India hopeful of signing nuclear plant deal with Westinghouse soon

Koodankulam is the last major nuclear plant to be commissioned

India’s junior minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Jitendra Singh, today said the government was still hopeful of signing a deal to set up a massive, 7.2 GW nuclear power plant in partnership with US-based Westinghouse Electric.

Singh, who was responding to a question in the parliament today, said Westinghouse’s bankruptcy delayed proceedings, but preparations are currently in full swing.

“In May 2017, the Cabinet gave the “in principle” approval for establishing AP 1000 x 6 reactors with the Westinghouse and 1594 MWe x 6 reactors with General Electric (G.E). Since Westinghouse took more interest [in the talks], the discussion progressed well with them compared with G.E. However, Westinghouse filed bankruptcy protection in the U.S. in March 2017 after suffering huge cost overruns in its U.S. projects,” Singh said.

Westinghouse was acquired by Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Corp in 2006 for $5.4 billion.

However, the company became unviable for Toshiba to run after it suffered cost overruns of billions of dollars at four nuclear reactors under construction in the US Southeast. The bankruptcy, and Toshiba’s efforts to find a buyer for Westinghouse, had reportedly set the alarm bells ringing at the Trump White House in 2017 due to fears that China may acquire the company.

The company was finally sold to Brookfield Business Partners, the private equity division of Canada-based Brookfield Asset Management, last year.

Minister Singh said the government is still keen to go ahead with the project, and the final details of a proposal are being worked on.

“Land acquisition for the project at Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh is at an advanced stage. The process of obtaining Environmental clearance from Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, site investigations and Techno-commercial discussions are in progress at the site so as to arrive at a project proposal for setting up six AP 1000 reactors of 1,208 MWe each. On the emergence of a viable project proposal and accord of administrative approval and financial sanction by the Central Government, the commercial agreement will be signed with M/s. Westinghouse and work on the project commenced,” he said.

The project is part of India’s efforts to find non-fossil-based power sources on an urgent basis to mitigate the impact of global warming.

Global warming has led to an increase in extreme weather events in the country, particularly floods, and threatens to wreak havoc with weather patterns in the subcontinent, leading to massive internal displacement of populations.

In August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed India’s commitment to meeting the nationally determined contributions or NCDs agreed as a part of the Paris Agreement of 2015.

However, many environmental activists have opposed the strategy of building mega nuclear power plants to counter climate change, arguing that these posed a different kind of threat to the environment.