Paris, Apr 20: French energy group Areva expects to sign the commercial agreement with state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) for supply of nuclear reactors by the middle of 2011 and is ready to answer any questions that Indian authorities may have over safety, its Chief Operating Officer has said, reports Times of India.
Luc Oursel said the company is taking into consideration lessons from Fukushima but no order has been cancelled or work stopped at any site post the disaster in Japan.
The French company signed an agreement for the construction of two nuclear reactors and supply of fuel for 25 years during the visit of President Nicholas Sarkozy to India last year. There are six nuclear reactors which will be set up by NPCIL at Jaitapur in Maharashtra.
But protests have erupted in Jaitapur over the proposed nuclear power plant and one person was killed in police firing on Monday. The protests by villagers who are opposed to the plant have raised doubts about the future of the 9,600 megawatt project.
"We are expecting to sign the commercial agreement with NPCIL by the middle of 2011. That is the target. We stick to the highest safety standards," Oursel, who is also the member of the executive board of Areva told visiting Indian journalists, "Areva is ready to answer any question that India through NPCIL would like to ask."
The total cost of the deal amounts to 7 billion (about 42,000 crores) and NPCIL is in the process of tying up the finances for the project. The total cost includes the two reactors and fuel supply for 25 years. The French company has assured supply of uranium for lifetime of the reactors which is 60 years.
The French government is analyzing the information from Japan and is undertaking taking stringent tests to maintain the safety of the nuclear facilities. Over 78% of electricity in France is generated from its 58 nuclear reactors.
The European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) was designed after feedback from more than 1,000 nuclear power plant designs. It can be maintained without shutting down the plant and can withstand any unexpected external hazard such as an air crash. The impact would be limited to the industrial site and would have no effect on the population near the plant.
Areva is currently deploying four EPR reactors, one in France and Finland and two in China. The French reactor maker is also helping Japanese authorities to clean radioactive water.
Meanwhile, the New York Times in its report on Maharashtra's Jaitapur nuclear plant has raised questions about the French Areva technology which has already raised a heated debate in Europe.
This comes up in the backdrop of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami shattered that country's economy.
For Indian officials intent on promoting nuclear energy, the partial meltdowns and radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan could not have come at a worse time, says the NYT report.
Currently, India gets about 3 percent of its electricity from the 20 relatively small nuclear reactors in the country. But it is building five new reactors and has proposed 39 more, including the ones here in Madban, to help meet the voracious energy needs of India's fast-growing economy.
Only China, the other emerging-economy giant with a ravenous energy appetite, is planning a more rapid expansion of nuclear power. Beijing has indicated that it, too, plans to proceed cautiously with its nuclear rollout.
By 2050, the Indian government says a quarter of the nation's electricity should come from nuclear reactors. And the project here would be the biggest step yet toward that ambitious goal. The planned six reactors would produce a total of 9,900 megawatts of electricity — more than three times the power now used by India's financial capital, Mumbai, about 260 miles up the coast.
So far, workers on the site are simply digging trenches, as a dozen police officers provide round-the-clock watch. Protesters have been arrested at various times, and state police officials have banned gatherings of more than five people in the villages near the site.
Prime Minister Singh has been so committed to atomic power that he staked his government's survival in 2008 on a controversial civil nuclear deal with the United States.
That agreement, completed last year, opened the door for India to buy nuclear technology and uranium fuel from Western nations that previously would not sell to it because of India's refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Most of India's reactors have been indigenously developed, but it is now building two reactors with Russian help. The proposed nuclear plant in Madban will use a new generation of reactors from the French company Areva. Projects using technology from the United States, and from Japan, are also planned.
Government officials have said that India will conduct more safety reviews to make sure its existing reactors and new proposals are safe. But they reiterated their commitment to nuclear projects, including the one in Madban, which has been named the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant, after a nearby village.
Many Indian scientists, though, remain distrustful of India's nuclear establishment. And they criticize the decision to use Areva's new reactors, saying they are unproved.
Compared with the 40-year-old Fukushima Daiichi boiling water reactors, Areva's are of a newer sort known as pressurized water reactors, which the company describes as a major advance.
But Areva's first commercial installations of the technology, in France and Finland, have been delayed by several years after the initial designs failed to meet safety criteria. The company is also building two of the new reactors in China.
Adinarayan Gopalakrishnan, a former Indian nuclear safety official, is among critics who argue that India should not import the reactors, which are known by the initials EPR, because they do not have a proven track record.
“In view of the vast nuclear devastation we are observing in Japan, I would strongly urge the government not to proceed with the Jaitapur project with purchase of EPRs from France or any other import of nuclear reactors,” said Gopalakrishnan.
He once led India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and has also criticized the structure and independence of his former agency.
The regulatory board reports to the Atomic Energy Commission, which runs India's nuclear energy program and has long championed atomic power as an alternative to fossil fuels.
The chairman of the regulatory board, S. S. Bajaj, was previously a senior executive at the state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India, which operates most of the country's reactors and will run the Jaitapur plant as well.
In an interview at his office in Mumbai, Bajaj said that despite being attached to the Atomic Energy Commission, his agency was “functionally independent” of the country's nuclear establishment and technically capable of reviewing the Areva reactors.