India's atomic power generation has gone up 15 per cent over the past few months, following the resumption of fuel supplies from abroad after the accord with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a top nuclear scientist has said.
"Additional uranium fuel from overseas suppliers has significantly increased the plant load factor in our atomic power stations," former Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairman Anil Kakodkar told IANS.
Russia, France and Canada have resumed supply of nuclear fuel, while the US is providing fuel for the Tarapur (Maharashtra) plant under an earlier agreement.
After the nuclear accords with the NSG and the US, India plans to generate about 20,000 MW nuclear power by 2020. Of this, indigenous heavy water reactors will contribute 10,000 MW and plutonium-based reactors 2,000 MW. Around 8,000 MW will be generated through reactors being set up by overseas firms, officials said.
The overseas supplies have pushed up capacity by around 15 per cent in the existing 18 nuclear plants, which are now operating at an average of 65-70 per cent of their capacity. Earlier, they were functioning at an average of 50-55 per cent.
For instance, the 200-MW second unit of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station started operating to near capacity after going critical with additional fuel for its pressurised heavy water reactor.
"Similarly, the 220-MW fifth unit at Rajasthan Atomic Power Station, which went critical on November 24 and synchronised on December 22, will also start operating at full capacity soon," said Kakodkar, who was here to attend the Indian Science Congress last week.
Located 65 km from Kota at Rawatbhata in Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan, the four other units in the state were earlier operating below 50-55 per cent of their combined capacity of about 960 MW due to low fuel supply.
"The atomic power stations which are under international safeguards will operate to near capacity once the foreign suppliers ship the uranium fuel under the agreements we have with Russia, France, Canada, the US and other countries," Kakodkar stated.
Following the agreements with these countries, the state-run Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd (NPCIL) has to enter into separate agreements with nuclear companies in the respective countries for fuel.
NPCIL, which operates 18 atomic power plants in six states across the country with a combined capacity of 4,340 MW, is slated to commission four more units with a combined capacity of 2,440 MW by 2011.
Of the 22 nuclear reactors, 14 will be under safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog group. The remaining eight will be dedicated reactors for military purposes.
"The reactors outside the safeguards have to be filled with indigenous fuel. They are also increasing their PLF (plant load factor) as production has gone up substantially," said Kakodkar, who retired on Nov 30.
As a result, the generation capacity factor at the atomic power stations in Kalpakkam (Chennai), Tarapur (Mumbai), Narora (Uttar Pradesh), Kakrapar (Gujarat) and Kaiga (Karnataka) are better than last year.
"The reactors under safeguards are being filled by foreign suppliers under the agreement with the NSG. They will also increase the capacity. The plant load factor will happen progressively. They don't happen overnight. But it will happen, surely," Kakodkar asserted.
The NSG, a group of 45 nuclear-supplier states that regulates fuel exports, lifted a 34-year trade embargo on India in September 2008 in the run-up to the India-US civil nuclear agreement on Oct 10, 2008.
Asked about the prospects of an agreement on the crucial reprocessing of spent fuel with the US, Kakodkar, who had been involved in the negotiations on the nuclear accord since August 2005, said he was hopeful that it would be reached within the timeline -- by July this year.
"Though I am no longer in service and involved in the discussions, I am sure the two sides will sign the reprocessing pact once the fine print is finalised. I am given to understand that the next round of talks is due later this month or February," Kakodkar said, but declined to comment on the differing perceptions in the wording of the pact.
Under the 123 Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement between India and the US, both sides are required to conclude the reprocessing pact within a year of the negotiations, which began in July 2009 but remained inconclusive even after subsequent talks in Washington on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's summit with US President Barak Obama Nov 24.
The hitch or the bone of contention has been the "suspension of the right to reprocess in case India conducts a nuclear test or indulges in activities that may jeopardise the nuclear deal".