GS Paper 3
Syllabus: Indigenization of Technology and Developing New Technology/Energy
Context: There are doubts about whether nuclear power, with its associated concerns about cost and safety, remains a viable choice for India as solar and wind power gain popularity globally.
Global outlook for nuclear power:
- In Europe and the U.S., nuclear power is seeing an upsurge, particularly after the Ukraine war.
- The U.K. is scaling up nuclear power to decarbonise the electricity
- Germany has shut down the last of its nuclear power plants, while France (the nuclear powerhouse of the world) is struggling to replace its ageing reactors.
- China and South Korea have committed to increasing the share of nuclear power in the country’s energy mix (to 30% by 2030 in S. Korea).
- Japan is restarting the shutdown of reactors after the Fukushima (accident) because it was otherwise dependent either on expensive imported coal/natural gas (LNG).
Advantages of nuclear power:
- It is a low-carbon power.
- A nuclear plant operating 1,000 MW at 90% PLF (plant load factor) requires only 25 tonnes of low-enriched (below 5% proportion of fissile uranium) uranium fuel per year.
- A coal plant (of similar capacity) requires ~5 million tonnes of coal and coal produces ash containing many heavy metals detrimental to the water source.
- Firm and dispatchable power. Firm power is the power that can be sent to the electric grid to be supplied whenever needed.
- Low operating cost, job-intensive.
Disadvantages: High capital cost, low safety/prone to accidents, concerns over nuclear proliferation, not renewable energy, radioactive waste generation, etc.
India’s nuclear plan:
- Nuclear power is only 2.5%-3.2% of India’s installed and generated power and is premised on working around its limited supply of enriched uranium.
- This is expected to increase to 22.5 GW by 2031 from 6.9 GW now.
- Very limited growth potential for hydropower because of conserving biodiversity, the costs of rehabilitating and compensating landowners and the seismological factors in the Himalayas.
- India has nearly 210 gigawatts of coal capacity, producing 73% of the electricity of India, which is not environmentally friendly.
- Wind and solar powers are intermittent or variable.
Way ahead for India:
- The nuclear industry should move towards ‘passive safety’ designs (for nuclear reactors). For example, active cooling pumps.
- New designs like small modular reactors will address the cost issue.
- Enforcing nuclear liability, for example, the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act 2010.
- Ending the monopoly of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) in reactor operations. Allow other government companies like the NTPC.
- If India hopes to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2070, it needs ~100 GW of nuclear power by 2050.
- Therefore, India should never consider phasing out nuclear power, which is a low carbon, firm and reliable.
- India needs a portfolio of technologies to make nuclear power safe and cost-effective (capital cost) over time.
Give an account of the growth and development of nuclear science and technology in India. What is the advantage of a fast breeder reactor programme in India? (UPSC 2019)
Prelims Links: UPSC 2016