THE PAPER | India - From ‘Nuclear Apartheid’ to Nuclear Multi-Alignment

Undoubtedly, the Indian nuclear energy programme is at the cusp of an expansion but there are many policies or institutional disjoints that needs urgent attention.

Dr. Sitakanta Mishra
Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University

Turn of Destiny

India’s independence coincided with dawn of nuclear era in world politics. It wasted no time in deciding not to lag behind in this scientific march mainly to uplift its teeming million with a better standard of living. India tamed the atom purely for social, economic, and scientific purposes unlike all other nations who started their nuclear journey with weapons programme.

With the change in geopolitical situation around India and the nuclear weapon states’ disavowal of India’s clarion call for global nuclear disarmament, India moved to the other side of the fence in 1974. Since then it has been viewed as an outcast in the nuclear community along with all multilateral sanctions imposed on it. But the state of affairs turned in such a way after its second round of nuclear test in 1998 that “not even India could have expected that a trade embargo on nuclear and related commerce, evolved because of India, would be lifted purely for India”.[1]

Today it has initiated civil nuclear cooperation with around two dozen countries and equal number of industrial houses while aspiring for membership of the supplier cartels. India has transited from its status of a “nuclear apartheid” country [2] to a “responsible state with advanced nuclear technology”[3] through a strategy of alignments with multiple global players to harness atom as viable source of its energy security.

The Rationale

India’s promise of ‘electricity to all’ by 2012 [4] could not be achieved, and this target seems to be un-achievable in the near future given the present total power generation of around 210 GW vis-à-vis growing demand. To improve India’s average annual per capita consumption of electricity which is much bellow the world’s average, the amount of energy available for India would have to be doubled by 2020 and redoubled during the next decade. 

Even if India’s per capita energy consumption was to rise to 5,000 kWh from the 1010 kWh of today, it would still suffer an energy deficit of 421 GW by 2050. If its GDP grows at 7-8% per annum, the energy requirements of India are expected to grow at 5.6-6.4 % per annum over the next few years.[5] This implies a four-fold increase in India’s energy requirement over the next 25 years.

Therefore, India will continue to depend on large scale energy import which is vulnerable to price fluctuation and geopolitical vagaries. India’s crude oil imports till last year accounted for 77% of the total demand, heavily straining its exchequer.[6] The option of sourcing gas or oil from the neighbourhood through network of pipelines has been a matter of geo-political vagaries.

The domestic energy production scenario is not positive either. Indian coal is of low quality and the transport cost of coal is expensive. India’s coal imports would rise seven-fold by 2030 if the current energy mix is not changed.[7] Harnessing renewable energy sources like solar, tidal, hydro, geothermal, and biofuels is viable but none of these options, except hydro power in a few places, is found abundant where large scale power generation is concerned. Also, their intermittent natures make them unreliable for generating base-load energy. Moreover, if India’s economy continues to depend upon thermal and coal sources, it is certain that carbon emission would rise significantly.

Given the country-wide nuclear infrastructure and scientific-technological skills available, nuclear power could be a viable option to address India’s energy security. Also empirical studies suggest that the Long Range Marginal Cost (LRMC) of nuclear energy or nuclear power supply at locations far away from other sources like coal or hydel would be cost-effective. Owing to reduction in construction time, improvements in nuclear plant capacity factors and efficient resource management in recent years have further rationalized the unit cost of nuclear energy. For example, the Tarapur Atomic Power Plant (TAPP) 3 and 4 has not only been constructed in the scheduled time but also at a cost lower than the original estimation. 

The Imperatives  

The key to the nuclear projects however is uranium which is in short supply in India. The country’s reserves stand only at 78,000 tonnes of low-grade ore[8], which requires processing before it becomes usable for reactors. Four mines in Singhbhum (Bihar) produce only 220 tonnes of uranium concentrate. In addition, 120 tonnes come from byproducts like tailings from phosphate, zinc and copper mines.  

India’s 21 operating civilian reactors require 500 to 600 tonnes of uranium concentrate annually to produce desired electricity.[9] Two more mines, one in Meghalaya (Domiasat) and another in Karnataka, may begin operation in the next few years, increasing the output to about 600 tonnes. Generating 47,000 MW of nuclear energy by 2025 as India envisaged will require huge amounts of uranium. India will need as much as 100,000 tonnes of new ore but the chances of finding it within the country are slim. The Indo-US nuclear deal has opened up the window for India to carve out uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel and technology to realize its ambitious nuclear energy programme, an imperative for India’s energy security.

