TASHKENT/NEW DELHI: India is working hard to deepen its strategic partnership with landlocked but resource-rich Uzbekistan as it is keen to import uranium, a dense grey radioactive metal used as a fuel in nuclear reactors.
India is already importing uranium from Uzbekistan’s neighbour Kazakhstan since the end of the last decade.
Uzbekistan, the seventh biggest uranium exporter in the world, will be a key player in India’s plan to procure nuclear fuel to create a strategic uranium reserve. New Delhi is working to have a stockpile of nuclear fuel that can sustain the country’s reactors for five years and ensure that they do not stop functioning in the absence of fuel.
In the past, India’s nuclear reactors had underperformed due to a shortage of fuel. India is in talks with Uzbekistan to source uranium, a senior Indian government official indicated. A delegation from this Central Asian country had visited India in August to discuss the issue in detail and work out the modalities of supply.
The delegation visited India within two months of a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Astana this June. While India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Modi’s meeting with the Chinese President dominated headlines from Astana, little focus was devoted to the Indo-Uzbek meet.
India has given momentum to its Central Asia policy and is trying to overcome its lack of direct physical connectivity to the region through the Chabahar Port in Iran and the International North South Transportation.
India has been desiring to import uranium from Uzbekistan in the past. But constraints of connectivity prevented Tashkent to transport the material to India. However, the Astana meeting between the two leaders influenced the Uzbek government to export uranium to India, a senior Indian government official said. Uzbekistan currently supplies the yellowcake to Russia, China and Japan. It is estimated that India could import more than 2,000 tonnes of uranium from Uzbekistan once an arrangement is firmly in place.
India currently uses uranium imported from Kazakhstan and Canada to fuel its indigenously built pressurised heavy water reactors. It procures enriched uranium from Russia for two boiling water reactors at Tarapur in Maharashtra and another two at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. While Australia may soon start shipping the material to India, the country has agreements in place already to import uranium from Namibia and Mongolia.
The Modi government recently approved building of 10 pressurised heavy water reactors with a capacity to generate 7,000 MW of electricity. “We will now have 21 reactors under construction and 22 reactors in operation. This will increase the capacity to over 22,000 MWs by the end of next decade. We shall continue to add more capacity in future,” Sekhar Basu, secretary at the Department of Atomic Energy and chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, said.