Red tape unravels piece by piece in India’s nuclear sector

M V Kotwal, the president of heavy engineering at Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and a member of the board, talks about the growing opportunities in India’s nuclear sector.

Could you talk about L&T’s role in nuclear energy?

In the late 1960s, we were the first Indian company to get into manufacturing of critical nuclear equipment, including nuclear reactors and steam generators. We were working under a pressurised heavy water system, which was based on a Canadian design – that was the way India started. The first Indian reactor was in Rajasthan. L&T has been involved in the manufacture of the critical reactors for almost all that followed later on. The whole design got completely indigenised from the Narora atomic power project [in 1976] onwards. The main reactor, the end shield, these are the products we have regularly manufactured. Subsequent to that, India went into the fast breeder reactor programme. With the first very large breeder reactor coming up at Kalpakkam, which is near Chennai, we are playing a major role in the critical equipment. We are India’s largest construction company and therefore have also done the civil, mechanical, electrical and nuclear plant construction.

How did you tie up with France’s Areva?

[For the Jaitapur project] when we had to look a lot of indigenisation to reduce the total cost and the cycle time, that is when they [Areva] started discussions in that capacity. This of course coincides with our government’s drive, where there’s a Make in India campaign. We have had a working relationship with Areva, because from our Baroda unit we have actually already exported nuclear-grade equipment to the United States, and that is because that facility is completely cleared by the nuclear regulatory commission. We make what are called dry storage canisters for spent fuel, made to US standard. That is through an Areva branch in the US.

Are you expecting to work more in India over the coming years?

Surely. One of the major hurdles in nuclear work in India was the civil nuclear liability. An act passed in parliament in 2010 created a lot of apprehensions in people’s minds. There were certain clauses that made some hurdles for companies working in any nuclear plant and some that passed on liabilities to suppliers. That has become a hurdle for all – not only for foreign companies but also for us. Very recently, the government has taken some steps and announced an insurance policy, which should be out in writing in June, giving us a lot of comfort. We believe that the whole nuclear scene in India will be different from the past and things will start happening much faster. After Fukushima things virtually slowed down. In the next four or five years, we will see that the nuclear segment will become a significant segment in the L&T portfolio.

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