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Is nuclear power the answer to ending India’s energy deficit?
 
Future Of Nuclear Energy In India
 
   
An essay by Mohit Vikram Singh, Thapar University Patiala, Patiala  
   
“Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite the nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny”
-Jimmy Carter 

On a close look to India’s consumption and requirement graph of power it can be interpreted that the production line has been parallel to the year axis whereas the consumption line is increasing constantly with time. So the difference between these two lines will give the total amount of imports at any point of time.

Energy has been universally recognized as one of the most important input for economic growth and human development. There is a strong two way relationship between economic development and energy consumption.  On the other hand, growth of an economy, with global competitiveness, hinges on availability of cost effective and environmentally benign energy resources. So, this implies that energy has direct relation with development, means we need to produce energy, but energy need resources. India is a country, where our civilization has evolved based on an abundant supply of cheap Oil, Coal and Gas.

When these three resources are taken in account, India has approximately 5.6 billion barrels of oil reserves. Despite of this we are the sixth largest importer of oil, and will become the fourth largest by 2025.Secondly, India is much dependent on its natural gas resources, the bulk of which comes from Western Off shores, Assam and Bay of Bengal. Despite the steady increase in India’s natural gas production, demand has outstripped supply and the country has been a net importer of natural gas since 2004. Lastly, the major source of energy in India is coal and accounts for 70 percent of total energy production in India. The total production of coal in India is nearly 613 million sort tons, whereas the consumption is about 680. So all these factors lead to a point that there is a severe energy crisis in India that will continue to increase in severity, because of lack of energy sources, some Indian go without electricity for several days. Although India has emerged as a leader in Software industry, the majority of Indian still live a rural agricultural life. Increasing pressure of population and increasing use of energy in different sectors of the economy is an area of concern for India.

So it is quite apparent that we need more energy. All these energy sources above mentioned are partially renewable, means they are reproduced by Mother Nature after very long time. Moreover these resources pollute the environment and add to our worries. Future of our country is much dependent on clean energy. Solar, hydroelectric and wind energy may be an option but the problem is to harness it. Energy produced by solar and wind is very small over an area has to be integrated over a large area. We need energy in huge amount, so who is going to provide it. The answer to this may be Nuclear energy.

When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, the world was thrust into the atomic age. Nuclear power had become a reality. But soon after this on 27 September 1954, worlds’ first nuclear power plant became operational in Obnisnsk, outside Moscow. The nuclear reactor used to generate electricity made Obnisnsk the new scientific city of Russia. Soon after this in 1964, under guidance of Dr. Homi Bhabha first nuclear power plant in India was constructed. It promised to provide clean and efficient energy for centuries to come. Despite of all promises, nuclear power has only been put into minimal use. Nuclear power generates 16% (about one sixth) of the world´s electricity. There are 442 nuclear power plants operating in 30 countries. Most operating nuclear power plants are in Western Europe and North America, but most new plants under construction are in Asia. The United States has the most operating plants with 104. Lithuania gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear power, the highest of any country. France is second, at 78%. Only 39 of the world´s 442 nuclear power plants are in developing countries, and because they are smaller than average, they account for only 5.6% of the world’s nuclear power capacity. But Brazil, China and India all have nuclear power programmes. These three countries account for 40% of the world’s population, and China and India in particular plan significant nuclear expansion.

Eighteen of the 27 nuclear power plants now under construction are in Asia. Twenty-two of the last 31 new nuclear plants to start up were in Asia as well. Second in terms of new construction is Eastern Europe, including Russia, with 8 NPPs being built. Four Western European nations - Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden - currently have nuclear power phase-out policies, and others have in place nuclear bans. But others have explicitly recognized nuclear power’s value. India’s total power demand-supply gap will widen to 412 Gig watts (412,000 Megawatt) by 2050. The growing energy needs of a developing country like India could only be met by ramping up nuclear power capacity.

From 1950’s India lagged behind in the race of nuclear power due to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It limited India to race with Western Countries. India’s nuclear weapons program is described by its government as a necessary minimum deterrent in the face of regional nuclear threats that include a considerably larger Chinese nuclear arsenal as well as Pakistan’s nuclear arms.

While India and China are alike in having large aspirations to produce clean energy in the 21st century using nuclear power, the two countries occupy quite different positions in relation to the NPT.

China exploded its first weapon in 1964, and India did so in 1974. Between those dates, the NPT went into effect. Under its terms, China became recognized as one of the world’s five ‘weapon states’.

