Friday, May 11, 2012 - 0 comments

SHOULD INDIA GO NUCLEAR IN A BIG WAY?


India has made phenomenal economic progress in last 2 decades. The economic reforms in 1991 unleashed the entrepenuerial spirits which lead to upliftment of millions out of povery. Today we stand amidst the fastest growing nations in world. Despite our phenomenal growth we still havent been able to address the problems of infrastructure.
                Power generation has failed to keep pace with rapid economic growth.This has widened the energy deficit. Over 50% of india’s households lack electric supply. Current power generation is 1.7 lakh MW of which 70% is generated using fossil fuels. By 2020 consumption demand is expected to be double the current demand. There is an urgent need to ramp up electricity generation.
                India’s economic growth has been fuelled by high growth in service sector.Now service sector growth has saturated and government is focusing on bringing about growth in manufacture sector. Growth in manufacture sector will lead to greater demand on power supply. Power sector needs to grow at a rate which leads to narrowing the deficit and support a double digit growth of economy. To achieve this, new sources of power generation from renewable and non conventional sources of energy needs to be explored. 
Currently over 70% of India’s crude oil is imported from middle east and west asia. This dependence on outside world threatens India’s energy security. The coal reserves India are of low quality and can’t be put to efficient use in thermal power generation.Apart from that most of our natural resources lie under dense forests. Environmental concerns have led to a slow down in mineral explorations and it is unlikely that India will be able to rapidly increase its fossil fuel productions.
Another option that has been explored is hydel power. Jawaharlal Nehru hailed dams as temples of  modern India. Hydel power generation requires damming rivers . Most of rivers in India are inter state rivers and multi purpose river projects have lead to numerous river water disputes. Dams have also lead to displacement to the tribals and poor with no significant relief and rehabilitation measures. In this scenario , solar and nuclear seem to be the only feasible options to power indias growth.
Government has launched the jawaharlal nehru solar mission with a target of producing 20 GW of solar power by 2022. India being a tropical country has enormous potential for solar energy. However solar technology is still in primitive stage and is costly for a poor country like India. It lacks the ability to bridge the widening energy deficit  in India. India needs an energy source that can generate electricity at a rate that it exceeds the growth in demand and provide a surplus which could be shared with its energy starved negihbours.
                India has 25% of World Thorium which is capable of producing three lakh Mega Watts for three hundred years. Hence nuclear power is one source that has the potential to meet the challenges thrown up by India. Nuclear power is a compact source of energy requiring lower quantites of fuel in comparison to coal based thermal power station. It is environmentally benign and its green house gas emissions are comparable to that of wind power. India’s nuclear power programme was charted out by visionary scientists Dr Homi bhabha keeping in view the limited urnaium and abundant thorium resources that India possessed. India’s first nuclear power plant came into operation in 1969. However the nuclear apartheid imposed by world on India lead to a slow progress on its peaceful civil nuclear programme. 
In 2008, India managed to came out nuclear apartheid following multiple rounds of negotiation with US on a civil nuclear deal. This has opened up an opportunity to make up for the lost time and make progress on its nuclear programme. However keeping in view the mammoth challenge lying ahead, it was unwise to wait for indegenous nuclear technology to mature and meet the demands. Hence India is now pursuing a approach comprising of two dimensions
a)      Encourage foreign reactor technology use
b)      Support India’s indegenous 3 stage programme
In this context, Indian government has negotiated deals with several countries on nuclear cooperation. India now aims to increase its nuclear power production from 4500 MW to 64000 MW by 2032. Today the world is vying for space in India’s vast nuclear market. Rapid economic growth in last 2 decades has provided it with enough finances to invest in capital intensive sectors like nuclear power. Despite being capital intensive, in long run its cost works out to be comparable to that of coal.
                Nuclear power however is an issue that needs to be dealt with cautiously . It is a double edged sword, especially in a densely populated country like India. The recent incidents of nuclear meltdowns in japan has created a fear among the people. Lack of effort on part of government to educate and enlighten the masses about nuclear power has further comlpicated the issue. The civil society has come out openly opposing nuclear power. They fear the repercussions of a possible radiation leak. However indian nuclear scientists have succesfully managed to run nuclear plants for over 4 decades without any major accidents.  Every technology has its own pros and cons. Even the electricity which can lighten up our lives has the potential to end our life. So there is a need to weigh the pros and cons rather than look at it as an issue of black and white.
                Lack of transparency in the way organisations responsible for running nuclear power are run further deepens the mistrust among people. Government needs to take steps to make the organisations like NPCIL more transparent accountable. In this regard, the government’s move to make AERB an independent and autonomous body is commendable. Another area of concern is the fear that indegenous nuclear power programme would be neglected. This fear is very much valid. Our scientists have achieved phenomenal success despite the restricted environment they were forced to work in pre 2008. Today India’s scientists have pioneered the fast breeder technology and optimum use of thorium fuel cycle. No effort has been made by government to harness the intellectual potential of our scientists in the proposed new phase of expansion. Instead of focusing on joint research and development with other nations, we are seeking direct transplantation of foreign technology.
In this era of computerisation and digitalisation, the slogan of roti kapda makan has transformed into bijli, sadak , pani. Electricity which once was a luxury has become a necessity now. This should have a bearing on everyone. The previleged few must take cognisance of this and make efficient use of electricity. Government must encourage energy efficiency through star rating, awards etc. Our electric transmission and distribution systems have been caught up in cobwebs of time. It is hightime that modern smart grid technologies are put to use. The rampant corruption and maladministration in state electricity boards need to be set right. Populist schemes invovling distribution of free power leads to unsustainable use of resources and needs to be done away with.
India’s foreign policy is rooted in its tradition of non alignment. In order to stand by it, there is a need to avoid over dependence on outside support for energy resources. Therefore India needs to take every measure to diversify its options both in terms of resources and countries. For balanced energy mix, energy independence and security, climate change and avoiding green house gases, sustainable development, nuclear power must be pursued.  Along with nuclear we need to continue supporting research and development in other areas like wind and solar energy. With the rapid pace of urbanisation and penetration of benefits of growth deeper into the society, it is inevitable that energy demand will rise exponentially.
The rapid pace of urbanisation and penetration of benefits of growth deeper into the society, it is inevitable that energy demand will rise exponentially. In the current scenario, it is only nuclear power that has the capability to meet such a challenge. However this is not to say that nuclear is the only way, we must keep our mind open to any new development in field of power generation in future and harness new innovations to our advantage. Therefore while India goes big on nuclear it must not lose sight of other potential contenders which have the potential to fulfill the growing demand of indians.

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