INDIA IS SELF-RELIANT IN all aspects of manufacturing related to pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs). Specific capabilities have also been built up via the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) project whose components conform to French manufacturing codes (RCC-MR). With this foundation, Indian industry has been looking to enter the market for light water reactor (LWR) components and systems by participating in efforts to increase the indigenous content of imported LWR designs being built in India. To make ‘primary’ LWR systems, Indian majors have entered into collaborations with international reactor technology suppliers, while India’s smaller players are open to building components to ‘print’ or ‘specifications’. The skill base is now starting to attract the attention of some international companies which want to make India a hub for servicing the global nuclear market.

Over the years, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), India’s principal nuclear utility under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has managed to create a domestic vendor base for all systems and components that go into both small and medium-sized IPHWRs. This includes large critical components for the nuclear ‘island’ such as calandrias, end-shields, steam generators and other heat exchangers, as well as conventional side equipment including large turbines, pumps, and diesel generators.

From state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) which delivered its 40th steam generator in December 2018 to private sector major Larsen & Toubro (L&T) which has delivered 51 steam generators and 36 end shields, NPCIL today has two or Tier-II vendors from which it can source large fabricated components built in conformity with nuclear construction codes. For example, 40t stainless steel calandrias, with a 7.8m diameter and 32mm-thick walls can be supplied by Godrej PES, L&T and Walchandnagar Industries Limited (WIL).

Supporting expansion

With the supply chain in place, and to prevent exit of key suppliers from the market post-Fukushima, India sought to ramp up IPHWR-700 deployment by sanctioning construction of ten such reactors in ‘fleet mode’ in late 2017.

NPCIL’s Directorate of Technology Development (DTD) has indigenously sourced several new systems that have gone into the IPHWR-700 design. Two key safety systems that are a part of the IPHWR-700’s safety mechanism – Passive Decay Heat Removal System and Containment Spray System – would not have been successfully developed without a certain industrial pedigree. Working with domestic suppliers, DTD’s indigenisation ‘vertical’ also managed to develop and source 3-pitch long self-powered neutron detectors, various reactivity devices, radiation resistant differential pressure transmitters, heavy duty bearings, modular electrical penetration assemblies and steam generator silver gaskets for the four IPHWR-700s currently being built.

NPCIL has already started sourcing components for six of the ten IPHWR-700s sanctioned for construction in fleet mode. In 2018, L&T received orders worth Rs 7.47 billion from NPCIL for the supply of steam generators and end shields for Gorakhpur project in the Indian state of Haryana, where the first two IPHWR-700s are being built. This order came on the back of a Rs 4.42 billion contract for the supply of forgings related to steam generators placed on L&T Special Steels and Heavy Forgings Pvt Ltd (LTSSHF), which is a joint venture between L&T and NPCIL. LTSSHF, which specialises in custom-built forgings and thick plates has an annual capacity of 40,000t, although during 2017-18 orders for only about 14,000t of finished forgings was received. However, things are looking up, and L&T believes that fleet procurement opportunities in 700MWe PHWR projects “will provide large growth opportunities” in FY 2018-19.

Meanwhile, BHEL has been celebrating the fact that it has supplied the steam generators as well as the complete steam turbine generator set for Kaiga 1, a 220MWe PHWR, which recently registered 926 days of continuous operation, creating a new world record in the process. BHEL is executing a Rs 7.36 billion order for the supply of steam generators to the Gorakhpur project. India’s IPHWR-700 fleet mode build plan will also generate orders for medium-sized players such as MTAR Technologies, Hyderabad, which has supplied fuelling machine columns, bridge and carriage assemblies, fuelling machine heads and fuel handling equipment for PHWRs in the past.

Apart from PHWR-related contracts, India’s nuclear industry has also benefitted from the PFBR project. For example, MTAR today can build grid plates and various safety rod drive mechanisms for fast breeder reactors. DAE projects the start of construction on two 600MWe commercial FBRs beginning 2021, next to the PFBR site at Kalpakkam. Four more such FBRs will begin construction sometime in the 2020s resulting in another value stream for companies involved in the construction.

