The Russian-built Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu could, in the near future, be operating on the newer generation TVS-2M fuel assembly, which offers increased uranium capacity, improved heat reliability and enhanced operational safety, a senior Russian official has said.
"Today we can offer our Indian colleagues a more modern design of nuclear fuel -- TVS-2M -- with improved economic and technical characteristics," Oleg A. Grigoryev, Vice President of TVEL, the fuel company run by the ROSATOM national atomic energy corporation, told IANS in an e-mail interview from Moscow.
"Negotiations on this issue are already underway with Indian partners. We are ready to change KNPP's fuel as soon as possible according to all requirements of the Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) for greater reliability and security of fuel assemblies," he said.
Currently, the first two 1,000 MW units are operational at Kudankulam. Four more are in the pipeline.
According to Grigoryev, the only restriction on supplying the advanced nuclear fuel assemblies is the existing agreement over the UTVS fuel now being supplied.
"The only restriction for this project is time. As soon as the UTVS fuel has been used, the station will operate on the new fuel," Grigoryev said.
TVEL accounts for around 17 per cent of the global nuclear fuel market. The company supplies fuel worldwide for research, transport and commercial power reactors.
TVEL's fuel development programmes for Russian-designed VVER light water reactors in Russia and abroad aim to increase their service life and cost-effectiveness.
"After transfer to TVS-2M the customer will not face additional difficulties. The new fuel will save (create) 60-70 operational days in around three years (due to reduced downtime)," the Russian said.
Grigoryev also spoke of "localisation" of production.
"We are ready to support the efforts of our Indian partners in the localisation of the production of nuclear fuel in India. But it should be understood that the plant should be cost-effective," he said, echoing the argument of Chinese solar module manufacturers, for instance, who have to grapple with India's domestic component requirements under the National Solar Programme.
"We have repeatedly carried out economic calculations and estimated the number of plants to which fuel has to be supplied to make it profitable. The result, together with regional and country-specificity, ranges from 10 to 12 units," Grigoryev said.
"We hope that in the next 10 years the first components produced in India will be used in the fuel for Indian nuclear power plants," he said, adding, however, that preparations need to start right away "to work on adaptation of Indian legislation to Russian standards, to teach Indians who will be engaged in manufacturing."
Russia has offered India a new range of reactor units -- the VVER-Toi (typical optimised, enhanced information) design -- for the third and fourth units of the Kudankulam project.
In this connection, former Atomic Energy Commission chairman and ex-secretary Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) M.R. Srinivasan said TVEL has supplied fuel for KNPP and fuel pellets for India's Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors.
"India will work with TVEL on localisation of nuclear fuel. This could be achieved in about five years," he said. "There will be more localisation for KNPP units 3, 4, 5 and 6. Cooperation between India and TVEL will grow in the coming years," he added.
An inter-governmental agreement between India and Russia was signed in December 2008 for setting up Kudankulam's units 3 to 6. The ground-breaking ceremony for construction of units 3 and 4 was performed earlier this year.
According to Grigoryev, India plans to increase the number of Russian design reactors to 12 in the next 10-15 years.