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India-Russia summit highlights burgeoning nuclear energy cooperation

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the All Russian Exhibition Centre in Moscow
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the All Russian Exhibition Centre in Moscow

According to a joint statement released after the conclusion of the 2024 India-Russia bilateral summit, New Delhi and Moscow are set to bolster their civil-nuclear cooperation. The summit for which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Moscow on a two day visit between July 8 and 9 2024, resulted in discussions on several key topics with Russian President Vladimir Putin which feature in the statement’s text.

Nuclear energy is specifically identified as a “significant component of the strategic partnership” between India and Russia in the statement.

Kudankulam and beyond

The statement highlights the progress of the Russian built Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Kudankulam NPP which has been the flagship project in India’s civil-nuclear partnership with Russia already has two units operational with four more at various stages of construction. However the construction and operations at the site have been marred by delays since the initial agreement was signed between India and the erstwhile Soviet Union back in 1988.

To address the current reasons for delays on construction of the remaining four units of the Kudankulam NPP, the agreement speaks of the two sides adhering to mutually agreed timelines. India and Russia are also purportedly in discussion on constructing more NPP units at a new site elsewhere in India, a location for which is yet to be identified and agreed upon by either side.

Small modular reactors

Reportedly Rosatom is also pitching various small modular reactor (SMR) designs to India, including variants which can be installed aboard a barge floating on a body of water such as a lake or near the coastline.

According to Russian state nuclear conglomerate Rosatom’s CEO Alexei Likachev, the company has already briefed the Indian side on the various SMR reactors on offer from Rosatom, including in a formal presentation earlier in 2024. The statement also identifies Rosatom’s VVER-1200 type reactor units as the specific design under discussion between the two countries. The units under construction at Kudankulam NPP are of the older, much more widely used and proven VVER-1000 type.

More avenues of cooperation

Furthermore the statement identifies support structures and ancillary services such as closing the nuclear fuel cycle for India’s reactors, which will include processing and refeeding spent nuclear fuel, as another key focus area for Moscow and New Delhi. India and Russia are also purportedly exploring joint manufacturing for NPP components including through the lens of localisation.

The agreement further says that Rosatom and India are exploring avenues of cooperation in third countries. However, according to a note related to Modi’s visit cited by PTI in a July 9 2024 report, an Indian company called 'Paharpur Cooling Towers' is already in the process of supplying four cooling towers and two pumping stations to Bangladesh's Russian-built NPP at Rooppur near the Indian border.

The statement also refers to proliferating non-power applications, which might be a reference to collaboration and engagement on radio-isotopes with medical applications, the supply of which also falls under Rosatom’s purview under Russian state structures.