Vinod Mubayi


President Vladimir Putin of Russia was the chief guest at India’s Republic Day ceremony of January 26, 2007. During his visit it was announced that governments of India and Russia had signed a memorandum-of- intent (MOI) for Russia to supply India with four additional nuclear power reactors at the Koodankulam site in Tamil Nadu.


Two power reactors of Russian design are currently under construction at this site and are expected to enter service within a year or so. If the additional reactors are of the same design and capacity as the ones nearing completion (i.e., 1000 MW VVER-plants) their implementation would almost triple India’s nuclear power capacity from approximately 3300 MW at present to over 9000 MW.  According to press reports, the MOI also envisages an unspecified number of new nuclear power plants to be set up at locations that are yet to be identified.


At a joint press conference in New Delhi with President Putin, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India “appreciated Moscow’s support for lifting international restrictions on nuclear cooperation with India and in assisting us in the expansion of our nuclear energy sector.” While India undertook to place reactor facilities and nuclear fuel supplied by Russia under IAEA safeguards, the tone and tenor of the Indo-Russian agreement indicated clearly that there were no conditionalities, like those imposed by the U.S. Congress on the Indo-US nuclear agreement which is facing opposition in India.


Russia has indicated that it regards this deal as a straightforward commercial agreement without any extraneous considerations related to the political aspects of nuclear fuel and technology supply. The Russian VVER design is a pressurized light-water reactor which is similar in many respects to the majority of the operating commercial reactors in the U.S. and France among other countries. Over the last decade, the large, modern VVERs in Russia, the Czech Republic, and Finland have undergone numerous international safety studies and their performance has been deemed acceptable in terms of benchmarks established by western and IAEA regulators.


In terms of the electric power system expansion programs, especially in China and India, there has been intense competition between nuclear vendors in the U.S., Russia, France, and Canada to obtain orders for technology and equipment supply. China recently selected the Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor, which was announced with much fanfare recently in Beijing by the U.S. Secretary of Energy, beating out Russian and French competitors. However, since Westinghouse has recently been purchased by the Japanese company Toshiba it is a moot point whether the U.S. has much to celebrate about, although the selection of the AP-1000 by China will save the jobs of many Westinghouse technical personnel in the U.S. From India’s standpoint, the rivalry should be welcome as it will ensure more competitive prices for the technology. Russia has also proven to be a reliable supplier of fuel to India; it is still supplying fuel to the old U.S.- built Tarapur plant for which the U.S. had reneged on its fuel supply agreement after the Pokharan-1 explosion by India.

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