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India: After Lengthy Delay, India's First PHWR Set to Go

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State-owned Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd. (NPCIL) will achieve a major milestone when it synchronizes India’s first 700 megawatt pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR) at Kakrapar to the grid by the end of the year. But the project, delayed by five years, also highlights the challenges NPCIL faces in fulfilling its aim of building an indigenously designed and developed 10-unit fleet of PHWRs. Construction on Kakrapar-3 in the western state of Gujarat began in 2010 with a targeted completion date of 2015. Instead fuel loading only began in mid-March, with the Department of Atomic Energy saying the reactor would be commissioned in October. First criticality was achieved on Jul. 22 and commissioning is now expected by year-end. Work on Kakrapar-4 continues, with commissioning targeted for 2021. The two new PHWRs at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Plant (KAPP) mark a significant scale-up in technology, the first for India since the first 540 MW version was commissioned 15 years ago. The project is also serving as a blueprint for all future PHWR commissioning in India. India's nuclear energy community is taking great pride in the 700 MW PHWR because it was indigenously designed and the components and equipment have been made by Indian industry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed it "a shining example of Make in India," referring to his flagship drive to turn the South Asian nation into a Chinese-style manufacturing powerhouse. Moreover, the project is coming to fruition in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a two-month nationwide lockdown that began Mar. 25. PHWRs are the backbone of India’s nuclear program, with 18 of the 22 reactors based on the technology. Of the 18, two have a capacity of 540 MW, 15 are rated at 220 MW and one, with only 100 MW of capacity in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, has been permanently shuttered. NPCIL has attributed some of the delays to first-of-kind systems, like a passive decay heat removal system that acts as an alternative heat sink in the event of a Fukushima-type long-term station blackout. All such systems must be proven to meet their design intent, according to Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) guidelines, the utility points out. Another problem, says the utility, is the lack of multiple domestic vendors qualified to manufacture nuclear-grade reactor equipment and components. While there is undoubtedly a shortage of qualified nuclear vendors in India, that is owing in no small part to NPCIL's own failure to advance its program at a pace that would justify investment in the manufacturing capacities necessary to bring the program to fruition. Also discouraging such investment was the 2010 Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (CLND). That law not only delayed or altogether scuttled chances for foreign vendor participation in the program, apart from Russian, it discouraged domestic industry from investing in new or expanded nuclear manufacturing capabilities, despite attempts by the government and the NPCIL to mitigate the law's impact (NIW Oct.25'19). Incentivizing Vendors In order to incentivize vendors, Modi’s government in May 2017 announced plans for 10 700 MW PHWRs (NIW May19'17). A standardized fleetwide approach to newbuild was intended to speed the program and bring down costs. And former Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar told Energy Intelligence that despite the delays he believes that is still the case, and that the program will provide continuity of work for equipment suppliers, helping them cut time in supply delivery. He believes future 700 MW PHWRs could be built in around six years. Whether that happens, and at what cost, remains to be seen. While India's Parliament still is generally supportive of nuclear power, the issue of NPCIL's construction costs will undoubtedly be closely watched, given continuing pressure on the DAE's annual budget requests (NIW Mar.20'20; NIW Oct.25'19). In March 2018, after a five-year gap in nuclear orders, state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (BHEL) won an order for supplying steam generators for the two 700 MW PHWRs planned at Gorakhpur in the northern state of Haryana. However, the pace of order placement still remains slow. NPCIL has yet to announce an award on a tender for a fleetwide supply of PHWR steam generators, issued in January 2019. Engineering giant L&T in its latest annual report said that though it had expected more progress, major tenders expected in the last financial year that ended Mar. 31 were pushed to the current financial year. NPCIL filings suggest that statutory clearances from multiple agencies, like the regulator AERB, Chief Controller of Explosives, Gujarat Pollution Control Board, and the Ministry of Environment and Forest, during various stages of construction and commissioning of Kakrapar’s third unit, also took its toll on the project's timeline. Critics say this is just an excuse for NPCIL's own failures. "All of these clearances are just formalities with no danger that they will ever be denied," said Indian nuclear skeptic M.V. Ramana, of the University of British Columbia, in an email to Energy Intelligence. "If obtaining one of these clearances took time, it would only be due to negligence on the part of NPCIL to provide the necessary paperwork or because NPCIL did not plan properly." The successful synchronization of Kakrapar-3 could however make the journey for the next set of PHWRs at Rajasthan easier, although they too have been delayed. “We will be adding a PHWR every year for next three years, with fourth unit of Kakrapar getting commissioned next year and then two units at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan in 2022 and 2023,” NPCIL’s Associate Director A.K. Nema told Energy Intelligence. “During the course of commissioning, whatever problems we observe, they are catalogued and the solutions will be implemented in subsequent commissioning.” The synchronization of Kakrapar’s third unit will be a big relief to industries in South Gujarat as the two existing 220 MW PHWRs were forced into extended shutdowns due to coolant channel leaks, beginning with Kakrapar-2 in 2015 and Kakrapar-1 in 2016. The second unit was restarted only in September 2018 and the first unit in May 2019. Rakesh Sharma, New Delhi

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