Russia has featured extensively in the news over the last several weeks, all for the right reasons. Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Moscow twice within the last three months. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar went to Moscow once in the second week of September 2020. All these visits underscore the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia. The country supplies more than 60 percent of India’s total defence imports.
In addition to defence and strategic partnership, nuclear power is another critical sector in which cooperation between the two countries continues to grow rapidly.
The year 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the Russian nuclear industry. Russia has often been a pioneer in the peaceful use of atomic energy. In 1954, Russian scientists launched the first nuclear power station, and today there are three units with the latest 3+ generation reactors in Russia. Many more are being built in other countries. Over the last three-quarters of a century, thanks to the Russian nuclear industry, nuclear units have appeared in many foreign countries, including India.
The Russian nuclear industry is an undisputed leader in advanced nuclear technologies, providing innovative engineering and construction solutions for nuclear reactors and the production of nuclear fuel. Over its 75-year history, Russia has amassed a wealth of experience and acquired extensive competencies in large-scale nuclear projects. Rosatom has the world's only nuclear icebreaker fleet, the most powerful fast neutron reactor, the first in its kind floating Nuclear Power Plant (NPP); it contributes to digitalization as well as nuclear medicine.
The development of the nuclear industry is seen as a top national priority in Russia. It is perceived to be a key sector of the Russian economy, essential for national energy security. The nuclear industry drives demand for other products and services and therefore stimulates engineering, steel making, geology, construction, and other sectors of the national economy.
By 2030, India plans to increase the share of renewables in its energy basket to 40 percent. In this regard, the country is paying significant attention to the development of nuclear energy and expects to increase energy production to 14.6 GW by 2024 and to 63 GW by 2032. It is time to assess how cooperation between the two countries can be further strengthened for nuclear power.
The cutting-edge work being done by the Russian nuclear industry in the past 75 years makes it a viable partner for India for accelerating civil nuclear energy programs. For 60 years out of its 75-year nuclear history, Russia has been working with India on peaceful nuclear energy generation with the construction of the Kudankulam NPP being the largest joint Russian Indian project in the energy sector so far.
Currently, the implementation of the Kudankulam NPP project involves the construction of six power units equipped with VVER-1000 reactors. In addition, in October 2018, Russia and India signed an “Action Plan for Setting Priorities and Implementing Areas of Cooperation in the Field of nuclear power". According to the document, the parties intend, in particular, to develop a project for the construction in India of additional Russian-designed NPP power units on a new site, to expand cooperation in third countries and interaction in new promising areas in nuclear energy in addition to the construction of nuclear power plants. During the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russia in September 2019, it was announced that at least 12 Russian-designed power units could be built in India within 20 years.
Nuclear cooperation between the two countries is also promoting the government’s ‘’Make in India’’ initiative as some vital components are being increasingly manufactured in India.
It needs to be underscored that Russia is the only country that has successfully entered the nuclear power generation field in India with the latest technology. In addition, India and Russia are carrying their cooperation in this vital sector to other countries, the Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh being the first example.
The road ahead sees far more collaboration as the two countries roll out the plans agreed upon. In October this year, the two countries will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration of Strategic Partnership between India and Russia which enshrines the commitment to cooperate in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. As the highest levels of the two governments toast the success of the relationship so far, it will be time to set sights on new horizons in nuclear cooperation.
—Ashok Sajjanhar is President, Institute of Global Studies and a
former Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden, and Latvia (Retd.). He also served in Indian Embassy in USSR and Russian Federation. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)
First Published: IST