There is welcome progress for stable, green, baseload power. India has deployed home-grown nuclear technology to reap scale economies for its first 700-MW unit at Kakrapar Atomic Power Project in Gujarat. It’s the biggest indigenous variant of the pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR), which can be gainfully replicated here and abroad.

Over a dozen more modern nuclear reactors have received financial sanction pan-India; we are well-positioned to export nuclear technology and carry out attendant project execution internationally. Note that PHWRs, the mainstay of our nuclear energy programme, use unenriched natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as a moderator and coolant. It avoids expensive uranium enrichment facilities very unlike conventional nuclear reactors; it is also thermally more efficient.

The massive global safeguards regime and bundobust for enriched uranium is, of course, because the fissile material can readily be used for strategic purposes and nuclear stockpiling. But PHWRs entirely bypass enrichment headaches. The US, with the largest current nuclear power operations, surely needs to champion PHWRs worldwide; it would be in its interest too.

American expertise in nuclear power seems rusty after decades of non-expansion. It has led to huge time and cost overruns lately. The US and India need to form a JV for streamlining timelines for nuclear plants. The Indo-US Nuclear Deal of 2008 has pre-empted natural uranium shortages in India. But its potential has hardly been tapped for two-way nuclear commerce.

The costs of storing spent fuel are high for standard nuclear plants; we follow a closed nuclear fuel cycle: PHWRs, recycling of spent fuel for the next stage, and on to reactors fuelled by thorium, plentiful in India, and non-fissile.