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Deciphering the Nuclear Construction Announcement

Old Plans, Handouts, New Spin

In May 2017, the union cabinet approved the construction of 10 more 700 megawatt pressurised heavy water reactors. A careful reading of this largely public relations spin on existing plans suggests that it chiefly hopes to persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group to accept India as a member and attract capital that aims to profit from supplying components for nuclear power plants. Given our track record, the prospects of it adding to the role of nuclear power in India appear bleak.

On 17 May 2017, the union cabinet gave its approval for the construction of 10 more 700 megawatt (MW) pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) (IANS 2017). These PHWRs will be in addition to four such reactors already under construction. The cabinet secretariat’s official press release read like a sales pitch, and claimed that the construction of these 10 reactors would “help transform Indian nuclear industry” and that it would “be a major step towards strengthening India’s credentials as a major nuclear manufacturing powerhouse” (Press Information Bureau 2017). The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) put out their own press releases, profusely hailing the decision (NPCIL 2017c; DAE 2017).

The reality underlying these announcements is far less spectacular. Plans for building many PHWRs have been enunciated in the past, and have not materialised. A more careful reading of the announcement suggests that it is targeted at persuading the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to accept India as a member and winning over sections of capital that hope to profit from supplying components for nuclear power plants. This publicity blitz notwithstanding, nuclear power will continue to be an expensive and relatively minor source of electricity for the foreseeable future.

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