Looking back at the past, it was a herculean task to develop the massive infrastructure required for pursuing and implementing frontline research in the field of nuclear science in a newly independent country with limited resources. The principle of the organization-“ATOM FOR PEACE” was sabotaged on a number of occasions due to lack of co-operation and knowledge sharing from countries who had by then established their supremacy in the field of nuclear science.
In spite of these restrictions, the DAE has excelled time and has put India at par with other countries possessing advanced knowledge in this domain. India can rightly feel proud of DAE’s growth and evolution into a renowned scientifically and technologically superior organization that contributed positively in the growth of the country and attaining recognition for India in the global forum.
The need for the setup of a Nuclear Power Plant lies in the very fact that the hunger for electricity is virtually unending and with each passing decade the world demand for electricity has doubled due to population explosion and rapid industrial growth. With the growth in the number of industries utilizing fossil fuels as raw materials for production, the reserves of fossil fuels i.e., coal, oil and gas are also fast depleting. In the current scenario alternative sources of energy like nuclear power, wind power and solar power can meet the future energy demands of the world. When compared to other sources of energy nuclear power has the unique capacity to release huge amount of energy from a very small quantity of active material. The energy liberated during this process is greater than that liberated from the combustion of the same quantity of coal. Moreover, the possible energy reserves in the form of uranium and thorium is many times greater than that of fossil fuels.
The development of NPPs is due to the vision of scientists to utilize atomic energy for the growth and development of the countries worldwide through peaceful and progressive R&D activities. The world’s first atomic power plant was commissioned in U.S.S.R in 1954. Later a number of power plants were set up in many other developed countries like U.S.A, Canada, England, Japan and France. India following the footsteps of these countries setup a number of Nuclear Power Plants (NPP) as the policy makers of our country realized that though the capital cost of setting up an NPP is pretty high as compared to conventional thermal power plant, the total operating costs per kWh is much less. This cost statistics has favored and nurtured the growth of nuclear power and its generation for peaceful purposes worldwide
Quality of life:
The GDP growth of a country must be accompanied by an increase in the consumption of primary energy as well as electricity. Though the GDP is around 5% only, India is growing fast than other emerging economies (China has shown a slowing down growth, Russia’s growth was affected by its geo-political issues, Brazil is affected by China’s slow growth as it is the exporter of raw material for China). Energy, electricity particularly is the key input for accelerating economic growth. The strong correlation between per capita electricity and per capita gross domestic product is well known. GDP Energy intensity follows a certain trend worldwide. Below a certain level of development, growth results in increase in energy intensity and it start declining with further growth in economy. Energy intensity of GDP in India is same as that in OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. India’s population continues to rise and could reach 1.3-1.5billion by the middle of the century. This statistics has been instrumental for developing a strategy for growth of electricity generation based on a careful examination of all issues related to sustainability, especially abundance of available energy resources, diversity of sources of energy supply, security of energy infrastructure, effect on environment etc.
The process of modernization, improvement in quality of life for the people depends much upon the supply of electrical energy. These days, the annual per capita consumption of electrical energy has emerged as an accepted yardstick to measure the prosperity of a nation. Some of the advanced and developed nations of North America and Europe have a very high annual per capita power consumption of electrical energy, say from 12000-20000kWh while in Africa, Asia and Latin America it is too low and thus these nations are called as developing nations. U.S.A has only 6% of the world population but accounts for 30% of electrical consumption of the world. India had an annual per capita power consumption of electrical energy of 349kWh in 1997 and it is about 600kWh now .The electricity requirements in India has grown tremendously and the demand has been running ahead of supply. Electricity generation and transmission in the country is insufficient in comparison to the advanced countries. The Generating capacity in India is approximately 3600hours while in Japan the number is more than 5000hours in a year. The reasons behind the lack of desired electricity generation in India are – periodic closure of steam power stations due to shortage of coal, poor utilization of electrical equipment, untimely monsoons, and delay in commissioning of power projects resulting in country-wide power crisis All these causes can be avoided by the development of NPPs in the country as the amount of fuel required is quite small; no additional cost is incurred due to transportation or storage of raw materials.
