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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Areva inks pact with NPCIL to supply 300 tonnes of uranium

French energy firm Areva, the world’s largest nuclear power company, has signed an agreement with government-run monopoly Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) to supply about 300 tonnes of uranium annually. This is the first major nuclear fuel supply agreement by the Indian firm after the approval of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal early this year.

The fuel is enough to generate about 1,500 mw power, which is over 35% of the country’s installed nuclear power generation capacity.

Minister of state for power and commerce Jairam Ramesh confirmed the move. “Availability of fuel will help NPCIL’s existing plants to start operating at full capacity from June 2009,” he said. NPCIL plants are running at 45% plant load factor (PLF) due to fuel shortage. NPCIL operates 17 nuclear reactors at six locations with a total generation capacity of 4,120 mw.

India’s estimated uranium reserves are sufficient to generate only 10,000 mw. The quality of the domestic uranium ore is also low (0.1% uranium content against global standards of 12-14%). Uranium mining in India is insignificant and in most parts of the country is resisted by locals on health grounds, leaving little scope for stepping up production.

The fuel supply agreement with Areva also ends India’s nuclear isolation from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). So far, the country was dependent on domestically sourced uranium and some fuel from Russia.

Apart from the fuel supply agreement, Areva is also interested in supplying 1,700 mw nuclear reactors to NPCIL. These would be the largest reactors to be used in the country.

NPCIL is also getting 1,000 mw reactors from Russia for its 4,000 mw nuclear power plant at Koodankulam. “The first in the series of four 1,000 mw Russian reactors would be put up by September 2009,” Mr Ramesh said.

Besides France and Russia, the department of atomic energy (DAE), the nodal agency for coordinating nuclear power generation activities in the country, is negotiating with non- NSG countries such as Namibia and Niger to access their huge uranium resources.

Nigeria has around 10% of world’s uranium reserves. Shortage of uranium has already forced NPCIL to delay commissioning of two 220 mw units at Rajasthan Atomic Power Station.

It also forced the government to downsize additional nuclear power generation capacity to 3,880 mw in the 11th Plan (2007-12). NPCIL wants to add over 10,000 mw capacity in the 12th five-year Plan to cover for shortages in the existing plan.

(Source: The Economic Times, India)

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