Archana Chaudhary

Mumbai, Jan. 25

NATIONAL Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) is in talks with Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) for possibilities of entering into nuclear power business, as part of its diversification agenda.

Officials of the Rs 26,000-crore company have met representatives of Nuclear Power Corporation three times in the last six months to learn more about nuclear power generation.

Currently, NPCIL is the only Indian company specialising in nuclear power generation. As per the Atomic Energy Act, only Government-owned companies can set up nuclear power generation units.

According to a senior NPCIL official, the company has suggested that NTPC take up an equity stake in one of the upcoming nuclear power projects. NPCIL is currently working on eight projects at four sites and will generate close to 7,000 mega watts by 2007-08, more than double its current capacity.

It has also suggested that NTPC train its people on how to `balance' a nuclear plant, to begin with, and then it could proceed from there, the senior official said.

NTPC, which generates more than 21,000 mega watts every year, has been pursuing the nuclear power option more aggressively for the last two quarters.

Industry observers are sceptical about NTPC's move, mostly because of the technical stringency required for setting up nuclear power plants. And the fact that the Government has so far not allowed any other company to enter the atomic energy field.

Although the previous NDA Government had considered allowing private sector participation in nuclear power generation, the new United Progressive Alliance Government has not yet moved on the idea.

NTPC had, in its Corporate Plan 2017 approved by the Union Government, announced its plans to diversify into hydro and nuclear power generation.

According to estimates, the viability of thermal power is expected to take a hit because of rise in costs of mining and transporting coal over the coming decade.

The per unit cost of generating coal-based power is expected to go up to Rs 4 in the next 10 years, making it unviable for the average Indian customer, according to estimates drawn up by NTPC, said a senior NTPC official.

Although nuclear power has been considered to be an expensive option, the average capacity of the plants operated by Nuclear Power Corporation has steadily risen from 60 per cent in 1995-96 to 85 per cent in 2001-02.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 26, 2005)
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