ENVIS Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Thursday, October 22, 2020

Nuclear Power in India




Due to earlier trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium. Since 2010, a fundamental incompatibility between India’s civil liability law and international conventions limits foreign technology provision.



India's nuclear energy self-sufficiency extended from uranium exploration and mining through fuel fabrication, heavy water production, reactor design and construction, to reprocessing and waste management. It has a small fast breeder reactor and is building a much larger one.


 It is also developing technology to utilise its abundant resources of thorium as a nuclear fuel.

India has a vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle.





(Updated 31 December 2014)

  • India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and expects to have 14,600 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.

  • Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which has hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009.

  •  Due to earlier trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium.

  • Since 2010, a fundamental incompatibility between India’s civil liability law and international conventions limits foreign technology provision.

  •  India has a vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle.


India’s primary energy consumption more than doubled between 1990 and 2011 to nearly 25,000 PJ. India's dependence on imported energy resources and the inconsistent reform of the energy sector are challenges to satisfying rising demand.


Electricity demand in India is increasing rapidly, and the 1128 billion kilowatt hours (TWh) gross produced in 2012 was more than triple the 1990 output, though still represented only some 750 kWh per capita for the year. With large transmission losses – 193 TWh (17%) in 2012, this resulted in only about 869 billion kWh consumption. Gross generation comprised 801 TWh from coal, 94 TWh from gas, 23 TWh from oil, 33 TWh from nuclear, 126 TWh from hydro and 50 TWh from other renewables. Coal provides more than two-thirds of the electricity at present, but reserves are effectively limited* – in 2013, 159 million tonnes was imported, and 533 million tonnes produced domestically. The per capita electricity consumption figure is expected to double by 2020, with 6.3% annual growth, and reach 5000-6000 kWh by 2050, requiring about 8000 TWh/yr then. There is an acute demand for more and more reliable power supplies. One-third of the population is not connected to any grid.


* Quoted resources are 293 billion tonnes, but much of this is in forested areas of eastern India – Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal. While the first three of these are the main producing states, nevertheless permission to mine is problematical and infrastructure limited.


At mid-2012, 203 GWe was on line with 20.5 GWe having been added in 12 months. In September 2012 it had 211 GWe. The government's 12th five-year plan for 2012-17 is targeting the addition of 94 GWe over the period, costing $247 billion. Three quarters of this would be coal- or lignite-fired, and only 3.4 GWe nuclear, including two imported 1000 MWe units planned at one site and two indigenous 700 MWe units at another. By 2032 total installed capacity of 700 GWe is planned to meet 7-9% GDP growth, and this was to include 63 GWe nuclear. The OECD’s International Energy Agency predicts that India will need some $1600 billion investment in power generation, transmission and distribution to 2035.


India has five electricity grids – Northern, Eastern, North-Eastern, Southern and Western. All of them are interconnected to some extent, except the Southern grid. All are run by the state-owned Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCI), which operates more than 95,000 circuit km of transmission lines. In July 2012 the Northern grid failed with 35,669 MWe load in the early morning, and the following day it plus parts of two other grids failed again so that over 600 million people in 22 states were without power for up to a day.


A KPMG report in 2007 said that transmission and distribution (T&D) losses were worth more than $6 billion per year. A 2012 report costed the losses as $12.6 billion per year. A 2010 estimate shows big differences among states, with some very high, and a national average of 27% T&D loss, well above the target 15% set in 2001 when the average figure was 34%. Installed transmission capacity was only about 13% of generation capacity.


India’s priority is economic growth and to alleviate poverty. The importance of coal means that CO2 emission reduction is not a high priority, and the government has declined to set targets ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change to be held in Paris in 2015. The environment minister in September 2014 said it would be 30 years before India would be likely to see a decrease in CO2 emissions.


Nuclear power


NPCIL supplied 35 TWh of India's electricity in 2013-14 from 5.3 GWe nuclear capacity, with overall capacity factor of 83% and availability of 88%. Some 410 reactor-years of operation had been achieved to December 2014. India's fuel situation, with shortage of fossil fuels, is driving the nuclear investment for electricity, and 25% nuclear contribution is the ambition for 2050, when 1094 GWe of base-load capacity is expected to be required. Almost as much investment in the grid system as in power plants is necessary.


The target since about 2004 has been for nuclear power to provide 20 GWe by 2020, but in 2007 the Prime Minister referred to this as "modest" and capable of being "doubled with the opening up of international cooperation." However, it is evident that even the 20 GWe target would require substantial uranium imports. In June 2009 NPCIL said it aimed for 60 GWe nuclear by 2032, including 40 GWe of PWR capacity and 7 GWe of new PHWR capacity, all fuelled by imported uranium. This 2032 target was reiterated late in 2010 and increased to 63 GWe in 2011. But in December 2011 parliament was told that more realistic targets were 14,600 MWe by 2020-21 and 27,500 MWe by 2032, relative to present 4780 MWe and 10,080 MWe when reactors under construction were on line in 2017.*


* “the XII Plan [2012-17] proposals are being finalized which envisage start of work on eight indigenous 700 MW Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), two 500 MW Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs), one 300 MW Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) and eight Light Water Reactors of 1000 MW or higher capacity with foreign technical cooperation. These nuclear power reactors are expected to be completed progressively in the XIII and XIV Plans.”


