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India needs nuclear energy, say experts

India's atomic energy establishment is trying to engage with the public in a bid to reverse waning support for its nuclear power programme following the Fukushima disaster. Anupama Airy reports.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2011 23:07 IST
Anupama Airy

Nuclear power from 20 reactors accounts for less than 3% of the electricity that India generates: Of the installed capacity of 1.8 lakh MW, just 4,780 MW is nuclear energy, even though facilities to generate 6,700 MW more are under construction.

Thermal power dominates India's energy production, but environmental concerns and a rapid depletion of coal have forced power developers to look for cleaner alternatives, such as gas, hydro-electricity, solar and wind power and nuclear energy, even though they cost more than thermal power.

Nuclear power, in particular, costs about Rs 12 crore to Rs 14 crore per MW, compared with Rs 4 crore per MW for thermal power. But the energy generated by the fission of uranium, the fuel, is about two million times more than that obtained by burning coal of equal weight.

Accordingly, policy makers want to boost India's nuclear power capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032. But the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan in March changed many nations' attitudes towards nuclear power. In India too, the public mood also changed.

Yet domestic policy makers must continue to pursue nuclear power, even while drawing lessons from Fukushima and ensuring that they do not compromise an iota on the safety front, say international experts

"India should go ahead and implement its civil nuclear power plans," Richard Jones, the deputy executive director of the International Energy Agency, told the HT in Singapore at the International Energy Summit in the first week of November.

Germany, Italy and others that announced changes in their nuclear policies did not have big nuclear plans in the first place, while China is going ahead with its programme, he said.

If India pursues its nuclear programme, it will create a cushion against high oil and gas prices, which are denting economies worldwide, said Nabuo Tanaka, a former executive director at the Agency.

All nuclear countries must draw lessons from Fukushima, the experts said, just as India did after the Three Mile Island incident in the US in 1979 and the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986.

India has limited reserves of uranium but after the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) allowed its 46 member-nations to trade with us, we have signed several deals, including for the supply of uranium by Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Namibia.

After the NSG allowed its members to trade with India, we signed letters of intent to buy American nuclear reactors generating 10,000 MW. But this hasn't progressed because of concerns of legal liability. Also because safety, security and cost concerns about importing foreign nuclear reactors have emerged, the state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd, which has funds, is also tying up with state-run and private firms to set up plants based on indigenous technology.