Friday, November 27, 2009

Canada and Indian Reactors

It has recently been proposed that the Canadian reactor manufacture company Atomic Energy Canada, Limited should be sold to Indian interests, presumably the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), an Indian government owned business that builds and operates Indian power reactors. NPCIL is a very successful reactor designer of small to middle size reactors. And AECL has something that NPCIL needs, and that is reactor manufacturing capabilities. India is buying foreign reactors in part to jump start the Indian reactor supply chain, but in the long run indian plans still envision Indian designed and built reactors producing most of the countries future energy.

Currently India has a number of successful, low cost reactors, whose design has evolved from the an early AECL CANDU reactor design. A couple of the Canadian reactors were built in India, and served as prototypes for subsequent Indian reactors. The Indians appear to have solved a number of technological problems with the CANDU design, and are now interested in exporting their small and possibly their middle size reactors. AECL is stymied because they don't have any up to date reactor products, and their old reactors are known to have significant material flaws that necessitate expensive rebuilds every 25 years. The Indians appear to have overcome this problem. Thus Indian technology and reactor design might benefit SECL, but what benefits would the Indians receive from the deal?

We should note that it would cost significantly more for AECL to manufacture reactors in Canada, than for NPCIL to manufacture reactors in India. But on the other hand AECL has a number of international customers in Asia, Latin America, and Europe and an established presence in North America. AECL gives NPCIL an opening to its old customers and an international reputation. Sale of NPCIL designed reactors to customers in the United States as well as Canada might be a possibility. NPCIL could aid AECL to lower reactor costs by exporting parts as well as the design of low cost reactors. The smallest Indian reactor at rated at 220 MWe, has very large potential for world wide sales, and might well sell well in the united States, where small reactors are beginning to attract attention. A second Indian reactor. the larger 700 MWe design is similar in size to the CANDU 600 reactor. The Canadians have looked at an enhanced CANDU 600, but It might cost less to adapt the Indian 700 MW reactor to North American requirements. Among the advantages of the Canadian-Indian reactor design is the absence of such manufacturing bottlenecks as requirement for a large and difficult to manufacture reactor pressure vessel.

Thus the AECL could adapt the Indian reactors to Canadian and American requirements, and manufacture and sell them in North America, together with sales to other traditional AECL customers. NPCIL could contribute its technology and capital which AECL desperately needs. NPCIL could also sell reactors directly to customers in Asia and Africa.

The Indians are developing a reactor, the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR). This reactor has Generation III + safety features. In India the AHWR will operate on a thorium fuel cycle, but a AHWR design that uses uranium is in the works for export. The AHWR(U) might fit into the AECL catalogue, and a 1000 MW big brother might cap the AECL offerings for some time to come. Thus NPCIL does have something to offer AECL, and AECL might help NPRIL find international customers, as well as boosting reactor production. There would be, of course, issues of corporate culture to overcome. Thus a deal is at least possible.


DV8 2XL said...

To start off with, why are you showing an ancient Douglas Point fuel bundle, instead of a modern Canflex bundle?


The synergy would be great between AECL and NPCIL and in fact they have worked together for years through the CANDU Owners Group, which India was not thrown out of after the weapons test. Certainly too, in a world dominated by very big LWR manufactures, the two HWR concerns shouldn't be competing with each other.

I'm not so sure that NPCIL has solved the need to replace the fuel tubes just yet, nor is the CANDU 6 and CANDU 9 reactors over the hill, as there are still clients that want them. Where it does work for both organizations is that together they can offer a full product line of power output options, and an upgrade path.

I have long been furious at AECL for not continuing to sell the smaller CANDUs and instead pushing the larger models when it was obvious to me that there was a market at the lower end that was not being serviced by the LWR crowd. Small island nations in the Caribbean and the Pacific might have been interested if a 250MWe reactor were combined with the CANDESAL desalination system that was designed to be build and powered by CANDUs, but instead AECL thought it could play with the big boys and now we are left with the ACR1000 that nobody wants.

