India is engaging with various countries to procure nuclear fuel as part of its plan to create a strategic uranium reserve to ensure long-term security.
The plan is to have a stockpile of nuclear fuel for its strategic uranium reserve that can sustain the country’s reactors for the next five years so that they do not stop functioning because of the lack of uranium.
In late 2017, India held discussions with Uzbekistan, to procure nuclear fuel. Attempts are also being made to procure uranium from Australia. A nuclear cooperation pact between the two nations was signed in 2014 and came into force in 2015.
India’s concerns to have a stockpile of nuclear fuel emanate from the time when its atomic reactors functioned below its capacity level due to the shortage of uranium.
Apart from domestic production, India currently imports uranium from Russia, Kazakhstan and Canada. In 2016, over 2,400 MT of nuclear fuel was shipped into India from these three countries. This is primarily used to fuel its indigenously built Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs).
India has 22 operating nuclear power plants with an installed capacity of 6780 MWe, of which, eight reactors with aggregate capacity of 2,400 MWe are fuelled by indigenous uranium while the remaining 14 with a capacity of 4,380 MWe are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards and use imported uranium. Ten foreign reactors, six in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, and four in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu, have been approved. The government has recently approved 10 more indigenous reactors.
India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) plans to ramp up domestic uranium production ten-fold over next 15 years (by 2031-2032). The DAE mines uranium ore from Jaduguda mine in Jharkhand and Tummalapalle mine in Andhra Pradesh.
Annual fuel need for operating the indigenous PHWRs at 85 per cent capacity:
- 45 tonnes of uranium dioxide for the older 220 MWe units
- 100 tonnes for the 540 MWe units
- 125 tonnes for the new 700 MWe units
Annual fuel need of low enriched uranium for operating imported light water reactors (LWRs) at 85 per cent capacity:
- 6 tonnes for the older 160 MWe Tarapur units
- 27 tonnes for 1,000 MWe units at Kudankulam
Senior executives from the Indian nuclear industry will be attending an Indian nuclear summit in Mumbai this October where a key topic of discussion will be on the supply of nuclear fuel.