India has set a target to itself to generate about 8,00,000 MW of electricity by 2032 and it is achievable with a large scale utilization of nuclear power as it is evident from the past records and the future economy growth scenario that nuclear power generates 16% of the world´s electricity. This output may not be achieved by 2032 even if India approves all the pending nuclear power projects because of its long gestation period in commissioning of such plants and the availability of nuclear fuels. So any change can be found only after 2050.
Presently, India imports about 30% of its commercial energy. In future also about the same level of import content is desired. We import coal, hydrocarbons as well as enriched uranium. It is worthwhile to compare import of nuclear fuel with that of other forms of fuel. Nuclear fuel contains energy in a concentrated form thus requires much less tonnage for fuel to be transported or stored. Further, the fuel discharged from nuclear reactors also contains fissile component that can be recovered by reprocessing and recycling, preferably in FBRs, thereby multiplying the fissile material. Thus, if import of energy is a necessity, due to strategic considerations nuclear fuel is a preferable option. In order to keep the energy import at an affordable level and to have diversity of supply sources, it is necessary that the share of nuclear energy be increased from the present 3% of the total generation to 25% substantially.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Power- Reality or Myth?
The general perception of people regarding nuclear energy is that it is a proverbial BOMB-IN-THE-POCKET as witnessed in Japan in the recent times due to the failure of the twin reactors in the Fukushima NPP. The fission by-products are generally radio-active and does gives rise to a dangerous radio-active pollution. Japan is a living testimony to that, its people still carry traces of radio- active elements released due to atomic bombings during Second World War in Japan by U.S.A. Propagators of nuclear energy consider nuclear energy to be the catalyst for development. India has poor reserves of fuel resource so it is imperative to tap every fuel resource to meet the country’s energy needs. The contribution of nuclear energy, therefore, has to be increased at the fastest possible pace so that nuclear-electricity is able to meet about a quarter of the national electricity-demand after about 4decades and get poised to make still higher contribution in the subsequent years. So in order to gain the support of public and remove unjustified fear regarding the demonic powers of nuclear energy, the safety measures that have been developed for optimum utilization of this power should be brought to the knowledge of public, so as to create awareness amongst them.
Economically also NPPs are much viable as these plants need less area as compared to any other plant of the same size. A 2000MW nuclear plant needs about 80acres whereas a thermal-power plant of the same capacity needs about 250acres of land. In addition to producing large amounts of power, the NPP can produce valuable fissile material, which is extracted when the fuel has to be renewed. Due to negligible cost incurred for transportation of fuel (Uranium, Thorium), NPPs can be loaded near the load centre which helps in the reduction of the primary energy distribution cost. Having concern for the risk and global warming impact, nuclear power is seen as one of the potential solution to lessen greenhouse emissions from other energy sources cited as contributors.
There are always two sides to a coin so even NPPs are no exception. NPPs require huge quantities of cooling water, so it needs to be located near a river/sea side. Besides, the problems of disposal, transport and storage of radio-active wastes are extremely significant. However, this wouldn’t show any practical effect on the bio-sphere provided the radio-active wastes storage problem is safely solved.
Safety first, what next?
It is safest to store radioactive waste underground in liquid form in tanks or in reduction to clinker. Clinkering serves a two-fold purpose of improving the protection and reducing the waste. A method, known as “solidifying” solidifies the radioactive waste through heat up and enables processing of 1000litres of highly radioactive liquid waste into less than 0.01cubicmeter of solid waste which can be put into sealed metal containers suitable for storage in deep salt mines. Deep salt mines are suggested because the salt pockets’ presence indicates that there has been no ground water in the vicinity for thousands of years. It is necessary to have a cleanup plant through which gaseous effluents can be passed for removal of radioactive iodine which is the major hazard.
As the reserves of fossil fuels are fast depleting and hydro power has also its innate limitations and solar power is less efficient and more costlier, if proper measures are taken to store this valuable (nuclear) energy source and is used with discretion, it would prove to be a major support and give wings to India’s ambition to emerge as a super power in the times to come. NPPs are safe, as the nuclear reactor contains only a small amount of fissionable material whereas an atom bomb contains 90% fissionable-fuel in its core; the NPP is so designed as not to explode like a bomb. So, nuclear plants can be considered to be safe from the operational point of view also. Finally, the DAE should provide public’s right to cross-examine before setting up any new NPPs to gain public support.