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As Modi reaches Washington, top US expert warns: Gujarat's nuclear power project is "financially unviable"

Modi reaches Washington for Nuclear Safety Summit on March 31
By Our Representative
The US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) has raised the alarm that with the type of technology to be used for the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited’s (NPCIL’s) 6,000 MW N-power plant project in Gujarat’s Mithi Virdi region, its actual cost is likely to reach a whopping Rs 6.3 lakh crore to Rs 11.3 lakh crore, as against the official estimate of Rs 60,000 crore.
Talking with newspersons in Ahmedabad from the US via Skype, the institute’s expert, David Schlissel, director of resource planning analysis for IEEFA, said, this estimate is based on IEEFA’s assessment of the currently estimated costs of building six new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, to be used in the plant.
Schlissel, the author of the just-released report, “Bad Choice: The Risks, Costs and Viability of Proposed US Nuclear Reactors in India”, which contains financial analysis of  Mithi Virdi and other proposed N-plants in India, said, the solar tariffs, by the time the Mithi Virdi plant is commissioned in 2029, “would be well below Rs. 3.00 per KWH”, one reason why there is no point in going in for N-plants.
The report has been released to time with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to attend the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC. This is Modi’s third visit to United States in two years.
In 2013, IEEFA created a flutter by warning investors in its report “Remote Prospects: A financial analysis of Adani’s coal gamble in Australia’s Galilee Basin” that the “controversial 60 million tonne per annum Carmichael coal mine and infrastructure project is uncommercial”, adding, “The low energy and high ash content are major constraints to the value of the coal.”
While the IEEFA’s report on the Adani coalmining project in Australia was prepared by Tom Sanzillo and Tim Buckley, following a request by top international environmental NGO Greenpeace, the request for a report on NPCIL’s N-plants in India was made by several Indian environmental NGOs, including Gujarat-based NGO Parayvaran Suraksha Samiti.
Schlissel said, “Based on the actual history of new AP1000 reactor construction, the first new reactors at Mithi Virdi will take 11 to 15 years to build if approved, even assuming no delays. This means that if licensing were completed and site preparations were to begin in 2017—an optimistic assumption in itself—none of the new reactors at Mithi Virdi would generate any power for the electric grid until sometime between 2029 and 2032.”
Pointing out that “the remaining units at each project are unlikely to be completed, if approved, until late in the 2030”, he said, “The cost of building the first two units at Mithi Virdi will be between Rs 20 crore and Rs 40 crore per Megawatt (MW).” This is against per MW cost of Rs 5-6 crore for building a coal-based plant or near about the same for solar power plant.
“Even if no significant problems are experienced during construction, IEEFA estimates that the first-year tariffs for Mithi Virdi in 2029 likely would range from Rs. 11.18 to Rs. 22.12 per kilowatt hour (KWH), with levelized tariffs of Rs 9.05 to Rs 17.75 per KWH. This range reflects the substantial uncertainty in the actual cost of building the plants”, the expert said.
“These tariffs would mean significantly higher electricity prices for consumers unless the Indian government provides long-term and probably unsustainable subsidies”, Schlisser said, adding, he has based his estimates on the experience of new eight Westinghouse AP1000 reactor units, four each for China and the US, which are under preparation.
“The technology has not been used earlier”, the expert contended, adding, “This is one reason why there is delay of several years both in China and the US. There are fabrication and quality control issues, one reason why their prices are escalating with every passing year.”
“IEEFA’s analysis is based on low risk scenarios where no significant delays are experienced by the Mithi Virdi project due to technological challenges, public opposition to land acquisition and legal question such as the issue of liability for nuclear accidents”, the expert said.

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