Status and Projection  

The current installed capacity of nuclear power in India stands at 5,780 Mwe with an overall Capacity Utilisation Factor (CF) of its nuclear power plants at 70-80%. It contributes around 3 per cent of the country’s current total electricity production. At this stage, 21 reactors [18 Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), 2 Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs), and one Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR)] are in operation. In addition, 5 others [4 PHWRs, 1 VVERs] are under construction. By 2017 on completion of reactors under construction the estimated total production will reach around 10,000 MWe.[10] Also, construction of reactors of different varieties (16 HWRs, 2 FBRs, and 28 LWRs) has been proposed in the long-term.  

“Following the fruition of international cooperation in the field of nuclear energy in 2008, India’s nuclear power generation has grown from 14,927 million units (MU) of electricity in 2008-09 to 35,333 MU in 2013-14.”[11] Notably, the Unit 5 of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station become the second longest running reactor in the world by being in operation for 765 days continuously with a capacity factor of 105 per cent which generated around 4,258 MU of electricity. India envisages the production of 20,000 MWe by 2020. By 2023-24 with new launch planned (in XII Plan, including 10,500 MW of LWR) the combined production would reach 27,480 MWe.   

In the near term, the aim is to cater for 6-9 per cent of India’s electricity requirement through the nuclear route. Further projections entail tripling of production by 2032 – 63,000 MW through a mix of indigenous PHWRs & FBRs, and LWRs based on foreign technical cooperation – and up to 470 GWe by 2050, providing half of India’s total electricity requirements.

Organisational Strategy  

In pursuit of achieving the target, India has embarked on an integral and coordinated plan of growth for accelerated capacity expansion of the nuclear energy sector: coordinate among specialised institutions like the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), research institutes like the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and academic institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs) and other universities. However, India may require a nuclear workforce of around 16,000 by 2020 and 50,400 by 2032, requiring India to increase the existing training and education infrastructure fivefold.  

According to Dr R.B. Grover, the Vice-Chancellor of Homi Bhabha National Institute (HBNI) Mumbai, neither there is shortage of nuclear workforce, nor any lack of interest for this discipline in the country. India follows an open recruitment policy in regard to nuclear sector. Any graduate with technical-scientific bachelor degree can be inducted, as nuclear projects are multi-disciplinary endeavours, with a few year nuclear engineering orientation courses by the establishment itself. Certainly, the nuclear engineering related courses and training are imparted mainly in DAE establishments. The HBNI, umbrella centre, caters to the national nuclear workforce demand. It produces now around 160 PhD theses, 250 MTech engineers per year. In terms of R&D and training infrastructure, all activities today are confined to BARC. However, a second such facility is under construction in Visakhapatnam which will significantly augment both R&D and nuclear workforce training in the country.  

The third is the plan for privatization of nuclear energy sector in a smooth and phased manner. Under the current expansion scheme, around two dozen industrial houses, both domestic and international, are involved through collaboration and share-holding. Domestic private industrial houses like Larson & Toubro (L&T), Tata, Relience, Punj Lloyd, etc. and multinational houses like Westinghouse, Areva, GE, Sandpit, are some of the front runners. Their partnership at this moment will confine to supply of certain components only.  

India’s current civil nuclear framework also involves public-private participation, mobilising domestic and international cooperation. In the long-run India would opt for “localization” of its nuclear energy programme. The firm selling India the reactor will buy components as much as possible from domestic firms. Reportedly, Areva is planning to buy heavy forging from Indian firms for the Jaitapur nuclear plant. “L&T will be the first Indian firm to produce them though competition is planned by Bharat for heavy forge components for a planned American deal with GE-Hitachi for 1530 MW ESBWR reactors at Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh.”[12] It also manufactured the turbines for the two Russian built 1000 MW VVERs commissioned at Kudakulam.

