Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Indian Nuclear Plans

The World Nuclear Association has published a long new account of the advances in the Indian nuclear program. Things are now moving very fast and three dozen reactors reactors are either planned or under serious consideration. Indian plans include light water reactors from Russia, France, and the United States, in addition to a locally designed Light Water Reactor.

Why the plunge into foreign Light Water Reactors, after India has painstakingly developed its heavy water reactor technology? The reason becomes obvious when we learn that the Indians are now expanding their fast breeder reactor plans. The WNA tells us
Longer term, the AEC envisages its fast reactor program being 30 to 40 times bigger than the PHWR program . . . this will be linked with up to 40,000 MWe of light water reactor capacity, the used fuel feeding ten times that fast breeder capacity, thus "deriving much larger benefit out of the external acquisition in terms of light water reactors and their associated fuel". This 40 GWe of imported LWR multiplied to 400 GWe via FBR would complement 200-250 GWe based on the indigenous program of PHWR-FBR-AHWR. Thus AEC is "talking about 500 to 600 GWe nuclear over the next 50 years or so" in India, plus export opportunities.
Oh wow, talk about ambitious! As i keep saying the Indians intend eat every ones lunch by running their industries on low cost thorium power. Even though foreign reactors are more expensive than Indian designed reactors, they fit into Indian plans, because they produce lots "spent fuel". In other countries "spent fuel" is considered a problem, and is called nuclear waste. In India spent light water reactor fuel is fuel for fast breeder reactors. And fast breeders will produce both electricity and the start up fuel for Advanced Heavy Water Reactors. The AHWRs will be breeders too, so as long as India has thorium, it will have nuclear fuel.

Unlike China, India does not have a legacy of coal, and further unlike China, India is not cursed with a large domestic coal supply. The Indians have known for 60 years that the key to their energy future would lie with nuclear power, and have doggedly pursued a nuclear development program. Along the way the Indians were able to develop really low cost but good quality reactors. Locally designed and built Indian reactors cost 40% less than Chinese reactors. And needless to say both cost a whole lot less than American and European reactors. The Indian reactor price advantage could begin to tell in 20 years when India and China start their post carbon energy program in ernest.

Current Chinese plans for post-carbon energy call for an everything but the kitchen sink approach. And even the lowest carbon Chinese energy plan calls for over 40% of Chinese electricity to be generated by fossil fuels in 2050. The Chinese expect to be building 4th Generation reactors by 2050, but it is far from clear what role they will play in Chinese nuclear plans.

The Indians clearly have charted a route to a high energy, low cost nuclear future. The Chinese as of yet have not. Of course Indian plans, though good, could be even better. The Indians are committed to do a lot of fuel reprocessing, a decision the Chinese appear to be also following. Both nations are involved with expensive approaches, and current fuel reprocessing technologies tend to loose too much plutonium, Indian reactor and fuel processing costs could be lower, provided the Indians adopted Molten Salt Reactor technology. A LFTR would include fuel reprocessing technology with each reactor unit, and would not produce plutonium. LFTRs need not produce plutonium at all. The Indians are probably years away from doing that, but a rapid program ofLFTR development in the United States could lead to lower post carbon electrical costs and would keep our industrial economy competitive with India.


Alex P. said...

little off-topic, have you got some data about the construction times of the nuclear reactors built in Asia (say, after 1990) - for example, Japan, South Korea, India, China and so on ?

David Walters said...

Great essay Charles. Well done.

I think the comparison with China is both interesting and illustrative of the two different approaches, both of which are way ahead of any of the western plans, save, perhaps, the S. Koreans.

One of the positive spin offs for LFTR advocates is that India will end up with a possible surplus of U233 which can then be used as start up charges for the LFTR.

Frank Kandrnal said...

Thank God there is at least one government on this planet with a brain. Indians know very well that without nuclear power they are kaput.
I wonder how long it will take for this reality to sink into the brains of less intelligent governments.

Marcel F. Williams said...

Canada is starting to increase their cooperation with India on nuclear energy. India has already developed small heavy water reactors that can use uranium or thorium. If Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) decides to compete with other nations in developing small centrally mass produced reactors, small thorium reactors using plutonium from spent fuel as a source of fissile material could be a major export to the United States and the rest of the world. AECL needs to move quickly in this direction, IMO, if they are going to save the nuclear industry in Canada.

Marcel F. Williams

SteveK9 said...


I thought India did have substantial reserves of coal? Clearly they don't intend to use them --- thank God. I read somewhere that the 'father' of Indian nuclear power technology came up with the seemingly complex cycle they have planned to use thorium. Any idea why they do not seem interested in LFTR technology. Is it still that obscure or is there some NIH going on? I think the recent article in C&E News is going to have a big effect on awareness in the scientific community, even outside the US. Maybe your or Kirk Sorenson will get a call one day to make a presentation in India.

Yogi said...

I’m no fan of George W. Bush, but I have to admit that he may have done more than any other world leader to slow the growth in fossil fuel consumption by signing that nuclear trade agreement with India.

Allowing India to import uranium and foreign reactor designs to supplement home grown technology is a no-brainer, especially if it leads to 50% of electricity generation from nuclear by mid century.

Regarding Asian reactor construction times, Japan was building ABWRs with 4-5year construction times in the 1990s:


DocForesight said...

It seems to me that taking the approach the UAE is with their nuclear fuel processing, with US cooperation, would be a win-win-win as a means to increase nuclear power plant construction; limit the potential for illegal proliferation of plutonium; enhance the environment with air quality; and account for spent fuel storage -- control the inventory (unlike the Russians post-Cold War).

jagdish said...

Indo-US nuclear agreements had three major benefits for India. First was import of nuclear fuel. With launching of a reactor with Russian fuel this can be said to have been achieved. The second was clearance of reprocessing of imported fuel after first use. The French and Russian fuel can be reprocessed after use. The problem is with fuel burnt in the US supplied reactors. The Indian PM has returned without such clearance but has described the problems as minor. The third was dual use technology. This is a sword that cuts two ways and the matter shall be cleared in due course. I hope that the PM is right in his assessment.

ducking for cover said...

Hi Charles,

here's a paper presented by Anil Kakodkar that delves into the 40 GWe LWR capacity import requirement.

Anil Kakodkar's lecture


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