DAE pulled up for nuclear fuel shortage

Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI: The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) has rapped the Department of Atomic Energy for being unable to exploit the country’s uranium resources for running atomic power plants which led them to their being operated at half the capacity or less.

The country’s nuclear power plants operated at 80 per cent efficiency in 1999-2003 but power generation dropped considerably after an increase in the number of reactors. This was due to inadequate fuel available because of India’s isolation from the global commerce mainstream and the DAE’s inability to operationalise indigenous mines.

This fuel mismatch led to a continuing drop in efficiency despite the fact that uranium ore was available in large quantities in several States. The average capacity generation of pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs ) slumped from 80 per cent in 2002-03 to 72, 67, 64, and 50 per cent, respectively, during 2003-08.

“This resulted in the PHWRs operating at lower capacity and denying the nation the full benefits of clean nuclear energy to the extent of 21,845 million units corresponding to Rs. 5,986 crore calculated at an average tariff of Rs. 2.74 per unit,” the CAG report noted. It observed that the DAE based its fuel needs for 15 PHWRs on the availability of uranium rather than actual demand for running the atomic power units at maximum capacity. “The formal demand on nuclear fuel cycle was based more on the availability of uranium rather than on the requirement of the fuel for the PHWRs at its maximum capacity, to enable it to generate optimum nuclear power,” it noted in this respect.

The DAE, in its response said the CAG’s observations amounted to a “theoretical exercise that can lead to misleading conclusions” and pointed out that plants were being operated at lower levels to conserve fuel. While nuclear reactors were being constructed largely on schedule, the development of uranium mines got delayed primarily due to external factors. The DAE was trying its best to open new mines despite hurdles such as law and order issues and environmental clearances.

Unimpressed by the explanation, the CAG said the DAE’s “best efforts” were “belated” and did not yield the desired results. “The DAE, as the implementing department of the government of India for the nuclear power programme, needs to effectively address these factors referred by them as being external to them,” it felt.

The CAG also pulled up the DAE for seeking approval for constructing four new PHWR although there was shortage of uranium fuel. “The DAE had not linked or ensured availability of fuel to fully address the needs of the PHWR programme up to 2020.”

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