Kudankulam, India's main hope of pushing up nuclear power generation from its low level (of just 3 per cent of the total), is taking much longer than projected to turn fissile.
The first of the two 1,000-MWe Russian-built reactors coming up in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu was to have been commissioned this month, but the showpiece project of Indo-Russian cooperation is likely to take another year to start functioning.
The public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India, which is the Indian partner, says delay in getting equipment from the Russians is responsible for the delay.
A spokesman said that the delays in getting supplies had pushed the commissioning of the first unit of Kudankulam to the latter half of 2008, maybe as late as December.
"This is the first time we are setting up light water reactors of this size, amid the usual teething troubles," he said. This means the second unit will become commercial only in 2009, more than seven years after the first pour of concrete.
The two reactors are being set up at a cost of Rs 13,171 crore under a fixed-price deal. The delays, according to NPCIL Chairman and MD Shreyans Kumar Jain, will not result in a cost escalation. The Russians are extending a soft credit for 85 per cent of the project cost while India has paid 15 per cent upfront.
Repayments will begin after Kudankulam begins commercial operations and will be spread over 12 to 14 equal installments.
This, however, is the only silver lining. The international fallout of New Delhi's inability to sign the contentious 123 civilian nuclear agreement with the US, coupled with its problematic relationship with the Russian Federation, means the other four units will remain in limbo.
The first pour of concrete for units three and four was scheduled for December 2007 but failure to sign the agreement for the additional reactors during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Moscow last month put a huge question mark over NPCIL's expectation of touching a generating capacity of 20,000 MWe by 2020. Kudamkulam is critical to its calculations.
The six units here would have contributed the bulk of the generation during the 12th Plan period, during which it hopes to add 12,500 MWe mainly from foreign collaboration projects. In fact, a close look at NPCIL's expansion plans reveals that the first and second units of Kudankulam are the only projects it has in hand. The rest are just "assumptions".
NPCIL's projections assume that 8,000 MWe will come from light water reactors at Jaitapur in Maharashtra.
India does not have the know-how for such projects as yet and talks have been under way with nuclear giants Areva of France, GE of the US and the Japanese Westinghouse ever since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush signed the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement in 2006.
No deal can be signed until the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which police global trade in uranium, endorse the agreement.
While NPCIL is fairly certain to add around 3,000 MWe during the current Plan with expansion of its pressurised heavy water plants at Kaiga and Rawatbhatta, the possibility of it touching the target of 20,000 MWe by 2020 remains thin given that the current capacity is just 4,120 MWe from 17 plants.The Russian-built VVER (light water) reactors, which use enriched uranium, will be the largest power plants in the country. India's indigenously developed reactors are mainly of 220 MWe, with just two having 540 MWe capacity. Its new generators reactors of 700 MWe will debut only in the 12th Plan.