New Delhi, July 2: Changes in nuclear economics have fuelled a search for virgin sites for nuclear power plants across India and demolished a decades-old perception that nuclear plants are not viable near coal deposits.
A site selection committee set up by the Department of Atomic Energy is now evaluating candidate sites offered by several states, including Bengal, Bihar and Haryana, senior Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) officials said.
“A number of sites are under technical evaluation to determine their suitability for accommodating nuclear power plants,” an official said.
The site evaluation is based on technical studies that examine issues such as seismicity, location of bedrock and availability of water required to run steam turbines for power generation, they said.
But a site will also have to meet regulatory requirements that mandate a 1.5-km radius exclusion zone ' an area girdling the nuclear plant where no human activity would be allowed. In addition, regulatory requirements also demand that there should be no large human population centre within a radius of 5 km.
“Within this 5-km radius zone there should not be any future growth in human habitation,” an expert in the nuclear power community told The Telegraph.
The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board would also need to be given details of population within a radius of 30 km. “There are no restrictions in this zone, but a database of population is maintained and updated,” the expert said.
The NPC now operates 16 nuclear reactors that feed electricity into grids from six sites ' Tarapur (Maharashtra), Rawatbhata (Rajasthan), Kalpakkam (Tamil Nadu), Narora (Uttar Pradesh), Kakrapar (Gujarat) and Kaiga (Karnataka). Two Russian reactors are under construction at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.
India’s installed nuclear power capacity in June 2006 was 3360 MW. Through a combination of indigenous and imported nuclear reactors, the NPC plans to raise this to 4120 MW by 2007, 10,200 MW by 2012, and 20,000 MW by 2020.
Last year, the government approved Jaitapur on Maharashtra’s west coast as another site for a future reactor. An anticipated expansion in installed nuclear power capacity in the coming years following the Indo-US nuclear agreement is also driving the search for new sites. “Sites along the coast near ports are seen as suitable for imported 1000-MW class reactors,” an official said.
However, new sites are also required for NPC’s proposed 700-MW class indigenous pressurised heavy water reactors.
NPC sources said the cost of building nuclear power plants has fallen over the years and this makes it possible to consider establishing plants in eastern states such as Bihar or Bengal, close to India’s coal reserves.
Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said last month the Centre had cleared a nuclear power station at Egra in East Midnapore.
In the past, competition from coal-fired electricity meant nuclear power plants had to be located at least 800 km away from coal deposits. “But now our nuclear plants are being built faster and at a lower cost than before,” an NPC official said.
The cost of building an indigenous nuclear reactor has dropped to about 5 crore per MW. “We’re in a position to breach the 800-km barrier.”