On 22 April 2021, Electricite de France (EDF) submitted to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) a binding techno-commercial offer to develop six EPR reactors at the Jaitapur site in Maharashtra, India with an installed capacity of 9.6 GWe. EDF said: “This major milestone for EDF, its partners and the French nuclear industry will enable discussions aimed at converging towards a binding framework agreement in the coming months.”

The offer is the culmination of the work carried out jointly with NPCIL further to the signature of the Industrial Way Forward Agreement (IWFA) in March 2018 during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macronin to New Delhi, and to the submission of EDF's non-binding proposal at the end of 2018, EDF noted. The offer from EDF and its partners includes:

  • the detailed technical configuration of the reactors, taking into account the information provided by NPCIL on the Jaitapur site conditions and the joint comprehensive work performed by EDF and NPCIL;
  • the associated comprehensive commercial terms and conditions for the supply of engineering studies and equipment for six EPR reactors.

The EDF statement said the offer “is based on the complementary skills of EDF and NPCIL, and aims to build a long-term partnership between the French and Indian nuclear industries. Its main principles are as follows:

  • EDF provides the EPR technology including engineering studies and equipment for construction of the reactors. EDF relies on the know-how of its subsidiary, Framatome, to supply the engineering studies and equipment for the nuclear steam supply systems, and partners with its historical partner GE Steam Power for the supply of the engineering studies and equipment of the conventional islands, all of which are to be equipped with the French ArabelleTM steam turbine.
  • EDF guarantees the performance of each of the EPR units under specific conditions and for a predefined period of time.
  • EDF offers training services for NPCIL's future operating teams.
  • EDF is neither an investor in the project nor in charge of the construction.
  • NPCIL is responsible for the construction and commissioning of each of the units, as well as for obtaining all necessary permits and consents in India, including the certification of the EPR technology by the Indian safety regulator, as the owner and future operator of the plant.
  • During the construction phase, NPCIL may benefit from EDF and its partners’ assistance, notably regarding the sharing of other EPR project-related lessons learned.

In line with the "Make in India" and "Skill India" national initiatives and for the industrial benefit of the project, EDF and its partners also aim to encourage the involvement of India’s industrial sector. EDF said that “in this spirit”, it is deploying a strategy based on:

  • in-depth work to identify Indian companies that could be selected as suppliers of the project; to date, some 200 companies have already been pre-qualified;
  • the setup of an engineering platform in India, in particular to carry out part of the detailed engineering studies and all execution plans;
  • the launch of a pre-feasibility study, conducted by EDF, I2EN (International Institute of Nuclear Energy) and VJTI (Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute), for the establishment of a centre of excellence in India aiming to train engineers and technicians, and to support the development of the necessary set of skills for the project.

The socio-economic benefits of the project for India would be significant, with the creation of around 25,000 local jobs during the construction phase for two EPR units, as well as tens of thousands of indirect and induced jobs. Operation of the six units would create around 2,700 permanent jobs. EDF said the project would also generate significant economic benefits for the French nuclear industry over the entire duration of the project (approximately 15 years), with tens of thousands of jobs in the hundred or so involved French companies.

The agreement has been a long time coming. The Jaitapur project has been under discussion since 2009, and received initial environmental approval in 2010. A contract for pre-engineering studies was signed by Areva and NPCIL in April 2015, but EDF subsequently took over the project from the financially compromised Areva, after Areva sold its reactor arm to EDF. However, the project continued to face delays due to multiple local protests and French concerns about liability issues.

India's liability legislation has been a major obstacle to planned nuclear deals with France and the USA. Following the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy which killed at least 4000 and left another 4000 severely disabled, and for which no adequate compensation has ever been paid by the US companies involved, India's parliament passed a law making equipment suppliers responsible for any accident. India adopted a Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act in 2010 making Indian operators primarily liable for any nuclear accident, but leaving open the possibility of recourse to suppliers. A compromise on liability was reached with Russia, which proceeded with construction at the Kudankulam NPP and an insurance scheme was then put in place offering suppliers some further protection. In February 2016 India ratified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), which it had signed in 2010.

The Jaitapur project was revived in January 2016 during French President Francois Hollande’s visit to India with the aim of starting the implementation of the project in early 2017. The March 2018 IWFA provided for a preliminary tender by EDF to be submitted in the following weeks, and a ‘binding’ EDF tender by the end of that year. However, India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), which controls NPCIL, maintained that no foreign reactor design could be built unless a reference plant was operational. So the ‘final’ contract was deferred until DAE could study the post-commissioning progress of Taishan 1 in China or Flamanville 3 in France.

Nevertheless, in June 2018, GE and EDF signed a strategic cooperation agreement for the planned construction of the Jaitapur project as a step towards implementing the IWFA. EDF and GE Power said they would define the project’s technical options, fine-tune industrial arrangements and finalise the design-engineering and procurement schedule.

The latest agreement makes no mention of cost. This had also proved to be a contentious issue in the past. India’s Businessline reported in 2017 that EDF had proposed a cost of INR300m ($4.6m) per megawatt for the 9,900MWe capacity, citing “sources”. The EDF proposal was INR100m/MW higher than the average cost of developing the Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) technology, according to “sources in the know”. This meant the Jaitapur NPP would require an investment of INR29.7bn. NPCIL reportedly contested this cost and also expressed concerns regarding the tropicalisation of the power plant which would further escalate costs.

Jean-Bernard Lévy, Chairman and CEO of the EDF Group, said: "The submission of EDF's binding techno-commercial offer for the Jaitapur project is a major step forward for the Group and the French nuclear industry. This key milestone has been achieved thanks to the trust-based relationship built over time with our Indian partner, and the excellent collaboration and continuous efforts of the EDF and NPCIL teams. This is yet another significant step towards the materialization of this flagship project for our great nations, and the establishment of a long-term partnership in the civil nuclear field between both our leading nuclear industries."

There are currently five EPR projects worldwide: Flamanville 3 in France, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, Hinkley Point C in the UK (two units) and Taishan 1&2 in China. Taishan 1 began commercial operation in December 2018 and Taishan 2 in September 2019. The Flamanville and Olkiluoto projects are both long delayed and over budget.

India is meanwhile pressing ahead with the construction of 10 domestically-developed 700 MWe pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) as well as further expansion of the Russian-supplied Kudankulkam NPP, which is being built under a 1988 Russian-Indian agreement that was amended in 1998. Kudankulam is scheduled to have six Russian VVER-1000 reactors. Kudankulam 1 and 2 are in operation, units 3 and 4 are under construction and units 5 and 6 planned with preparatory works in progress.