China produces nuclear energy in gigawatts, India in megawatts. China is one of the five recognised nuclear weapons’ states and a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); India is not.
But what the civil nuclear energy deal can do for India is this: it can place New Delhi at par with Beijing as far as access to civil nuclear technology from the rest of the world is concerned.
As China buys nuclear reactors from the United States and France, it is looking to produce 50 GWe of nuclear energy by2020 and hike that another fourfold to 120-160 GWe by 2030.
In March 2008, the State Energy Bureau said that the target for 2020 should be at least five per cent of electricity from nuclear power, requiring at least 50 GWe to be in operation by then.
“In June 2008, the China Electrical Council projected 60 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2020,” the World Nuclear Association said.
And it’s not as if China had an easy ride as far as access to civil nuclear technology was concerned. China signed its 123 agreement with the United States in 1985, but the accord was implemented only in 1998 — 13 years later.
The fact is that for energy-hungry, populated countries like China and India have to evolve a mix of power to meet their needs. And, nuclear energy has to be a part of that mix.
In August 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India’s proven resources of coal, oil, gas and hydropower were totally insufficient to meet the country’s energy needs.
“…We do not have the luxury of an either-or choice. India needs energy from all known and likely sources of energy… nuclear power is recognised as an important and environmentally benign constituent of the overall energy mix,” Singh said, while dedicating Tarapur’s 3 & 4 units to the country.
Though the Indian scientific community has achieved successes with its indigenous programme, the fact is that without access to natural uranium, India is not going to be able to substantially increase its nuclear energy capacity.
In a recent interview, Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Commission, conceded that there was a “mismatch in the demand and supply of indigenous natural uranium”.
“But things are about to start improving now. The capacity factor of the reactors is about to start improving. This is because the production (of yellow cake from uranium) from the mill at Turamdih in Jharkhand will start coming in now,” Kakodkar was quoted as saying.
Without international cooperation, India’s nuclear energy capacity will remain dwarfed. The civil nuclear deal holds the key to end India's international isolation.