In the long-term, the strategy also envisages India’s effective participation in the global nuclear commerce by supplying reactor technology, plant construction, maintenance and services if India gets the NSG membership. Today India supplies only Heavy Water to a number of countries including USA, Canada, South Korea. It has also supplied the Bhabhatronics (radiotherapy machine) to countries like Sri Lanka. After getting NSG membership, India can participate in the nuclear energy programmes of the neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc. In the long-run India expects to export its 220 MWe reactors that would be ideally suited for the Southeast Asian countries’ smaller electricity grids. Indian companies can export nuclear reactor building skills, operation and maintenance services.

Deals So Far [13]

France was the first NSG member to ink an MoU (Sep 30, 2008) with India, as even the Indo-US deal was awaiting Congressional approval. After the IAEA safeguard agreement was concluded, Areva signed a deal worth US$ 12.3 billion with NPCIL to provide India six new-generation reactors at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. On April 10, 2015, the NPCIL and AREVA have entered into a Pre-Engineering Agreement (PEA) for setting up of two EPR rectors of 1650 MWe each to be set up in Jaitapur. Reportedly, during 2008-2014 Areva has supplied 300MT uranium to India.  

Russia signed a broad-based agreement in the civil nuclear field with India on December 7, 2009, to ensure transfer of technology and uninterrupted uranium fuel supplies. The pact promises enrichment and reprocessing rights and access to high end technology. According to sources, Russian nuclear fuel manufacturer TVEL has supplied the first batch of 30 tonnes of pellets on April 8, 2009, for India’s PHWRs. With the operationalisation of Kudankulam-1 in 2014, and the second unit almost ready to go online, the India-Russia nuclear cooperation has acquired a new solidity. India and Russia have signed a contract for the supply of the main equipment for the third and fourth reactors of the Kudankulam NPP, sorting out the contentious issue of liability. At the end of December 2014, documents were signed for the construction of the second phase of Kudankulam NPP as well as a “road map” for the construction of 20-24 units, against previously agreed 14-16 plants, during the next 20 years. Reportedly, during 2008-2014, imports of uranium by India totalled 4,458 metric tonnes.   

The Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation turned full circle on February 4, 2010, when President Obama certified India’s placement of its nuclear facilities under the IAEA safeguards. According to the US-India Business Council (USIBC), Indo-US nuclear deal could add up to US$ 150 billion over the next 30 years. L&T has signed an MoU with Westinghouse for work involving engineering, procurement, construction and manufacturing activities for the AP 1000 modular nuclear reactors. The proposed investment is US$ 1 billion. Following their meeting in Washington in September 2014, Prime Minister Modi and President Obama had “reaffirmed their commitment to implement fully the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement”, and established a Contact Group on advancing the implementation of nuclear cooperation. Government expects to seal a contract with Westinghouse to build six nuclear reactors this year.

Kazakhstan became the fourth country to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with India in January 2009. The scope of the agreement involves export of uranium from Kazakhstan which is currently the world’s second largest producer and caters for 15 per cent of the world’s uranium needs. Reportedly, during 2008-2014, Kazatomprom, the state-owned nuclear holding company, has supplied around 2,100MT of uranium to India so far.

Namibia, the fifth-largest producer of good quality uranium in the world signed a civil nuclear deal with India (on August 31, 2009). Initially, under the Agreement on Cooperation in Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy, the two sides will trade uranium and exchange expertise in designing of atomic plants, and train personnel.   

On October 14, 2009, India inked an Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy with Argentina during President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner’s state visit to India. The two countries have agreed to encourage and support scientific technical and commercial cooperation for mutual benefit in this field. An Institutional Cooperation Agreement between the Argentina Council on Scientific and Technical Research (COICET) and Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) India has been signed in this regard.  

India has signed an agreement on June 28, 2010 with Canada paving the way for its firms to take part in India’s multi-billion nuclear energy business. The Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) aims to enter into technology, marketing or even ownership partnerships with its Indian counterparts. The Indian firm L&T has signed an MoU with AECL covering development of the Candu ACR 1000 heavy-water moderated reactor for the Indian market. On April 14-16, 2015 a uranium supply contract between Canada’s Cameco Corp and DAE worth $350 million has been signed. Cameco will supply 3,220 metric tonnes of uranium concentrate over five years, beginning 2015. According to the Canadian government, the contract to supply 7.1 million pounds of uranium concentrate (about 2730 tU) to India was worth around CAD 350 million ($262 million). The first shipment of uranium (250 tonnes) under the contract had arrived in India in first week of December 2015.  

