India, presently operates 22 nuclear reactors with an installed capacity of 6,780 MWe (mega watt electrical), of which, eight reactors with aggregate capacity of 2,400 MWe are fuelled by indigenous uranium while the remaining 14 with a capacity of 4,380 MWe are under IAEA Safeguards and therefore can use both indigenous or imported uranium.
Two Australian companies BHP Billiton, the world’s biggest mining company, and Heathgate Resources, an affiliate of US company General Atomics, are in talks with the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) for exporting uranium to India. Without going into the details or the specifics of the case or the uranium vendors that are in the fray for potential supply contracts, the company stated “There has been real progress around this (on uranium) and we expect to make further progress,” Birmingham told a group of visiting Indian journalists.
Australia’s trade and investment minister Simon Birmingham has indicated that both India and Australia are making lot of progress on the issue.
As per an update on the issue by the DAE, a sales contract for enabling the transfer, which is part of the ongoing commercial negotiations between potential Australian uranium vendors and the DAE on fuel contracts for civil nuclear-power generation, is currently under discussion. Once the contract is wrapped up, Australian companies could potentially join utilities from four other countries that are already supplying nuclear fuel to India.
In July 2017, Australia had sent its first uranium shipment to India which was a small sample of uranium transferred purely for testing purposes. Imported uranium from Australia, as and when despatches start, would be used to meet fuel requirements of Indian nuclear reactors that are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, as is the case with fuel imports that have come in so far from Russia’s JSC TVEL Corp, Kazakhstan’s JSC NAC KazatomProm, France’s Areva and Canada’s Cameco.
Regular supply of uranium from Australia will not only bring the two countries closer but will also give a boost to the performance of Indian nuclear power plants, as well as of several fuel cycle facilities. Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had signed an agreement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on civil nuclear cooperation in September 2014, clearing the way for uranium sales.
Discussions with Melbourne-based BHP and Adelaide-based Heathgate Resources are aimed at formalising commercial contracts to enable uranium shipments to India. Under the separation plan announced by the Indian government in March 2006, India declared to bring 14 reactors under IAEA safeguards in a phased manner. Thirteen of these reactors, including RAPS 2 to 6 at Rawatbhata, Rajasthan; KAPS 1 and 2 at Kakrapar, Gujarat; NAPS 1 and 2 at Narora, Uttar Pradesh; TAPS 1 and 2 at Tarapur, Maharashtra; Kudankulam 1 and 2 in Tamil Nadu; are already under IAEA safeguards, and can run on imported fuel.