Sunday, March 04, 2007

India's 17th Nuclear Reactor Goes Critical

India's indigenous nuclear reactor, Kaiga 3, achieved criticality earlier this week (10:10 am IST on Feb 26th). The 220 MWe pressurized heavy water reactor in Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka will start supplying electricity to the grid by the end of March. For the scientists and engineers working on the project it was a time for celebration.

At a press conference following a celebratory ceremony, Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said the construction technique had been perfected: "Five years is the international benchmark for completing nuclear power plants and along with the project completion costs for this unit, there is going to be a new benchmark."

NPCIL claim that the new reactor was constructed domestically for just Rs 984 ($22.33) per installed kW. NPCIL estimate it could do the same job in certain countries for Rs 1200 ($27.24) per kW. Compared to a global average price of new nuclear construction of $1500 per kW, Indian contractors could occupy a unique place in the world reactor market. >> World Nuclear News

The numbers do look too good to be true (feedback on corrections is welcome). However, if they are true, then they represent a huge cost advantage for the Indian nuclear reactor industry. So while the US is looking for huge business opportunities in the domestic Indian nuclear power market, India is looking for opportunities in countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, which have smaller electricity grids where the 220 MW reactors would be ideal.

Of course India will have to break into the NSG first, which despite US enthusiasm might be more difficult than building the breakthrough technology. Well the scientists and engineers have delivered - it is largely up to the politicians and diplomats now.