toronto on 28 Jun 2010 which when all steps are taken, will provide access for Canada's nuclear industry to India's expanding nuclear market and also fuel for India's reactors. Canada is the world's largest exporter of Uranium and the two countries are the only users of heavy water nuclear technology.[36]

On April 16, 2011, India and Kazakhstan signed an inter-governmental agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, that envisages a legal framework for supply of fuel, construction and operation of atomic power plants, exploration and joint mining of uranium, exchange of scientific and research information, reactor safety mechanisms and use of radiation technologies for healthcare. PM Manmohan Singh visited Astana where a deal was signed. After the talks, the Kazakh President Nazarbaev announced that his country would supply India with 2100 tonnes of uranium and was ready to do more. India and Kazakhstan already have civil nuclear cooperation since January 2009 when Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Kazakh nuclear company KazAtomProm signed an MoU during the visit of Nazarbaev to Delhi. Under the contract, KazAtomProm supplies uranium which is used by Indian reactors.[37][38]

South Korea became the latest country to sign a nuclear agreement with India after it got the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) in 2008. On 25 July 2011 India and South Korea signed a nuclear agreement on Monday which will allow provides South Korea with a legal foundation to participate in India’s nuclear expansion program, and to bid for constructing nuclear power plants in India.[39]

Nuclear power growth in India

India now envisages to increase the contribution of nuclear power to overall electricity generation capacity from 2.8% to 9% within 25 years.[40] By 2017, India's installed nuclear power generation capacity will increase to 10,080 MW.[41] As of 2009, India stands 9th in the world in terms of number of operational nuclear power reactors. Indigenous atomic reactors include TAPS-3, and -4, both of which are 540 MW reactors.[42] India's US$717 million fast breeder reactor project is expected to be operational by 2012-13.[43]

The Indian nuclear power industry is expected to undergo a significant expansion in the coming years thanks in part to the passing of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. This agreement will allow India to carry out trade of nuclear fuel and technologies with other countries and significantly enhance its power generation capacity.[44] When the agreement goes through, India is expected to generate an additional 25,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020, bringing total estimated nuclear power generation to 45,000 MW.[45]

India has already been using imported enriched uranium for light-water reactors that are currently under IAEA safeguards, but it has developed other aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle to support its reactors. Development of select technologies has been strongly affected by limited imports. Use of heavy water reactors has been particularly attractive for the nation because it allows Uranium to be burnt with little to no enrichment capabilities. India has also done a great amount of work in the development of a thorium centered fuel cycle. While Uranium deposits in the nation are limited (see next paragraph) there are much greater reserves of thorium and it could provide hundreds of times the energy with the same mass of fuel. The fact that thorium can theoretically be utilized in heavy water reactors has tied the development of the two. A prototype reactor that would burn Uranium-Plutonium fuel while irradiating a thorium blanket is under construction at the Madras/Kalpakkam Atomic Power Station.

Uranium used for the weapons program has been separate from the power program, using uranium from indigenous reserves. This domestic reserve of 80,000 to 112,000 tons of uranium (approx 1% of global uranium reserves) is large enough to supply all of India's commercial and military reactors as well as supply all the needs of India's nuclear weapons arsenal. Currently, India's nuclear power reactors consume, at most, 478 tonnes of uranium per year.[46] Even if India were quadruple its nuclear power output (and reactor base) to 20 GW by 2020, nuclear power generation would only consume 2000 tonnes of uranium per annum. Based on India's known commercially viable reserves of 80,000 to 112,000 tons of uranium, this represents a 40–50 years uranium supply for India's nuclear power reactors (note with reprocessing and breeder reactor technology, this supply could be stretched out many times over). Furthermore, the uranium requirements of India's Nuclear Arsenal are only a fifteenth (1/15) of that required for power generation (approx. 32 tonnes), meaning that India's domestic fissile material supply is more than enough to meet all needs for it strategic nuclear arsenal. Therefore, India has sufficient uranium resources to meet its strategic and power requirements for the foreseeable future.[46]

