Cost overruns in Westinghouse's plants in China have also come to light

Even as representatives from the U. S. nuclear power companies, Westinghouse Electric Co. and GE Energy, are currently continuing their company-to-company negotiations with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) for building American-made nuclear reactors in India following the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, significant cost overruns in the nuclear plants being built by the Westinghouse in China have come to light.

Representatives of the Westinghouse and the GE have landed in India before the arrival of the U.S. President Barack Obama to further the nuclear talks on the sidelines of the Presidential visit.

As has been reported earlier (The Hindu, April 3), shortcomings in the design of the Westinghouse's advanced technology reactor AP1000 — which is what India plans to buy from the company — are likely to delay the conclusion of the commercial agreement with the NPCIL by at least a year. The report in The Hindu also stated that the NPCIL officials were aware of these safety concerns in the AP1000 reactors.

These shortcomings, which have to do with inadequate containment features in the design and consequent safety concerns, had been raised by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in its report in October 2009.

A second related safety issue had also been highlighted by Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry executive and chief engineer of the Fairewinds Associates, an energy consultancy company, in April. In a detailed report, he pointed out that in AP1000's design the concrete shield building in the reactor was separated from the steel containment vessel. Typically in pressurised water reactors, the concrete shield is reinforced with steel. In the AP1000, however, there is a space between the two and the shield building also has a hole in its roof. It is not clear if the Westinghouse will incorporate the improved designs of the containment that take care of these two issues in their submissions to the NPCIL.

To add to these is the new information in cost overruns in the Chinese contracts. The contract awarded in 2006 was to build four AP1000 reactors at Sanmen (2 units) in Zhejiang Province and Haiyang in Shandong Province in South China. Soon afterwards China stated that AP1000 would be the country's nuclear power workhorse. In 2008, China identified three suitable sites to build 12-16 units of AP1000. In June 2008, the Westinghouse CE, Aric Candris, disclosed in an interview that China shared with him its plans to have 100 AP1000 reactors by 2020.

Quoting a document that has been circulated among the Chinese party and government leadership, a recent report in the Russian website has stated the commissioning of the Sanmen-I will be delayed by two years from the original target of 2013. Also, the cost of the two Sanmen blocks will reach 60 billion yuan (about $9 billion) instead of the original estimate of 40 billion yuan (about $6 billion).

This works out to about $4.5 million per MW (about Rs.19.7 crore/MW) compared to the earlier $3.5 million per MW (about Rs. 15.4 crore/MW). These costs should be compared with the cost of Rs.7 crore to Rs.8 crore/MW of indigenous reactors of PHWR design.

The NPCIL negotiators now have higher cost considerations also to contend with in their talks with the Westinghouse. Because of the issues that have cropped up in regard to AP1000, China has now apparently confirmed its plans for only 12 units.

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