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That N-powered feeling

India, along with China, Japan, South Korea, ASEAN and European Union nations has now made a strong case for increased global investment in infrastructure projects. K Subrahmanyam elaborates.Special Coverage

india Updated: Nov 17, 2008 21:37 IST

When the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement was being progressed, the main focus was on India liberating itself from the technology apartheid to which it had been subjected since its first Pokhran nuclear test in 1974. With the technology denial having been removed through the unconditional waiver of the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), India has concluded a framework agreement to get French reactors constructed in India. The signing of the India-US 123 Agreement into law by President Bush has opened the door for setting up US reactors also in India. In December it is expected agreements will be signed during the visit of Russian President Medvedev for additional reactors of the type now under construction in Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu. Once the expansion of civil nuclear power gets going, our Atomic Energy Act will need to be amended to permit the participation of private industry in the development of civil nuclear power. One may hope for technology cooperation between power reactor manufacturers in US, France, Russia and Japan and Indian industry as happened elsewhere in the ’70s and ’80s.

Today 30 reactors are being built around the world. Another 90 or more planned to come on line in the next ten years. There are estimates that with increasing awareness of the risks of climate change caused by carbonaceous fuel use, 200 more reactors may follow in the period beyond 2020. While most of the reactors are likely to be set up in countries already used to civil nuclear power, 25 new countries, which have not so far used nuclear power, are seriously considering setting up nuclear plants. Consequently, it is expected that the global nuclear power generation will expand from the present base of 373 GWe to 1,130 GWe by 2060.

China has completed eight nuclear power plants in the last five years and has eight more units are either under construction or advanced stages of planning. Plan for 75 reactors have been projected in China. Russia is planning 40 GWe of additional nuclear power by 2025. Construction of a large fast breeder reactor has been prioritised. A floating power plant is under construction. France is planning to replace its thirty-four 900 MWe plants and twenty 1,300 MWe plants by 1,600 MWe plants.

Sweden, Hungary, Slovakia and Spain are planning life extension for their present nuclear plants. UK is planning to replace its ageing nuclear power plants by new ones.

Usually, critics of nuclear power highlight that US has not built any new nuclear power plant for over three decades. Extremely successful maintenance and operating strategies of US nuclear plants in the past 15 years has added increased output of power equivalent to 19 new 1,000 MW plants being built. There are 11 applications pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Anticipating expansion in nuclear power industry, two new major uranium mines are being developed in Canada and mines in Australia, Namibia and Kazakstan are being expanded. Several new uranium centrifuge enrichment plants are under construction in France and USA. A new Australian process based on laser excitation is under development by GE-Hitachi.

New Generation IV proliferation-proof reactors are under development with international cooperation from dozen countries.
Major nuclear power generation companies have merged to dominate the emerging nuclear power market. The French Areva and Japanese Mitsubishi have formed a combine and so have the American GE with Japanese Hitachi. The US nuclear power plant pioneer Westing House has now become a subsidiary of Japanese Toshiba.

When the India-US nuclear deal and the NSG waiver were negotiated, the possibility of global recession was not very much on the minds of leaders of India or other major industrial powers. India, along with China, Japan, South Korea, ASEAN and European Union nations has now made a strong case for increased global investment in infrastructure projects during the recent Beijing ASEM summit. Dr Manmohan Singh is a leading economist of international repute who advocates the Keynesian solution of large-scale infrastructural investments for fast recovery from the global economic recession and also is a leading advocate of civil nuclear power. It is a happy coincidence that as India’s role as a significant player in global economy is being recognized, the country has gained the acceptance of international community as an advanced responsible nuclear power entitled to develop civil nuclear power without being hampered by technology denial.