India must keep the nuclear energy door open
Japan is the world’s leader in civil nuclear technology – almost every advanced nuclear reactor in the world is dependent on Japanese components.editorials Updated: Jul 23, 2017 18:31 IST
A major milestone in India-Japan relations and the future of the nuclear power in the country was passed by the coming into force of the bilateral civil nuclear agreement. There are more questions than ever about the viability of nuclear power, but in a period of energy uncertainty every country needs as many options at hand as possible. Nuclear may seem expensive in a time of low oil prices and collapsing solar rates, but it remains the world’s most viable source of carbon-free baseload power. International sanctions and India’s own ill-considered nuclear liability law have artificially confined the nuclear option in India. India’s domestic reactors are small and Russian ones are not much larger. Learning how to build reactors in the 2000 MW range was one of the goals of negotiating the Indo-US nuclear deal in the first place.
Japan is the world’s leader in civil nuclear technology – almost every advanced nuclear reactor in the world is dependent on Japanese components. Even reactors that carry a “Made in the USA” label have reactor cores made by Japanese firms like Toshiba and Hitachi. One of the key reasons that a rush of reactors did not follow the Indo-US nuclear deal was that without a parallel agreement with Japan, no country other than Russia could sell reactors to India. But Tokyo was a difficult negotiator as it combined the technological safeguards of the US with a deep non-proliferation commitment inspired by the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan’s initial insistence that India sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was one among many barriers that had to be crossed.
The show is hardly over. The major Japanese reactor firm Toshiba-Westinghouse recently went bankrupt. This is why the new agreement also includes clauses that allow Japan to finance reactor projects in India. India’s poorly drafted liability law continues to be a problem for some other firms.
The Fukushima accident, liability concerns, depressed global energy prices and other issues have clouded the future of nuclear power in India and the world. Nonetheless, the atom’s contribution to India’s energy mix remains among the smallest of any major economy. Most countries have found nuclear power a great boost to their economies. China continues to build reactors as fast as it can put them up. Countries that have banned nuclear power, like Germany, have come to regret the decision in an age of climate sensitivity. Nuclear energy is not a promise, but it is an option. At a time when energy is both of rising importance and riddled with uncertainty, India must work to keep the nuclear door open.