As far as India-UK civil nuclear cooperation is concerned, both countries have signed a declaration on February 11, 2010 to cooperate in the field of nuclear safety. The British companies specialising in nuclear safety and research have resumed contacts. The two countries had decided in February 2013 during UK Premier David Cameron's visit to India to start negotiations on a civil nuclear pact to facilitate the entry of British companies into Indian atomic power sector. In July 2014, the two sides agreed to launch negotiations for civil nuclear cooperation pact, nearly one-and-a-half years after Cameron and Manmohan Singh decided to have such a pact. However, no substantial steps have been taken since then; potential British suppliers are in the private sector, therefore, the British government has reportedly raised the issue of New Delhi’s public sector driven nuclear commerce.  

Besides, many more countries including Belgium, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Spain, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, Niger, China, UAE, etc. are interested partners India is engaged with.

Reluctant Partners  

Though Japan and Australia did not come in the way of the NSG waiver on India, they were reluctant to trade with a non-NPT country. Japan was reluctant to open its doors to non-NPT India for nuclear commerce. Till December 2015 no understanding could be reached except a joint statement by Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe following a meeting in Tokyo on 1 September 2014, “affirming the importance of civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries.”[14] After sustained negotiations, the “second most valuable international civil nuclear agreement” was signed between India and Japan during the Japanese Prime Minister Sinzo Abe’s visit to New Delhi in December 2015. The deal will make it easier for industrial houses like Westinghouse (US) and Areva (France) to resume their investments in Indian nuclear energy sector, all of which needed India to have a nuclear pact with Japan as Toshiba (Japan) has major share in them.  

Australia was equally hesitant, but subsequently valued the nuclear cooperation with India and signed an MoU on September 5, 2014, for ‘Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy’ during Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's visit to New Delhi that came into force in November 2015. An understanding is reached for long-term supply of uranium, production of radio isotopes, nuclear safety, and cooperation other areas.

Legal Mechanisms  

As part of its international obligations, and safe operation of nuclear energy projects at home, India has devised, promulgated, and adhered to important domestic as well as multilateral legal instruments, more expeditiously after the Indo-US nuclear deal.   

To prohibit unlawful activities, in relation to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems, India promulgated the WMD Act in 2005 to regulate the export, re-transfer, re-export, transit, and transshipment of any items related to the development, production, handling, operation, maintenance, storage, or dissemination of a WMD or missile delivery device.[15]   

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act of 2010 (CLND Act 2010)[16] has been highly debated mainly for the fixation of liability on the suppliers, a policy complete contrary to the current international norms. India’s liability law empowers the operator to claim the liabilities from the manufacturer and supplier if the item is found malfunctioned leading to disaster.  

The operator liability is capped at varying amounts depending upon the facility at which an accident may take place — nuclear power reactors 1,500 crores; reprocessing plants 300 crores; and research reactors 100 crores. On 4 February 2016, India has signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for nuclear damage, an international pool which will reimburse the government up to 300 million (2,800 crore) Special Drawing Rights (SDR). In January 2016, India has approved setting up a Nuclear Liability Fund with a corpus of Rs 2,000 crore that will allow the government to pitch in if accident occurs.  

A Nuclear Insurance Pool of 15 billion rupees ($222 million) is planned as risk transfer mechanism which is formed by the General Insurance Corporation (GIC Re) and four other public sector undertakings contributing Rs 750 crore to the pool and the balance capacity would be contributed by the government on a tapering basis.[17]

Drafted in the backdrop of Bhopal gas tragedy, in the liability law some stringent clauses were forced upon the then UPA government by Arun Jaitley in 2011 who was then the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha. Especially the Article 17 gives plant operators ‘right of recourse’ against equipment suppliers. As a result, interested countries to do civil nuclear business with India did not come forward for commercial contract. Perhaps, Indian leaders had the false impression that the sheer size of India’s nuclear market would bring anyone to their doors.   

