A former chief of India's atomic energy regulator on Sunday opposed the central government's move to import light water reactors (LWRs) in the next two decades, saying it does not have justifiable technical or economic basis.
"The decision taken by the government to import about 40,000 MWe (megawatt electrical) of light water reactors within the next two decades has no justifiable technical or economic basis," ex-chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan said in a statement here.
Gopalakrishnan said with the demonstrated indigenous expertise of having designed, built and operated 17 pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) up to 540 MWe capacity on its own and with four 700 MWe PHWR construction projects in hand, there was no reason for India to diversify its nuclear fleet to include several new types of foreign reactors, of which neither Indians nor foreigners have any experience so far.
Noting that the reason for bringing imported reactors was neither technology driven nor for the economic benefit of the country, the former AERB chief said the Indian PHWRs were more efficient plutonium producers, far superior than the high burn-up LWRs, which the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was planning to import.
"We have complete mastery of PHWR technology, with three generations of engineers and scientists who have been trained in all facets of related activities, with existing full capabilities for its manufacture and fabrication within Indian industries.
"These capabilities are already demonstrated and today we have the inherent indigenous ability to further extend the PHWR designs to 1000 MWe rating," he said.
On the costs of imports, Gopalakrishnan said a 700 MWe PHWR could be built with just Rs.8 crore ($1.8 million) per MWe, whereas the 1650 MWe French evolutionary pressurised reactors (EPR) at Jaitapur costs over Rs.21 crore ($4.7 million) per MWe.
Criticising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Gopalakrishnan said that after 2004, the US sensed a new-found opportunity to push hard for a strategic alliance with India. He added that among the American objectives were the desire to bring India's several PHWRs under International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) safeguards and to revive the moribund US nuclear industry by selling American-designed nuclear reactors to India, apart from slowing down and eventually stopping India's indigenous nuclear programme.
"Throughout the years of deliberations on the Indo-US nuclear deal, the AERB was kept out of the loop and not even consulted on the safety and reliability of reactors to be imported. This collective also successfully kept parliament and the people deliberately in the dark throughout this decision-making process.
"And, all this is still continuing under cover of the Official Secrets Act, which is unnecessarily being applied to this civilian nuclear power sector, mainly to hush up the irrational policy decisions and the questionable financial deals between the government and the corporate business houses," he alleged.
Appealing to the government to "immediately and permanently" cancel all plans to import foreign nuclear reactors irrespective of promises given by the prime minister to foreign governments, Gopalakrishnan also wanted the nuclear power policy of the Manmohan Singh government thoroughly debated in parliament and openly discussed with energy specialists in the country.
"It should be preceded by a re-look of the overall energy policy of our country to assess whether all viable non-nuclear electricity generation schemes have been given their due priority, before we jump-start an extensive nuclear power programme," he added.