India makes crucial breakthrough in nuclear agenda

Monday, 29 September 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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PARIS: "We have completed the designs and even the peer review. Now we are in the stage of completing the safety review and work on the construction of the first AHWR could begin as early as next year," Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said in an exclusive interview here.

Kakodkar, who is also secretary in the department of atomic energy, said the Nuclear Power Corporation should take about seven years to construct the first AHWR.

This is a new kind of reactor that uses a mix of thorium and uranium as fuel and yields more uranium than it actually consumes. It would thus enable India to become self-sufficient in its supplies of uranium.

After monitoring its performance for a year or two, the company could go full steam ahead to construct other AHWRs, which could become the mainstay of the country's nuclear power programme by 2020.

AHWR is particularly close to Kakodkar's heart since he has been working on the design and other aspects of this groundbreaking reactor for the last decade.

It is also the realisation of a dream by Homi Bhabha, known as the father of the Indian atomic energy programme, since it will enable India to use its large thorium deposits for producing nuclear power.

Kakodkar, who is in Paris on an official visit, said India is currently adding nine new units to its nuclear power programme which will take the installed capacity of the Nuclear Power Corporation from the current 2,700 mw to over 6,700 mw by the year 2008.

Russia is involved in the construction of two of the units right now. But India would be happy to accept offers from other countries, including France, which have expressed interest in participating in its ambitious project of taking the total nuclear power capacity to 20,000 mw by the year 2020, he said.

"We are talking to several countries, including France, on the issue of cooperation, but they have their own constraints," Kakodkar said, referring to the stringent conditions imposed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that brings together 40 countries, including major nuclear powers like the U.S., Russia and Britain.

The NSG was formed -- after India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 -- with the aim of closely monitoring the spread of nuclear technology.

Besides foreign participation, Kakodkar said the government was even open to participation from the Indian private sector. However, he expressed scepticism about the extent of private sector participation.

"Even though the government of India is in the process of changing the Atomic Energy Act, permitting the private sector to construct nuclear power plants, the Indian private sector is not yet ready to invest in these projects," Kakodkar said.

"We will anyway change the law since we don't want to pose any hurdles in the path of the private sector companies if they want to invest in nuclear power projects. However, I am not very optimistic about their participation," he added.

Giving reasons for his scepticism, Kakodkar pointed to the rather poor response given by it in conventional power projects.
Source: IANS
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