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to increase the nuclear component of India’s energy mix and eager to trade with foreign countries including US, his government has reasserted the validity of the 2011 announcement that capped suppliers’ liability. It then asked the MEA to come out with clarifications that clause 17(b) of the liability law will remain mostly on paper and that the section 46, which refers to the right of victims to sue in case of a nuclear accident according to ‘tort’ law, will not apply to the suppliers. Besides, to shield the operator, NPCIL, and the suppliers against claims, in 2015 his government created the insurance pool. The ratification of the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damages (CSC) by India in February 2016 is also viewed to have further comforted the foreign vendors. However, Modi government seems to have convinced US to withdraw its demand of ‘tracking’ of the nuclear fuel supplied by US to India. The Toshiba-owned American firm Westinghouse and NPCIL have reportedly agreed during Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit to USA for deal on setting up six reactors in Andhra Pradesh.[18]

Policy Disjoints  

Undoubtedly, the Indian nuclear energy programme is at the cusp of an expansion but there are many policies or institutional disjoints that needs urgent attention. 

First, India’s nuclear organizational structure though well laid out, the relation between the promoting agency (DAE) and the regulatory agency (AERB) requires a fresh look.The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) bill is lapsed and need to be reintroduced with appropriate modifications for a more robust regulatory mechanism.  

Second, there is the need of overarching security apparatus for all nuclear installations. As of today, the physical security of nuclear installations is provided by a mix of multiple organisations such as the CISF, the local police, and sometimes even with private security organisations. On the other hand, material accounting is done by the DAE, and the review of security practices is the responsibility of the AERB. Thus, there are multiple organisations in charge of the various aspects of nuclear security in the country.   

Third, there viewed to be programme confusion as some reactors connected to the grid but are marked “strategic” under the separation plan. Confusion also remains regarding the status of the spent fuel generated out of these reactors.  

Lastly, as more projects are in the pipeline, domestic public support is crucial. Therefore, a concerted effort to enhance public acceptance of nuclear energy must be devised through a country-wide nuclear information management strategy and education.

About the Author:

Dr. Sitakanta Mishra, is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Liberal Studies at Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University teaches International Relation. He can be reached via his Linkedin profile or via email.

Cite This Article:

Mishra, S "THE PAPER |  India - From ‘Nuclear Apartheid’ to Nuclear Multi-Alignment" IndraStra Global, Vol. 002, Issue No:06 (2016) , 0017


[1] C Raja Mohan, Crossing the Rubicon: The Shaping of India's New Foreign Policy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

[2] Jaswant Singh, “Against Nuclear Apartheid”,, September/October 1998.

[3] “Joint Statement by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh”, White House Press Release, Office of the Press Secretary, Washington, DC, July 18, 2005,

[4] “Electricity for all by 2012: Power Minister”,, December 8, 2014

[5] P. Garg, “Energy Scenario and Vision 2020 in India”,

[6] “India to cut down 10% crude oil import by 2022, says Dharmendra Pradhan”,, April 17, 2015.

[7] G. Srinivasan, “Higher energy demand in India will raise import of oil, gas, coal”,, November 8, 2007.

[8] Ashley J Tellis, “Atoms for War?”,, p. 17.

[9] “Nuclear Power in India”,

[10] NPCIL,;

[11] “Capacity utilisation of India's nuclear reactors rises to 83%”,, February 25, 2015.

[12] “India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes shopping”,, April 12, 2015

[13] Sitakanta Mishra, “India’s Civil Nuclear Network: A Reality Check”, Air Power, vol. 5, no. 4, Oct-Dec 2010.

[14] “India, Japan to accelerate civil nuclear deal”,, September 1, 2014.

[15] “The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) act, 2005”,

[16] “The Civil Liability Of Nuclear Damage Act, 2010”,,2010.%20(38%20OF2010).pdf

[17] “Govt sets up Rs. 1500-crore nuclear insurance pool”,, June 13, 2015.

[18] “US firm, NPCIL to set up 6 nuclear reactors in India”,,  June 04, 2016



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IndraStra Global: THE PAPER | India - From ‘Nuclear Apartheid’ to Nuclear Multi-Alignment
THE PAPER | India - From ‘Nuclear Apartheid’ to Nuclear Multi-Alignment
Undoubtedly, the Indian nuclear energy programme is at the cusp of an expansion but there are many policies or institutional disjoints that needs urgent attention.
IndraStra Global
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