For its part, India was left with the choice of remaining outside the NPT or relinquishing any possibility of maintaining even a minimal nuclear deterrent. In the light of perceived strategic challenges from both China and Pakistan, India chose a nuclear deterrent. However, it has been scrupulous in ensuring that its weapons material and technology are guarded against commercial or illicit export to other countries. Pakistan has been conspicuously unscrupulous, and China has been sometimes unduly flexible.

Meanwhile, international efforts to build a stronger non-proliferation regime had the effect of penalizing India harshly.

The NPT itself requires only that internationally-traded nuclear material and technology be safeguarded - a condition that India has continually made clear it is willing to accept, even though it declines to disarm and join the NPT as a “non-weapon-state”. However, in 1992, in an effort to induce expanded participation in the NPT, the informal ‘club’ of nations called the Nuclear Suppliers Group decided - as a matter of policy, not law - to prohibit all nuclear commerce with nations that have not agreed to full-scope safeguards. This precondition effectively requires countries to join the NPT as non-weapon-states if they are to participate in nuclear commerce.

Another aspect of Nuclear Energy is the fuel requirement. Basically Uranium is the fuel used in reactors. Since early 1990s, Russia has been a major supplier of nuclear fuel to India. Due to dwindling domestic uranium reserves, electricity generation from nuclear power in India declined by 12.83% from 2006 to 2008.Following a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in September 2008 which allowed it to commence international nuclear trade, India has signed bilateral deals on civilian nuclear energy technology cooperation with several other countries, including France, the United States etc. India, being a non-signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has been subjected to a defacto nuclear embargo from members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group cartel. This has prevented India from obtaining commercial nuclear fuel, nuclear power plant components and services from the international market, thereby forcing India to develop its own fuel, components and services for nuclear power generation. The NSG embargo has had both negative and positive consequences for India’s Nuclear Industry. On one hand, the NSG regime has constrained India from freely importing nuclear fuel at the volume and cost levels it would like to support the country’s goals of expanding its nuclear power generation capacity to at least 20,000 MW by 2020. Also, by precluding India from taking advantage of the economies of scale and safety innovations of the global nuclear industry, the NSG regime has driven up the capital and operating costs and damaged the achievable safety potential of Indian nuclear power plants. On the other hand, the NSG embargo has forced the Indian government and bureaucracy to support and actively fund the development of Indian nuclear technologies and industrial capacities in all key areas required to create and maintain a domestic nuclear industry. This has resulted in the creation of a large pool of nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians that have developed new and unique innovations in the areas of Fast Breeder Reactors, Thermal Breeder Reactors, the Thorium fuel cycle, nuclear fuel reprocessing and Tritium extraction & production. Ironically, had the NSG sanctions not been in place, it would have been far more cost effective for India to import foreign nuclear power plants and nuclear fuels than to fund the development of Indian nuclear power generation technology, building of India’s own nuclear reactors, and the development of domestic uranium mining, milling and refining capacity.

But now India is joining hands with various countries for production of Nuclear Power. India does not have much uranium deposits ,but have enough thorium. Large-scale utilization of thorium for power generation can start only when India have accumulated enough uranium-233 produced when neutrons collide with thorium.

So the Nuclear Energy will lead us to powerful India, but Is Nuclear energy safe. Currently, advocates and promoters of nuclear power plants do not foresee any harmful effects regarding its operation. They have placed more emphasis on the premise that the environment is bound to gain more from utilizing nuclear power plants as sources of energy clean. The main argument is that nuclear power plants do not release carbon dioxide or sulfur emissions. Based on estimates, nuclear power plants can prevent 164 million metric tons of carbon, 2.4 million tons of nitrogen oxide and 5.1 million tons of sulfur dioxide from filling up the already polluted atmosphere. There is also long term effect of radiation exposure. These risks are cancer and hereditary defects among humans still stay the same. Ionizing radiation stays with the descendants of those who had been exposed to radiation. Ionizing Radiation refers to the absorption of the gamma rays emitted by the nucleus. Gamma rays are found in manmade radioactive Cs-137 which is considered as a serious radiation hazard to the human body. Gamma rays have no charge or mass and can easily pass through the body, yet a fraction will always be absorbed or will penetrate into tissues. Hence, the effects of radiation will be passed on to offspring particularly to daughters, due to genomic instability. The latter refers to the instability of genetic materials caused by the destructive effects of chemical mutation. Brain tumor cases increased at a rate of 5.8 times in young children and by 10 times among newborn. But still we should remember;

“the discovery of nuclear reactions need not bring about the destruction of mankind any more than the discovery of matches”
 
   
The essay posted here represents the views of the author only and not of INDIA Future of Change.
This is one of the winning essays from the INDIA Future of Change Essay-Writing Contest 2010-11
as evaluated by Financial Times, the knowledge partner for the contest.
 
   
   
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