Negotiations between the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and French company Areva over the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant (JNPP) in Maharashtra have hit a hurdle as DAE has questioned the capacity of reactors to generate electricity and its high cost.

The bone of contention between the two is the generation of electricity by the EPR reactor, which Areva is planning to give to Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL).

DAE sources pointed out that the department has raised objections because the “reference plant”, which was agreed upon between DAE and Areva, was a plant that generated 1430 MW of electricity, but it says, Areva now wants a plant with enhanced power generation capacity.

A reference plant is a nuclear power plant project that has already been tested, commissioned and which has commercially started generating power.

According to a top DAE official, the reference plant for building reactors was one at Flamanville nuclear plant in France, which Areva mentioned with a capacity of 1430 MW. But it has now asked the DAE to enhance the power generation capacity to 1600-1700 MW. The DAE has raised an objection to this, the official said.

“The problem here is Areva is asking us to enhance the power generation capacity. The reference plant mentioned by Areva has not generated electricity between 1600 MW and 1700 MW with this technology. The EPR technology is first of its kind. More importantly, if the technology has been enhanced, even then the reference plant cannot be changed,” the official said.

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AREB), whose nod at various stages of building a nuclear plant is mandatory, too has raised concerns about it.

“Areva has said that it will get an enhancement certificate for the plant from French Nuclear Regulatory Body, but we have doubts about this,” he said.

According to Areva’s website, it is building EPR reactors for nuclear plants in Finland, United Kingdom, China and France.

Of these, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland is a 1600 MW project, while two reactors for the Taishan plant in China are of 1660 MW each. The Hinckley Point plant project in United Kingdom has two EPR reactors of 1600 MW each and the Flamanville 3 nuclear plant is 1630 MW.

A well placed source in Areva, who refused to be quoted, however, denied it.

“Flamanville 3 has been a reference plant for the Jaitapur project. From the very beginning of the discussions regarding Jaitapur, Areva proposed its EPR design, which is a 1600 MW plant,” the source said.

Another factor is the issue of the price per unit.

Sources said that the price per unit for the JNPP comes to more than Rs. 9 in 2021, which, according to the DAE is very high. The initial capital cost for the project per MW is between Rs 27-30 crore.

The cost per unit for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant Project (KKNPP) unit I and II is between Rs 3.50 and Rs 4. The cost for the KKNPP III and IV is also under negotiation.

“Even if we take inflation into account, this rate is too high. We have conveyed that the maximum cost can be Rs 6 per unit,” the official said.

He also pointed out that both the sides are negotiating hard, but India has made it very clear that it wont accept this high cost for producing energy.

“We have made it clear that unless the cost comes down, we would not be able to go ahead. Senior French government officials have assured us that they will look into the matter, so that the cost comes down,” the official said.

PTI made calls and also emailed a questionnaire to seek response from Areva, but did not receive any response.

The JNPP project in five villages -- Madban, Karel, Mithgawane, Varilwada and Neveli villages — in coastal district of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, some 350 kms south of Mumbai, is to have six nuclear reactors with the capacity of 1650 MW each with French cooperation.

On ground zero, despite the agreement of few groups to the project, the opposition still exists.

According to Pravin Khade, the sub-divisional officer of Rajapur tehsil/ taluka (where the site falls), there are some 2336 Project Affected People (PAPs), of which 1311 PAPs have accepted compensation of Rs 11.20 crore and Rs 3.57 crore is yet to be accepted.

As per the new compensation package announced by the Maharashtra government in February 2013, Rs 155.61 crore have been disbursed to 1240 people, while the remaining Rs 55.44 crore is yet to be accepted by people.

After the plant is fully commissioned, Maharashtra will be the highest nuclear power producing state with it producing over 11,000 MW of electricity (if combined the JNPP and Tarapur Atomic Power Plant, north of Mumbai), the highest in the country.