India and France strengthen defence and security partnership, including nuclear

19 July 2023

India and France have agreed to strengthen their defence and security partnership following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to France at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron. Following extensive discussions, a joint communique noted the strengthening of the strategic partnership between the two countries. Among other things, it “recognised that the promotion of clean and low-carbon energy, the preservation of biodiversity, the protection of the oceans and the fight against pollution were essential aspects of cooperation”.

The talks also resulted in the adoption of a "Roadmap for the 25th anniversary of the Franco-Indian strategic partnership by 2047” detailing the issues discussed. This included a paragraph on nuclear power, noting that the two countries welcomed progress made during the discussions on the Jaitapur nuclear power plant project. It welcomed “EDF's proposal to train Indian engineers and technicians specialising in civil nuclear power for projects related to EPR technology”.

It noted that, in accordance with the Skills India initiative, “the competent French organisations will also work with their Indian counterparts to strengthen training in the nuclear field and to encourage internships for Indian students”. The two countries “also agreed to establish a partnership on low- and medium-power modular reactors, or Small Modular Reactors (SMR) and Advanced Modular Reactors (AMR)”. They will also “continue their cooperation on the Jules Horowitz research reactor to develop nuclear technologies and will deepen their exchanges”.

In April 2021, Electricite de France (EDF) finally 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 with an installed capacity of 9.6 GWe. This was the culmination of the work carried out jointly with NPCIL following adoption of the Industrial Way Forward Agreement (IWFA) in March 2018 during the visit of Macron to New Delhi, and to the submission of EDF's non-binding proposal at the end of 2018.

The agreement had been a long time coming. The Jaitapur project had 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 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.

The 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. Although the 2021 EDF offer included the detailed technical configuration of the reactors, taking into consideration information on the site conditions, and the terms and conditions for the supply of engineering studies and equipment for the six reactors, the project has so far made little progress.

The Jules Horowitz Reactor, under construction at Cadarache in southern France is being built under the framework of an international consortium of research institutes from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the European Commission, as well as major companies such as EDF, Framatome and TechnicAtome. Partners from India and Japan have also joined the consortium.

It remains to be seen whether the latest talks will accelerate the development of these joint projects.

Image: India's Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi held extensive discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris recently on a wide range of areas of bilateral cooperation, including civil nuclear (courtesy of PMINDIA (Prime Minister's Office))

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