Photographer: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Oldest Indian Nuclear Reactors Near Mumbai May Be Shut Down

  • Tarapur 1 & 2 unprofitable, undergoing frequent maintenance
  • Nuclear Power Corp. may seek higher tariff from regulator

India may shut two of its oldest reactors almost five decades after they went into operation as power tariffs aren’t keeping pace with maintenance costs, according to Sekhar Basu, secretary at the Department of Atomic Energy.

The first two reactors at Tarapur, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Mumbai at India’s western coast, suffer frequent maintenance shutdowns that make them unprofitable, Basu said in a phone interview. They earn about 0.89 rupees (1 cent) for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced, which isn’t enough to sustain operations. Nuclear plants in India received an average tariff of 2.78 rupees per kilowatt hour in the year ended March 2015, according to the Department of Atomic Energy.

“We are pouring in money into the reactors rather than making income from them,” Basu said. “At the current tariff, it’s become unviable to run the two reactors and we may be forced to shut them down if the tariff is not increased.”

Basu didn’t provide details on the timing of a possible decommissioning, a process that can take decades and generate thousands of tons of radioactive waste. Nuclear Power Corp., the nation’s sole operator of nuclear power plants, may approach the electricity regulator for a tariff increase when operations become unsustainable, Basu said.

Liability Law

Nuclear Power spokesman N. Nagaich couldn’t be reached on his office phone for a comment. Sanjeev Kumar, chairman at Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co., which buys power from the reactors, didn’t respond to phone calls and a text message sent on his mobile phone.

The boiling water reactors, which can produce 160 megawatts each, were supplied by General Electric Co. and started operating in 1969, marking India’s foray into nuclear energy. India plans to raise atomic power capacity more than ten-fold by 2032 as part of its clean-energy drive. The expansion plans have been complicated by the nation’s liability law. The statute, which exposes plant equipment suppliers to accident claims, is borne out of concerns over nuclear safety.

‘Significant Improvements’

The nation’s older reactors, including the two at Tarapur, have gone through “significant” safety improvements based on periodic reviews, according to India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. Two other reactors, 540 megawatts each, started at Tarapur in 2005 and 2006.

Tarapur 1 and 2 aren’t capable of in-service inspections, like some newer reactors, and need to be cooled down for safety inspections, which are frequent, Basu said. One of the two reactors has been offline since Sept. 2015, according to a March 9 Central Electricity Authority report. The reactors are under International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards and run on imported uranium.

S. Harikumar, a spokesman at Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, said the two reactors are safe and don’t pose any risks.

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