While the media sources across the globe continue covering military conflicts, political scandals and aggressive advancements made by various countries to impose their will on others, it is nice to see that international players can still enhance their credibility and increase revenues in a civilized way through economic and scientific cooperation. One of the main industries in which state of the art technologies, big money and politics are all tied together is nuclear energy. And Russia has traditionally been one of the strongest players on this market.
Russian nuclear technologies have long been considered among the best in the world, and they have always allowed it to acquire economic and political partners across the globe. This is especially true in Asia, that has just embarked on the road of acquiring relatively cheap nuclear energy, while seeking partners that would provide the with safe and inexpensive nuclear reactors. Russia’s biggest success so far in this area is the development of nuclear energy cooperation with such powerful states as India or China.
As living standards are growing both China, in India, along with the rapidly developing industries, those states are facing the problem of skyrocketing power consumption. Like China, India has a serious shortage of fossil fuels along with environmental problems that the use of those brings. And just as the Celestial Empire, India intends to solve all of these problems at once by developing nuclear power capacities.
It should be noted that India has already acquired a good deal of experience in this area. The first Indian nuclear power plant started operating back in 1969, one year earlier than the first Chinese did. Now the country has more than 20 operating nuclear reactors, while another 5 are being constructed. Over the past decade, Indian scientists have even been able to develop their own their own reactor design that was codenamed Tarapur, that is operating on unenriched natural uranium. This has been a particularly important development since the properties of the uranium mined in India make it unreasonably expensive to enrich. The ability to use its own unenriched uranium makes India completely independent from any shipment of uranium from abroad. In fact, this technology has been so successful that India started making plans of exporting it to other countries that are only capable to mine uranium with the same properties. However, India’s reactors have a serious drawback – low energy yield. For this reason, India is planning to carry on importing Russian nuclear technologies.
The bilateral agreement between Russia and India on the construction of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu was signed back in 1988. However, due to the political events that unfolded shortly this date, Russia was unable to finalize the project for the next ten years . Nevertheless, despite all the difficulties, the construction of the nuclear power plant has not been abandoned. In 1998, the old contract was provided with additional paragraphs and shortly after that the actual work began. As early as 2013 the first reactor of the new power plant was connected to the national electric grid in India. The company that is responsible for the construction of Kudankulam is Atomstroyexport, a Russian state enterprise run by the Rosatom corporation, that is responsible for the construction of nuclear power plants abroad. In the project were able to participate, many other Russian companies have received lucrative contracts. However, India has decided that it would accomplish the better part of construction works on its own, while carefully following the instructions of Russian scientists. This decision has considerably slowed down the progress, but at the same time allowed Indian constructors to gain invaluable experience.
The Kudankulam nuclear power project is based on the project that Russian nuclear scientists have already tested in Russia and Eastern Europe. The stations of this dish have been operational for many years and have proven their reliability and efficiency. The Kudankulam is a variant of the time-proven VVER-1000, and now it is the most powerful and, at the same time, the safest reactor in India. Commercial exploitation of the first reactor began in late 2014. In 2016, the second reactor of the Kudankulam station was made operational and shortly after that was connected to the Indian energy grid.
In total IKAEL (India’s Atomic Energy), that was the entity that signed the contract, ordered four nuclear reactors. All papers necessary for the construction of third and fourth reactors were signed in 2014-2015, and their construction is well underway.
One of the bonuses of NPP construction is the necessity to build additional infrastructure objects to transport nuclear fuel and other materials. To facilitate the exploitation of Kudankulam, located a couple of miles from the coast of the Indian Ocean, India has constructed a sea port nearby, which may later be used for other purposes.
Unfortunately, when a nuclear power plant of such proportions is being constructed in populated areas the habitual way of life of local residents is often being disrupted. The construction of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant was no exception. In 2011, local citizens held mass protests, while blocking roads and obstructing the construction. Later on, the Indian Supreme Court, largely due to the support of certain foreign “sponsors” who are dissatisfied with the development of cooperation between India and Russia, had to pass its ruling on a number of lawsuits demanding the construction to stop, but turned them down. However, because of these events the start of the first reactor was postponed for a couple of years.
There is a possibility and the fact that Russian nuclear scientists will soon be demanded to start the construction of new nuclear power plants in other states of India. At the end of 2014 the two countries discussed a plan to build another 25 nuclear power plants based on Russian technologies and with the active participation of Russian companies across India. So far, this may sound overtly ambitious, but if in the next couple of years Kundakulam station will show itself from a positive side, there is a real chance that the Indian government will continue the cooperation.
As it was mentioned above, any cooperation in the field of nuclear energy requires close economic and political cooperation between states. Every single reactor built requires maintenance and regular supplies of the fuel suitable for this particular model, which means that the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, just like other power plants in China, across the the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and in Eastern Europe will guarantee Russia’s presence in these regions for many years to come. As for India, the plan to build another 25 reactors based on Russian technology is being discussed as of now and there’s no visible obstacles in sight. If such a deal will be signed, then Russia and India will enjoy a stable and long-term cooperation for decades to come.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.