Another thing, it is unlikely that any CANDU or CANDU derived reactor will ever be type approved in the States, that has never happened after forty years of trying and it's not likely to happen any time soon.

Charles Barton said...

DV8 2XL the Indian reactors are all sequentially modified copies of the Douglas Point Reactor. And Indeed the small Indian reactors have all kept the original size.

Charles Barton said...

DV8 2XL the Indian reactors are all sequentially modified copies of the Douglas Point Reactor. And Indeed the small Indian reactors have all kept the original size.

DV8 2XL said...

True enough, but they are not using the old wirewrap fuel elements there anymore ether.

Richard Batty said...

It is being implied that AECL's technology is inferior to NPCIL. I see no evidence of this. I see the AECL design as being mature and used around the world. NPCIL can not say this. AECL technology is expensive. At this point in time it is unknown how cost competitive the new AECL's ACR design is.

Doesn't NPCIL use vertical pressure tubes instead of horizontal? I see NPCIL as having made many new and innovative designs with heavy water reactors. They are also the leaders in Thorium reactors.

Technically, combining the resources of both AECL and NPCIL would raise the bar on heavy water design. This could be awkward to the Canadian Government if India ever does anything Politically bad.

Personally I see the future in Pebble Bed, LFTR and some exotic designs like HPM. AECL future is dependent on the future proven cost of the ACR1000. Any success will only last until Pebble Bed and LFTR goes into production.

AECL may have a future in building reactors to burn used nuclear fuel. I don't know how this compares to the Indian technology. AECL may also have value in selling reactors to countries who we do not want to have enriched uranium and enrichment technology.

Charles Barton said...

The Indians foresee a 100 year lifespan for the AHWR,verses 60 years for the AECL ACR1000, but the ACR1000 is no where near ready, and it is open to doubt whether it will ever be built. The Indians appear to have designed reactors that are much lower cost. Part of the price issue has to do with low Indian labor costs, of course. But the Indians are aware of of the importance of cost containment. There is little doubt that the AHWR will be completed and go into serial production. That is not the case for the ARC-1000. There is, of course, also the issue of Canadian national pride.

DV8 2XL said...

National pride will have very little to do with this; it hasn't done much to motivate anyone over the NRU, MAPLEs and the medical isotope issue. Speaking as a Canadian, it has been my observation that national pride up here has rarely extended to any activity that isn't carried out on a sheet of ice.

What NPCIL claims for their design is moot given they haven't built as many reactors a AECL has, or have they had a fraction of the man-years operating them as AECL has. The problem with the pressure tubes is inherent to the design and depends a good deal on how the reactor is used, particularly in how the fuel is manipulated during operation to keep hot spots down to a minimum.

As to Canada getting worked up about India's nuclear weapon program, that is water under the bridge. India has become a country of high economic importance to Canada, in a league with the US and China, nether of whom consult Canada on their nuclear weapons policies, nor does Canada presume to extend an official opinion on their activities in this domain ether. Combined with the political influence of a large and growing Indian expatriate community in the country, this is a non-issue.

However I agree that the ACR type is stillborn and will never likely be built, however there are firm orders for the classic design and perhaps more to come from nations needing more power plant than NPCIL is offering yet do not wish to use enriched uranium.

While I would very much like to see LFTRs built, I have a feeling we will have to wait some time before that happens, and pebble-bed designs are not ready for prime time yet ether. There is still room for older designs in the market for some time to come.

ducking for cover said...

In any case, here's the brochure of the AHWR-LEU.

As far as the costs are concerned

Indian PHWRs come in at around 1.1 million/ MWe.

David Walters said...

I'm very impressed with the AHWR, Ducking for Cover. I'm wondering it's load following capable? Anyone know?

The AHWR is the state 3 component of the Indian nuclear program. Wonder what the costs are?

DocForesight said...

@DV8 - Don't forget the RCMP as a source of national pride. Dudley Dooright and all.

Charles Barton said...

David, as I understand it, CANDU type reactors lack rge LFTR's load following flexibility. However, they are capable of up varying power output by about half of rated capacity, by dumping steam.


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