The 16 PHWRS and LWRs are expected to cost $40 billion. The eight 700 MWe PHWRs would be built at Kaiga in Karnataka, Gorakhpur in Haryana’s Fatehabad District, Banswada in Rajasthan, and Chutka in Madhya Pradesh.


In July 2014 the new Prime Minister urged DAE to triple the nuclear capacity to 17 GWe by 2024. He praised “India's self-reliance in the nuclear fuel cycle and the commercial success of the indigenous reactors.” He also emphasized the importance of maintaining the commercial viability and competitiveness of nuclear energy compared with other clean energy sources.


After liability legislation started to deter foreign reactor vendors, early in 2102 the government said it wanted to see coal production increase by 150 Mt/yr (from 440 Mt/yr) to support 60 GWe new coal-fired capacity to be built by 2015. This would involve Rs 56 billion new investment in rail infrastructure.


Longer term, the Atomic Energy Commission however envisages some 500 GWe nuclear on line by 2060, and has since speculated that the amount might be higher still: 600-700 GWe by 2050, providing half of all electricity. Another projection is for nuclear share to rise to 9% by 2037.Other energy information for India: US Energy Information Administration Analysis Brief on India


Indian nuclear power industry development


Nuclear power for civil use is well established in India. Since building the two small boiling water reactors at Tarapur in the 1960s, its civil nuclear strategy has been directed towards complete independence in the nuclear fuel cycle, necessary because it is excluded from the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) due to it acquiring nuclear weapons capability after 1970. (Those five countries doing so before 1970 were accorded the status of Nuclear Weapons States under the NPT.)


As a result, India's nuclear power program has proceeded largely without fuel or technological assistance from other countries (but see later section). The pressurised heavy-water reactor (PHWR) design was adopted in 1964, since it required less natural uranium than the BWRs, needed no enrichment, and could be built with the country’s engineering capacity at that time – pressure tubes rather than a heavy pressure vessel being involved. Its power reactors to the mid-1990s had some of the world's lowest capacity factors, reflecting the technical difficulties of the country's isolation, but rose impressively from 60% in 1995 to 85% in 2001-02. Then in 2008-10 the load factors dropped due to shortage of uranium fuel.


India's nuclear energy self-sufficiency extended from uranium exploration and mining through fuel fabrication, heavy water production, reactor design and construction, to reprocessing and waste management. It has a small fast breeder reactor and is building a much larger one. It is also developing technology to utilise its abundant resources of thorium as a nuclear fuel.


The Atomic Energy Establishment was set up at Trombay, near Mumbai, in 1957 and renamed as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) ten years later. Plans for building the first Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) were finalised in 1964, and this prototype – Rajasthan 1, which had Canada's Douglas Point reactor as a reference unit, was built as a collaborative venture between Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) and NPCIL. It started up in 1972 and was duplicated Subsequent indigenous PHWR development has been based on these units, though several stages of evolution can be identified: PHWRs with dousing and single containment at Rajasthan 1-2, PHWRs with suppression pool and partial double containment at Madras, and later standardized PHWRs from Narora onwards having double containment, suppression pool, and calandria filled with heavy water, housed in a water-filled calandria vault.


The Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) is the main policy body.

India's Nuclear Power Capacity – 20 units to 2011

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of thermal nuclear power plants. At the start of 2010 it said it had enough cash on hand for 10,000 MWe of new plant. Its funding model is 70% equity and 30% debt financing. However, it is aiming to involve other public sector and private corporations in future nuclear power expansion, notably National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) – see subsection below. NTPC is very much larger than NPCIL and sees itself as the main power producer. NTPC is largely government-owned. The 1962 Atomic Energy Act prohibits private control of nuclear power generation, though it allows minority investment. As of late 2010 the government had no intention of changing this to allow greater private equity in nuclear plants.

India's operating nuclear power reactors:




MWe net, each

Commercial operation

Safeguards status*

Tarapur 1&2





Item-specific, Oct 2009

Kaiga 1&2




1999, 2000


Kaiga 3&4




2007, 2012


Kakrapar 1&2




1993, 1995

December 2010 under new agreement

Madras 1&2 (MAPS)

Tamil Nadu



1984, 1986


Narora 1&2

Uttar Pradesh



1991, 1992

Due in 2014 under new agreement

Rajasthan 1&2


Candu PHWR

90, 187

1973, 1981

Item-specific, Oct 2009

Rajasthan 3&4




1999, 2000

March 2010 under new agreement

Rajasthan 5&6




Feb & April 2010

Oct 2009 under new agreement

Tarapur 3&4




2006, 2005


Kudankulam 1

Tamil Nadu



December 2014

Item-specific, Oct 2009

Total (21)



5302 MWe



Madras (MAPS) also known as Kalpakkam
Rajasthan/RAPS is located at Rawatbhata and sometimes called that
Kaiga = KGS, Kakrapar = KAPS, Narora = NAPS

* The safeguarded units to March 2014 are listed in the Annex to India’s Additional Protocol with IAEA. Tarapur 1&2 and Rajasthan 1&2 have INFCIRC/66 type, the others INFCIRC/754 type.


