Nuclear power station in the Swiss countryside near Bern

India to build 10 nuclear reactors while Switzerland votes on nuclear ban

Image credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

Prime Minister Nerendra Modi’s cabinet has approved plans to build 10 new nuclear reactors of Indian design, in order to more than double its entire current capacity. Meanwhile, Switzerland faces a referendum banning new nuclear power stations and subsiding renewable energy.

The Indian government is aiming for an ambitious ninefold boost in its nuclear capacity by 2032. Currently, 300 million Indian citizens still lack access to electricity.

India has a current nuclear capacity of 6780MW, provided by 22 plants publicly owned by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. There are already plans in place to build another 6700MW of capacity by 2021-22 and the 10 new reactors will add a combined capacity of 7000MW.

The reactors will be the latest design of India’s own Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR). This reactor design was fast-tracked, following difficulties negotiating for foreign suppliers to build in India.

Westinghouse, the US reactor maker owned by Toshiba, had been in talks to build six of its AP1000 reactors in India. However, the company has been beset by financial difficulties, filing for bankruptcy in the US in March after revealing billions of dollars of overrun costs in its American ventures. Toshiba have also faced a tangle of complications with the proposed Moorside Nuclear Power Station in the UK.

A preliminary pact had been signed with French supplier EDF to build six European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) in the country, although the construction of EPRs in Finland, France and China have been affected by delays and mounting costs.

A senior government official said that plans to build the PHWRs does not signal a step away from foreign suppliers, but in order to proceed, projects must be proven to be financially and technologically sound.

“They have to sort out their financial issues before anything can come on the table,” said Sekhar Basu, secretary of the government’s Department of Atomic Energy. “We will not buy a reactor unless a plant is operating in their own country.”

Basu said that the reactors could be delivered at a cost of 15 million rupees (£180,000) per MW of installed capacity. The first reactor is hoped to be completed within seven years.

A government statement announced that the new build was expected to generate more than 33,400 jobs in “a major step towards strengthening India’s credentials as a major nuclear manufacturing powerhouse”.

While India prepared to multiply its nuclear capacity, Swiss voters are preparing to vote in a referendum which could completely ban new nuclear power plants

The “Energy Strategy 2050” proposes subsiding new renewable energy supplies while putting an end to new nuclear builds, ahead of the eventual phase out of Switzerland’s five active plants. Polls suggest that the legislation will pass, although support is ebbing away.

Currently, solar and wind power provide for under five per cent of Swiss energy consumption, while hydroelectric power provides 60 per cent, and nuclear 35 per cent.

The law aims to quadruple Switzerland’s renewable energy output from 2.821GWh to 11.4GWh by 2035. Renewables would be elevated to “national interest” status, helping them overcome legal challenges over a project’s environmental or aesthetic impact.

The renewables subsidy would come from hiking charges on electricity users to raise 480 million francs each year. Support would also be provided for loss-making hydroelectric utilities, and to help build new hydroelectric power stations.

Switzerland is not the only European country to be shifting away from its dependence on nuclear power. Following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, Germany announced plans to close all of its nuclear power plants by 2022.

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