Does India have the Money to pay for billion dollar Jap-US Nuclear Reactors ?
The Indo-Japanese deal which was inked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe took over six years to turn into a reality. There were several thorny issues to be sorted out including the key question of the Japanese companies liability in case of a nuclear accident.
The nullification clause by which Japan would automatically cancel the agreement in case India decided to undertake a nuclear test has also raised issues because while the Japanese insist this is binding on both nations, the Indian government spokesperson claimed otherwise. One of the main reasons why the Japanese have tread so cautiously is because while Japan has civil nuclear treaties with 13 nations including the US, France, and Russia, this is the first time they have inked an agreement with a country that is not part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but Tokyo is willing to accept the pledge India made to the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 whereby it committed itself to a voluntary moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons.
What has not come into the limelight is that there are serious issues pertaining to the Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactor Generation III reactors regarding both their design, costing, and safety. Security expert Dr. Bharat Karnad pointed out, ` We have been opposed to the purchase of untested, unproven and extremely expensive imported reactors. We have run a public campaign on this issue warning for the last several years against the diversion of scarce public resources at a time when our own indigenous reactors have a proven track record.’
`Dr. Homi Bhabha had listed out a three-stage program for us. In the first stage, we would have heavy water reactors, in the second stage we would have fast breeder reactors and in the third stage, we would have thorium based reactors. India is rich in thorium and we could avail of it in large quantities. All these are indigenous reactors and would be built at a fraction of the cost of these imported reactors,’ said Karnad. `Unfortunately, the government lacks wisdom and is continuing on the same path (as their predecessor). The question to be asked is where is the money for these expensive purchases ?’ Karnad wondered.
Shaun Burnie, a Greenpeace nuclear activist working out of Tokyo, pointed out that the US is presently constructing two AP1000 reactors at Vogtle in the state of Georgia and two at VC Summer in South Carolina. Two AP 1000 reactors are under construction at Sanmen and two at Haiyang -1 in China
All these reactors have run into several problems. Testimony given before the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) in December 2015 points to how the Vogtle unit has overshot its deadline by 39 months while the cost overruns are over four billion US dollars more than the US $6.1 billion that had been certified.
The Nuclear Intelligence Weekly had warned that the Vogtle costs can touch $ 21 billion.
A June 2016 assessment by the GPSC concluded that the current scheduled commercial operation dates of June 2019 for unit 3 and June 2020 for unit 4 are unlikely to be met: “It is our opinion that there exists a strong likelihood of further delayed operation dates for both units” the GPSC had stated.
No one expects any new AP1000s to be ordered in the United States—a significant drop from the expectation in the mid-2000s when Toshiba acquired Westinghouse in the expectation that there would be at least 14 AP1000s constructed in the United States. But even more alarming are the issue of safety that has been raised. The AP1000 has been promoted as a Generation III reactor design and therefore safer than the older reactors currently in operation worldwide.
However, there are doubts on this score also with several nuclear engineers having accused the designers at Westinghouse-Toshiba to have weakened the defense-in-depth of the reactors in order to cut costs.
Nuclear Engineer Dave Lochbaum at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington has stated that the AP1000 has less robust containment systems, less redundancy in safety systems, and fewer safety-grade structures, systems, and components.
Greenpeace campaigner Shaun Burnie has pointed out that many of the original planned cost savings have come from scaling back the size of the containment building. The ratio of containment volume to a reactor’s thermal power is a good measure of its containment capacity, and the AP1000 has a ratio lower than that of most reactors now operating. In addition, unlike today’s reactors, the AP600 and AP1000 require a cooling water system to protect the containment structure from rupturing after an accident. Because this creates another potential failure mode, it increases the risk that such a rupture would occur. Westinghouse considered using a more robust containment structure, but rejected it as not cost-beneficial, Bernie claims.
The French Atomic Energy Commission’s own study of these reactors has not proved very favorable. Their study of the AP1000 reactors to see if they would maintain vessel integrity in a core-melt accident arrived at the conclusion that was negative.
In the case of the four AP1000 reactors under construction in China, the main source of problems, although not the only one, has been the reactor coolant pumps. Sun Qin, the chairman of the China National Nuclear Corporation has been quoted as stating that if everything goes smoothly, then the first unit should go into operation in June 2017. That is four years after the reactors were supposed to have come online.
Nuclear physicist, Dr. MV Ramana had calculated that the costs of building reactors of the same design would be around 25% – 30% less to build in India than is the case in the US. If this reduced cost percentage was still accurate, then based on the two AP1000 reactors at Vogtle costs – estimated to be 21 US billion by completion – the cost of 2 AP1000 reactors at Mithivirdi in Gujarat would range from 14.7 to 15.75 billion US. The Indian government is planning to build six reactors in Gujarat. The total cost of these six plants would run into tens of billions of US dollars.
How the Modi government expects to raise so much money is not yet in the public domain.