New units at home, new opportunities abroad

27 February 2007

India's Kaiga 3 nuclear power reactor achieved criticality yesterday. The country is holding international talks, hoping to export similar models to developing countries.

Kaiga 3 is a 220 MWe pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR) in Uttara Kannada in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka. Construction of the unit began in March 2002, and it achieved criticality - a sustained reaction - at 10.10am on 26 February. The unit's first power should be delivered to the grid at the end of March.

At a press conference following a celebratory ceremony, Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said the construction technique had been perfected: "Five years is the international benchmark for completing nuclear power plants and along with the project completion costs for this unit, there is going to be a new benchmark."

NPCIL claim that the new reactor was constructed domestically for just Rs 984 ($22.33) per installed kW. NPCIL estimate it could do the same job in certain countries for Rs 1200 ($27.24) per kW. Compared to a global average price of new nuclear construction of $1500 per kW, Indian contractors could occupy a unique place in the world reactor market.

Speaking to Bloomberg, NPCIL chair SK Jain said, "We are trying to showcase our ability to supply this technology to a number of countries that want to benefit from nuclear power," adding, "We are very serious about grabbing the export market."

India is reportedly in talks with Cambodia, Indonesia Thailand and Vietnam over exporting the 220 MWe PHWR design, which is seen as suitable for countries with smaller electricity grids.

One particular hurdle that remains on the Indian side of any export deal is the conclusion of discussions on allowing India to participate fully in nuclear trade.

India has been almost completely excluded from such business since it refused to sign the 1968 Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), calling it unfair. Normally, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) confines nuclear trade to NPT signatories but India's record on non-proliferation has spurred countries like Australia, Russia and the USA to negotiate their own bilateral agreements to safeguard the use of nuclear materials and technology.

These developments have put pressure on the NSG to swiftly update its guidelines. It is seen as likely that agreement will soon be reached to facilitate nuclear trade with India, following negotiations on the US-India deal.

Jain reaffirmed India's intention to begin selling reactors abroad, adding: "It's a matter of how long it will take before the US deal is finalised."

Further information

WNA's Nuclear Power in India information paper

WNN: INSIGHT BRIEFING: USA brings India in from the cold