Major players such as Godrej will undoubtedly welcome the move to construct half a dozen medium-sized FBRs given their involvement in the PFBR project, which included the supply of primary sodium pump shafts and rotating plugs. BHEL will probably eye the conventional part of the FBR build opportunity, having erected and commissioned the entire conventional island for the PFBR. 

Of course, the greatest beneficiary would likely be L&T which has supplied about 80% of the pool-type PFBR’s components including the main vessel, safety vessel, steam generators and roof slab (reactor head). Importantly, the main and safety vessels and the roof slab, all manufactured from stainless steel with an accuracy level of within ±12mm for 13-meter diameter vessels, were delivered on schedule according to L&T. At the moment, L&T is the only company in India that can manufacture reactor heads.

LWR opportunities

With capabilities built up through decades of PHWR construction and involvement in the PFBR project, it is not surprising that India’s Tier-II suppliers have been eyeing the market for very large forgings associated with LWRs. In the immediate wake of India’s re-entry into the world of nuclear trade in 2008, several agreements were signed between Indian majors and global reactor technology vendors for projects in India, but none really took off.

The Kudankulam nuclear plant comprising Russian VVERs is the only foreign project being actively developed. The level of local content in Kudankulam 1&2 (which started operating in 2013 and 2016), is only about 20%. However, the Russian side said in 2017 that it expected this to ‘increase to over 50%’ with Kudankulam 5&6. Rosatom has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to increase the local content of the Russian VVERs built in India and Indian players like Walchandnagar which have arrangements with Atomenergomash will be looking to capitalise on New Delhi’s ability to make Russia comply with the ‘Make in India’ strategy.

L&T has had an agreement in place with AEM since 2009 and is already supplying equipment for Kudankulam 3&4, now under construction. In 2018, L&T secured an order worth Rs 16.33 billion for the supply of the main plant electrical package for Kudankulam 3&4, although it did lose the competition to supply common services system, structure and components package for these units to Reliance Infrastructure the same year. But what L&T, which is one of only ‘ten major nuclear-qualified heavy engineering enterprises worldwide’ and has an ASME-N stamp to fabricate nuclear-grade pressure vessels and core support structures, would want is to become a Tier-II supplier/system integrator for LWRs. It remains to be seen whether the Industrial Way Forward Agreement between India and France for the EPRs in Jaitapur will provide L&T with such an opportunity. During French President Macron’s visit to India last year, EDF signed an agreement with L&T, AFCEN and Bureau Veritas which covers the creation of a centre to train local companies on the technical standards applicable to the manufacture of equipment for Jaitapur.

Beyond participation in Jaitapur, L&T will in all likelihood be responsible for building the reactor pressure vessel and reactor head for DAE’s future 900MWe Indian Pressurised Water Reactor (IPWR), design and development of which is nearly complete. LTSSHF which is supposed to have a very large forging press that can accept 600t ingots will execute the order if placed. Bharat Forge Limited, which had signed agreements with both Areva and Alstom in the past, has a 16000t forging press and will also be in the reckoning for future LWR projects in India.

Outside interest

Beyond the well-established pool of players, India’s nuclear supply chain has begun attracting foreign players. A prime development in this segment would be the November 2018 memorandum of understanding signed between Holtec Asia, a subsidiary of Holtec International and the Government of the Indian state of Maharashtra for the establishment of a ‘heavy manufacturing facility to support India’s planned nuclear generation expansion’. This facility to be built with an investment of $680 million will fabricate ‘complex and safety-related equipment for nuclear power plants’, although it will also be capable of meeting the welding requirements of other sectors.

Holtec also intends to use this facility to bring down the cost of building its SMR-160 reactor by around 30%, taking advantage of lower labour costs in India.  

Author information: Saurav Jha is an author and commentator on energy and security, based in New Delhi