Nuclear reactors deployed in India


In December 2014 the 40% of nuclear capacity under safeguards was operating on imported uranium at rated capacity. The remainder, which relies on indigenous uranium, was operating below capacity, though the supply situation was said to be improving.


The two Tarapur150 MWe Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) built by GE on a turnkey contract before the advent of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty were originally 200 MWe. They were down-rated due to recurrent problems but have run well since. They have been using imported enriched uranium (from France and China in 1980-90s and Russia since 2001) and are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. However, late in 2004 Russia deferred to the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and declined to supply further uranium for them. They underwent six months refurbishment over 2005-06, and in March 2006 Russia agreed to resume fuel supply. In December 2008 a $700 million contract with Rosatom was announced for continued uranium supply to them.


The two small Canadian (Candu) PHWRs at Rajasthan nuclear power plant started up in 1972 & 1980, and are also under safeguards. Rajasthan 1 was down-rated early in its life and has operated very little since 2002 due to ongoing problems and has been shut down since 2004 as the government considers its future. Rajasthan 2 was downrated in 1990. It had major refurbishment 2007-09 and has been running on imported uranium at full capacity.


The 220 MWe PHWRs (202 MWe net) were indigenously designed and constructed by NPCIL, based on a Canadian design. The only accident to an Indian nuclear plant was due to a turbine hall fire in 1993 at Narora, which resulted in a 17-hour total station blackout. There was no core damage or radiological impact and it was rated 3 on the INES scale – a 'serious incident'.


The Madras (MAPS) reactors were refurbished in 2002-03 and 2004-05 and their capacity restored to 220 MWe gross (from 170). Much of the core of each reactor was replaced, and the lifespans extended to 2033/36.


Kakrapar unit 1 was fully refurbished and upgraded in 2009-10, after 16 years operation, as was Narora 2, with cooling channel (calandria tube) replacement.


Following the Fukushima accident in March 2011, four NPCIL taskforces evaluated the situation in India and in an interim report in July made recommendations for safety improvements of the Tarapur BWRs and each PHWR type. The report of a high-level committee appointed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) was submitted at the end of August 2011, saying that the Tarapur and Madras plants needed some supplementary provisions to cope with major disasters. The two Tarapur BWRs have already been upgraded to ensure continuous cooling of the reactor during prolonged station blackouts and to provide nitrogen injection to containment structures, but further work is recommended. Madras needs enhanced flood defences in case of tsunamis higher than that in 2004. The prototype fast breeder reactor (PFR) under construction next door at Kalpakkam has defences which are already sufficiently high, following some flooding of the site in 2004.


The Tarapur 3&4 reactors of 540 MWe gross (490 MWe net) were developed indigenously from the 220 MWe (gross) model PHWR and were built by NPCIL. The first – Tarapur 4 – was connected to the grid in June 2005 and started commercial operation in September. Tarapur 4's criticality came five years after pouring first concrete and seven months ahead of schedule. Its twin – unit 3 – was about a year behind it and was connected to the grid in June 2006 with commercial operation in August, five months ahead of schedule. Tarapur 3 & 4 cost about $1200/kW, and are competitive with imported coal.


Future indigenous PHWR reactors will be 700 MWe gross (640 MWe net). The first four are being built at Kakrapar and Rajasthan. They are due on line by 2017 after 60 months construction from first concrete to criticality. Cost is quoted at about Rs 12,000 crore (120 billion rupees) each, or $1700/kW. Up to 40% of the fuel they use will be slightly enriched uranium (SEU) – about 1.1% U-235, to achieve higher fuel burn-up – about 21,000 MWd/t instead of one third of this. Initially this fuel will be imported as SEU.


Kudankulam 1&2: Russia's Atomstroyexport is supplying the country's first large nuclear power plant, comprising two VVER-1000 (V-412) reactors, under a Russian-financed US$ 3 billion contract. A long-term credit facility covers about half the cost of the plant. The AES-92 units at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu state have been built by NPCIL and also commissioned and operated by NPCIL under IAEA safeguards. The turbines are made by Silmash in St Petersburg. Unlike other Atomstroyexport projects such as in Iran, there have been only about 80 Russian supervisory staff on the job. Construction started in March 2002.


Russia is supplying all the enriched fuel through the life of the plant, though India will reprocess it and keep the plutonium*. The first unit was due to start supplying power in March 2008 and go into commercial operation late in 2008, but this schedule slipped by six years. In the latter part of 2011 and into 2012 completion and fuel loading was delayed by public protests, but in March 2012 the state government approved the plant's commissioning and said it would deal with any obstruction. Unit 1 started up in mid-July 2013, was connected to the grid in October 2013 and entered commercial operation at the end of December 2014. It had reached full power in mid-year but then required turbine repairs, though it generated 2.8 TWh in its first year. Unit 2 is expected to start up in April 2015. Each is 917 MWe net.