Nuclear power plants

Currently, twenty nuclear power reactors produce 4,780.00 MW (2.9% of total installed base).[47][48]

Power station Operator State Type Units Total capacity (MW)
Kaiga NPCIL Karnataka PHWR 220 x 4 880
Kakrapar NPCIL Gujarat PHWR 220 x 2 440
Kalpakkam NPCIL Tamil Nadu PHWR 220 x 2 440
Narora NPCIL Uttar Pradesh PHWR 220 x 2 440
Rawatbhata NPCIL Rajasthan PHWR 100 x 1
200 x 1
220 x 4
Tarapur NPCIL Maharashtra BWR (PHWR) 160 x 2
540 x 2
Total 20 4780

The projects under construction are:[49][citation needed]

Power station Operator State Type Units Total capacity (MW)
Kudankulam NPCIL Tamil Nadu VVER-1000 1000 x 2 2000
Kalpakkam BHAVINI Tamil Nadu PFBR 500 x 1 500
Kakrapar NPCIL Gujarat PHWR 700 x 2 1400
Rawatbhata NPCIL Rajasthan PHWR 700 x 2 1400
Banswara NPCIL Rajasthan PHWR 700 x 2 1400
Total 9 6700


Several nuclear accidents have occurred in India:[50]

Nuclear power plant accidents in India[51][52]
Date Location Description Cost
(in millions
2006 US$)
4 May 1987 Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, India Fast Breeder Test Reactor at Kalpakkam refueling accident that ruptures the reactor core, resulting in a two-year shutdown. 300
10 September 1989 Tarapur, Maharashtra, India Operators at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station find that the reactor had been leaking radioactive iodine at more than 700 times normal levels. Repairs to the reactor take more than a year. 78
13 May 1992 Tarapur, Maharashtra, India A malfunctioning tube causes the Tarapur Atomic Power Station to release 12 curies of radioactivity. 2
31 March 1993 Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, India The Narora Atomic Power Station suffers a fire at two of its steam turbine blades, no damage to the reactor. All major cables burnt. 220
2 February 1995 Kota, Rajasthan, India The Rajasthan Atomic Power Station leaks radioactive helium and heavy water into the Rana Pratap Sagar dam, necessitating a two-year shutdown for repairs. 280
22 October 2002 Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, India Almost 100 kg radioactive sodium at a fast breeder reactor leaks into a purification cabin, ruining a number of valves and operating systems. 30

It is estimated that before the accident at Tarapur, lack of proper maintenance exposed more than 3000 Indian personnel to "very high" and "hazardous" radiation levels. Researchers at the American University calculated at least 124 "hazardous incidents" at nuclear plants in India between 1993 and 1995.[50]

Anti-nuclear protests

Following the Fukushima disaster, many are questioning the mass roll-out of new plants in India, including the World Bank, the former Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, and the former head of the country's nuclear regulatory body, A. Gopalakrishnan. The massive Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project is the focus of concern — "931 hectares of farmland will be needed to build the reactors, land that is now home to 10,000 people, their mango orchards, cashew trees and rice fields" — and it has attracted many protests. Fishermen in the region say their livelihoods will be wiped out.[53]

Environmentalists, local farmers and fishermen have been protesting for months over the planned six-reactor nuclear power complex on the plains of Jaitapur, 420 km south of Mumbai. If built, it would be one of the world's largest nuclear power complexes. Protests have escalated in the wake of Japan's Fukushima I nuclear accidents. During two days of violent rallies in April 2011, a local man was killed and dozens were injured.[54]

As of October 2011, thousands of protesters and villagers living around the Russian-built Koodankulam nuclear plant in the southern Tamil Nadu province, are blocking highways and staging hunger strikes, preventing further construction work, and demanding its closure as they distrust federal government assurances regarding safety. They fear there will be a nuclear accident similar to the radiation leak in March at Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.[55]

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has also been filed against the government’s civil nuclear program at the apex Supreme Court. The PIL specifically asks for the "staying of all proposed nuclear power plants till satisfactory safety measures and cost-benefit analyses are completed by independent agencies".[5][56]


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