All set to sign a contract for what will be the world´s largest nuclear power plant, Manju Gupta, President, Areva India, says the government needs to do more for nuclear power.
Tell us about the agreements during the PM´s France visit.
Two agreements were signed on on April 10. One was the pre-engineering agreement between AREVA and Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) for preliminary studies for licensing of EPR in India according to Indian regulations. The other major one was the signing of a MoU with L&T for localisation of the components of EPR reactor. These agreements are about Jaitapur where India and France already have a MoU to build six nuclear reactors. What is of importance is the MoU with L&T. This will help bring the technology to Indian shores and to companies here in a big way.
There are concerns that this technology is untested.
I wouldn´t say that. EPR reactor design is evolutionary, built on sound and proven technology. There are already 58 reactors running in France. The technology has thus evolved in stages, from 900 MW to 1300 MW to 1500 MW. So, it is only a capacity enhancement and some innovative features as we go up to 1,650 MW. These features are not added just like that. There´s a lot of R&D and simulation that goes behind. I would not say it is untested.
What is the importance of nuclear?
I won´t say nuclear power is the only solution. I believe we should have a good mix as we look to reduce our dependency on fossils. The drivers are climate change and a sustainable grid for power. Today, India needs not just energy but clean energy. For this, we are concentrating on solar. However, you also need base load and nuclear. Nuclear is an essential element of the energy mix, more so for India. For us, climate change is one of the factors that necessitates combining nuclear and renewable power. With renewable alone, it cannot lead to a sustainable grid, as the situation stands. In the future, there might be innovations, but that is so in nuclear as well. Also, fuel is a large part of the cost for a fossil plant. This is volatile as compared to nuclear fuel costs that are stable, less volatile and about 14 per cent of the total cost.
India does not have too much of uranium reserves.
World over, the reserves are huge. After the 123 Agreement, India is able to import uranium and the price is low and much steadier. To utilise our abundant thorium reserves, India has a programme to reach to the thorium cycle. Once we do that, India will be completely self-reliant for nuclear fuel.
Even so, nuclear would be still about 6 per cent of the total.
The idea is to reach 25 per cent by 2050. It´s not impossible. This is where the thinking is necessary in Government. You need a more holistic approach in strategy to take the power sector forward. Today, you see that nuclear is not included within the Energy Ministry. I believe there should be one ministry looking at the overall energy segment and nuclear should be included. The focus has to be more commercial. This is what India is inching towards. Why has the capacity addition in nuclear been so low? This is because Government has not focussed on exploiting the benefits - a clean energy, reliable base load, low operating costs, low volatility of fuel prices, etc. Now that we have all the elements in place for commerce and collaboration, if a holistic approach is taken, nuclear can become a substantial component.
Do you see any traction with the change in governance?
I do. Never has a ruling government appeared more committed than it seems now under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is able to generate tremendous confidence in foreign companies. If at all there is hope, then it is in the PM´s vision, commitment and the way he is able to exude that confidence. The fact that the pre-engineering agreement happened in April, after prolonged discussions over many years, demonstrate his decision-making ability. This decisive step has also given a boost to the negotiations for the main contract. So, I have lot of hopes with this government.