Work is to begin on the construction of eight pressurised heavy water nuclear reactors, together amounting to 5.6 GW of new generating capacity.

The Indian prime minister’s office has announced that work is to begin on the construction of eight pressurised heavy water nuclear reactors. The 700 MW units, which can be fuelled by natural uranium, are scheduled to be completed by 2012. The total additional power output of 5600 MW would more than double the country’s current nuclear power capacity of 3580 MW. The reactors will be sited in pairs in Kakrapar and Gujurat in the west of the country and in Rawatbhata, Rajasthan in the north, next to currently operating nuclear power plants. The Indian government announced last year that it was planning to spend $40 billion by 2022 on nuclear plant.

This announcement about PHWRs is significant in the light of the fact that the US-India nuclear deal of 2005, which enables India to import reactors from abroad, has come under strong attack from the Indian parliament, the majority of whose members believe that the deal undermines India’s sovereignty. The arrangement between the two countries covered civilian nuclear energy co-operation, under the terms of which the US lifted its moratorium on nuclear trade with India, agreed to provide assistance to India’s civilian nuclear energy programme, and expand US-India co-operation in energy and satellite technology. In its turn India agreed, among other things, to a protocol which allowed more intrusive IAEA inspections of its civilian facilities, undertook to continue its moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, and committed itself to strengthening the security of its nuclear arsenals. Reliance Energy and GE, among others, expressed interest at the time in taking advantage of the new accord.

India currently has 16 nuclear plants in operation, consisting of LWRs and indigenous PHWRs of the CANDU type. The largest two are of 540 Mwe capacity, and seven more are under construction. Those under construction with the eight announced would add another 10000 MWe to the power grid by 2012. But even then the contribution of electricity generated by nuclear fuel would still be only about 7 %. In the future, India plans to depend heavily on indigenously developed thorium-fuelled reactors. The first of these Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWRs) is scheduled to begin construction in 2010.

India, suffering from an acute electrical power shortage, has an ambitious plan to add another 78500 MW of power generation capacity by the end of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2011).