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India finds first reactor buyer

Kazakhstan looks set to be the first overseas buyer of an Indian designed and made in nuclear reactor.

world Updated: Apr 15, 2011 23:41 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Kazakhstan looks set to be the first overseas buyer of an Indian designed and made in nuclear reactor.

Nuclear issues will be top of the agenda as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh makes the first state visit to the wealthiest Central Asian state by an Indian leader in nearly 10 years.

Indian makes small, inexpensive pressurized heavy water reactors that use natural uranium, a form that cannot be used for weapons.

Kazakhstan, which in 2009 became the world’s largest uranium mining nation, has expressed interest in small 35 MWe Indian reactors. The two are carrying out a feasibility study of such a reactor being set up in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is rich in conventional energy sources, say Indian sources, but “is feeling left out”and wants to do more with its uranium than merely mine and ship it out. Kazakh officials said, “We want to do more than sell the raw ore. “ Kazakh officials say their country wants to see more value addition in its nuclear industry. “We expect to find common ground with India on this.”

New Delhi is not aggressive about reactor exports, in part because “India has demand at home that it can’t meet.” But the reactor sale would be a large step in developing a much larger and broader energy relationship with Kazakhstan.

India and Kazakhstan signed a breakthrough agreement in 2009 between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and Kazatomprom for the supply of nuclear fuel. This trip the two sides are expected to sign a government to government understanding that will allow nuclear ties to go beyond just uranium.

Kazakh officials say this is win-win for both countries. “India want increased resource sources,” said a diplomat. “Kazakhstan wants a stable customer base.” India is also looking into possible joint ventures in uranium mining in Kazakhstan but, said an Indian source, “that is still somewhere down the road.” As part of its policy to promote strategic links with other countries, Kazakhstan has a liberal policy towards foreign investment in uranium mining. Russia, Japanese, Chinese and Canadian firms are partners with Kazatomprom in uranium mining operations, some with stakes as high as 60%.

At least some of the nuclear fuel that is exported by Russia has its origins in Kazakhstan’s uranium mines. During the Soviet days, 80 per cent of all Soviet uranium pellet production came from this Central Asian republic.