India-France Pact On World’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant ‘Hanging Fire’ Despite Burgeoning Bilateral Ties

Seven years after a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between India and France for setting up the largest nuclear power plant in the world at Jaitapur (Maharashtra), the project is still hanging fire.

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The major irritant continues to be the lack of consensus on the price per unit between the two sides. The officials of French state-run power utility firm Électricité de France SA (EDF) confirmed to the EurAsian Times that significant progress is being made on the issue of civil liability in case of a nuclear mishap.

India brought the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (CLNDA) in 2010 to ensure adequate compensation to victims of nuclear accidents. The CLNDA puts a no-fault liability on the operator of the nuclear plant, where it will be held liable for damage regardless of any fault on its part.

The Act gives a Right to Recourse to the operator when the nuclear incident has been caused due to an act of the supplier or his employee, which includes “supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services.”

Since the Act was enacted, none of the foreign nuclear power projects have materialized in India. Despite civil nuclear deals with several countries, including the US, Japan, and France, the only country that has successfully managed to construct a nuclear power plant has been Russia at Kudankulam, which predates the CLNDA. The consensus on the civil liabilities issues between the two countries is important and will serve as a template for future nuclear power projects with foreign suppliers.

“On the liability issue, the Indian and French administrations have continued making good progress in clarifying the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage regime for the project, and we are quite confident we can find solutions on this key matter for any nuclear program. Soon, we will be able to rely on those clarifications to detail the application of this regime at the industrial level,” Senior Vice-President of EDF’s New Nuclear Projects and Engineering Division Vakis Ramany told the EurAsian Times.

This is a significant development for the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant project to be executed between the EDF and the Indian public major Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL). With an installed capacity of 9.6 GWe, the plant would be the most powerful in the world; it would generate up to 75 TWh per year and cover the annual consumption of 70 million Indian households.

The EDF submitted its binding techno-commercial offer to construct six nuclear power reactors in 2020. Multiple talks have taken place since then, but the two countries have not reached a consensus on pricing.

“We cannot comment further on the pricing issue at the moment. However, we can confirm that we are convinced about the value we bring to India with our technology and cutting-edge expertise. Nuclear cooperation is about price, long-term partnership, and mutual trust to assert reliability and performance,” Ramany added.

The Indian nuclear regulator, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), and NPCIL have not consented to the EDF’s technical specifications for its EPRs, the third-generation water reactor. The Indian side also maintains the cost per unit is high. But, Ramany adds: “EDF is bringing state-of-the-art technology, the experience of a worldwide operator, and a truly demonstrated expertise of local value creation and training.”

The Jaitapur Nuclear Project has been in the pipeline for a decade now. The first MoU was signed in 2009 with the EDF’s predecessor Areva, which went down due to its dire financial state. In 2016, the EDF and NPCIL signed a revised MoU, and an “industrial way forward” was signed in the presence of PM Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron. And in 2020, the EDF submitted its techno-commercial offer.

EDF will partner with Framatome and GE Steam Power to provide the engineering studies and equipment for constructing six EPR reactors at the Jaitapur site in India. NPCIL will be responsible for constructing and commissioning each unit at Jaitapur and obtaining permits and consents, including certification of the EPR technology by the Indian regulator.

In October 2022, the Minister of Space and Atomic Energy and Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (MoS PMO), Jitendra Singh, promised an early resolution to all the issues within months.

And it was expected that the final agreement would be announced during the visit of President Macron scheduled in early 2023, which was eventually canceled, and the French President is now expected to be in New Delhi for the G-20 Summit in September. Now PM Modi is visiting France to mark 25 years of strategic relations between the two countries, but the issues stalling the projects are yet to be resolved.

File Image: PM @narendramodi & French President @EmmanuelMacron

Post-Ukraine War – EDF To Help India Maintain Sovereignty In The Nuclear Power Sector

The Ukraine invasion by Russia has brought the spotlight on Moscow’s huge share in natural gas and oil supply. But its dominant position in global nuclear power has remained under the radar from Western sanctions owing to the huge dependency of the West on Russia.

Through its subsidiary TVEL, Rosatom also provides fuel supplies, controlling 38 percent of the world’s Uranium conversion and 46 percent of Uranium enrichment capacity, and decommissioning and waste disposal.

In other words, between 2000 to 2015, Russia supplied half of the international projects on nuclear power plants across the globe. The Ukraine invasion did underscore the “importance of industrial sovereignty.” Keeping this in mind, EDF says it will reach significant localization with Indian companies starting from the first unit itself.

“We cannot comment on the situation faced by our competitors. Undoubtedly this war and its consequences on global supply chains underline the importance of industrial sovereignty, particularly concerning strategic fields such as energy,” Ramany said.

He added: “For the Jaitapur project, as I said earlier, we commit to supporting the Make in India and Skill India national program and aim to reach a significant localization level, starting from the first unit. This demonstrates our commitment to support our Indian partner to strengthen its industrial sovereignty and achieve its net-zero target.”

Besides collaborating with the Indian engineering and manufacturing companies for the EPR design, the EDF is working to create an Indian supply chain in the field of Small Modular Reactor Technologies.

“Our joint work with the Indian supply chain could also be beneficial to any further cooperation in the field of Small Modular Reactor technologies, as EDF is developing its 340MWe NUWARD SMR plant that was presented during the SMR side event held last May in Mumbai as part of the preparation of for the G20 in India,” Ramany emphasized.

The company has already been working to identify Indian companies that could be selected as project suppliers. To date, some 200 companies have already been pre-qualified. The EDF is conducting a feasibility study to set up a center in collaboration with Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute for training engineers and technicians for the project.

The EDF maintains that the project would create 25,000 local jobs during the construction phase and 2700 permanent jobs to operate the six EPR units.

  • Ritu Sharma has written on defense and foreign affairs for over a decade. She holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Studies and Management of Peace from the University of Erfurt, Germany. Her areas of interest include Asia-Pacific, the South China Sea, and Aviation history.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)