Suicidal to involve Westinghouse
Modi government is refusing to learn lessons from the past.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is refusing to learn any lessons from the developments in the global civilian nuclear power industry in the recent past. Despite the precarious financial position of the US company Westinghouse after the Japanese major Toshiba's withdrawal from the nuclear power business, Indian government has agreed to involve this bankrupt US company in the civilian nuclear power generation programme as a result of the big pressure from the Trump administration. At the recent India-US summit on June 26, the issue was discussed and the White House came out with a statement that the United States and India are committed to realizing commercial civil nuclear cooperation, in particular through a contract for six Westinghouse Electric AP-1000 nuclear reactors to be built in Andhra Pradesh.
Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar reciprocated the statement by mentioning that by the end of this year, Westinghouse will rework the arrangement and be back in business. The indication is that just to save the ailing US nuclear power reactor manufacturing industry, India will opt for an uncertain future and planning for the nuclear power reactors by still involving Westinghouse which stands discredited globally for its performance in constructing and delivering nuclear power plants to the designated countries as per the agreements.
Indications suggest that India's US$20 billion civil nuclear plant deal with bankrupt Westinghouse is being reworked in such a way that the US company will limit itself to designing and consultancy role leaving the construction part, to others. The Government owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd which will be doing the construction work in collaboration with others, will have to deal with a number of stakeholders, making its earlier composite agreement with Westinghouse infructuous. The NPCIL is now in a piquant situation as no clear idea has emerged about the future course of the operations of the US company. The only assurance is that it will be back in business by the end of 2017.
Experts associated with the nuclear power industry maintain that even if the US company offers to limit itself to design and consultancy job, its recent record of constructing its AP1000 plants is too dismal to inspire any confidence in its capability. The AP-1000 plants in China had to be delayed due to continuous design problems and quality issues. The four Westinghouse nuclear plants under construction in the US are years behind schedule and there were complaints about problems in designing and other issues.
Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection in March this year but the earlier agreed understanding was that the Westinghouse-Toshiba nuclear deal details will be negotiated by June 2017, but the US company failed to meet the deadline and now at the intervention of the two governments at the highest political level, the US company has been given time till the end of this year to submit fresh proposals. Though no money has exchanged hands and the techno-economic negotiations were suspended after the bankruptcy declaration by Westinghouse, the unusual delay is costing India heavily and the NPCIL is clueless about how to go about with its projected programmes.
India has set a target tripling its nuclear power generating capacity by 2024 and the Westinghouse programme is an important part of that. While the nuclear power programme in collaboration with the Russian Government, is proceeding smoothly and further expansion has been worked out at the Modi-Putin summit on June 1 this year, the US collaboration programme has landed in a big mess.
As the seasoned experts of nuclear power industry see it, Westinghouse's attraction earlier was for the composite deal in association with Toshiba and now after Toshiba's withdrawal and Westinghouse's bankruptcy as also the bleak record of its technology in respect of its AP-1000 nuclear reactors, there is no incentive for India to go for Westinghouse. Only because of the US pressure and Indian Government's willingness to take it as a part of the composite India-US understanding, India is taking the hit in this nuclear power programme with US collaboration.
The Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement was signed in 2008 under which Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi were to build six nuclear reactors each in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Initially, Westinghouse was allocated the Mithi Virdi site in Gujarat but was later given the Kovvada site in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. Westinghouse had originally planned to build up AP-1000 nuclear reactors with a capacity of 1208 MW each. There is no such similar functional nuclear power project by Westinghouse in any part of the world. Still, Indian Government has given green signal to the US company to submit its reworked project proposal.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)