India’s former Union Secretary in Power Ministry, Dr. EAS Sarma has written an open letter to the Secretary of the DAE, cautioning against fuel imports in the wake of steep rise in cost and other recent developments with Westinghouse and Toshiba, with serious safety implications.
Dr. Sekhar Basu
Dept of Atomic Enegy (DAE)
Govt of India
Dear Dr Basu,
Subject:- Price of imported uranium for the nuclear power projects being set up
The Dept of Atomic Energy (DAE) seems to be rushing along into adding new nuclear power generation capacity, unmindful of the associated risks. DAE is apparently not following the developments that are taking place in the nuclear industry and their implications for India.
I summarise below the concerns I had expressed earlier on the risks associated with imported nuclear reactors and imported fuel and the concerns that arise with special reference to the Kovvada nuclear power project in AP.
- There is a global problem of substandard material and components being supplied by the nuclear industry. The Russian and the South Korean governments had to prosecute the companies and the individuals who were involved in false quality certification and supplying substandard components for nuclear power reactors posing serious risks to safety. The latest to join this infamous club is France’s Areva company which has since been found to have supplied substandard steel equipment for nuclear power plants, for which the French nuclear regulator has initiated action against that company.
- The time and cost over-runs in the setting up of nuclear power plants has become a global phenomenon. The reasons for this include delays arising from doubts on the safety features of the nuclear reactors and the financial problems of the reactor supplying companies. The fate of Areva’s efforts to set up reactors in Finland is well known. Areva’s financial position verges on bankruptcy and even the other French company, EDF seems to be facing trouble. Within France, many nuclear power plants are facing closure. Still, DAE seems to have no qualms whatsoever in advising the Indian Prime Minister to sign an agreement with his French counterpart on Areva supplying reactors for Jaitapur!
- I had earlier cautioned DAE to be wary of the mergers and acquisitions taking place in the nuclear fuel supply industry, which are creating monopolies that will escalate the price of uranium to be supplied to countries like India. While DAE has not bothered to go through the competitive bidding procedure for the reactors to be imported from the USA, Russia and France, it seems to be equally insensitive to the likely escalation in the price of imported uranium. Apparently, with active support from the PMO, DAE considers itself beyond public accountability.
- I enclose a report “Toshiba Shares Plunge Further Over Problems at Nuclear-Power Subsidiary” that appeared in Wall Street Journal(WSJ) on 29-12-2016 which refers to the crash of Tohiba company’s shares as a result of its joint hands with the American company, Westinghouse due to the huge nuclear power plant construction costs. On the other hand, DAE is moving fast on getting Westinghouse set up six reactors at Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh by displacing thousands of farmers and fisherfolk and denying them adequate compensation. Apparently, DAE is more interested in baling out a sinking Westinghouse and create employment opportunities in the USA rather than caring for the livelihoods of the people living around Kovvada and their safety! National interest seems to have been relegated to the backseat!
- The above cited report also highlights the misdeeds committed by Toshiba in Japan and how the local regulators have put that company on the watch list. I wonder whether DAE has cared to go through these reports.
- The WSJ report corroborates the acts of malfeasance committed by Areva and how the French nuclear regulator has started an investigation. Though several years have elapsed since DAE had come up with a draft law to make the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board truly autonomous, no further progress has been made. Apparently DAE wishes to make sure that the Indian regulator remains subservient to the department that it is expected to oversee! This violates the guidelines issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Against the above background, I demand that DAE desists from its plans to set up new nuclear power projects at Kovvada and other places considering the insurmountable problems that bog the global nuclear power industry. In my view, DAE will not only be subjecting the Indian energy sector to high costs but also will be endangering the safety of the people by doggedly pursuing the path of adding large nuclear power capacities and, that too, through dependence on imported reactors and imported fuel. No further additions to nuclear power capacity should be permitted till such time that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board becomes genuinely independent.
I hope the New year will make the PMO and the DAE ponder over these concerns which will have a long term bearing on the energy security of the country.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI