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Nuclear Power:MEETING CLEAN ENERGY TARGETS?, by Dhurjati Mukherjee,22 February 2010 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 22 February 2010

Nuclear Power



            By Dhurjati Mukherjee


The need for cleaner sources of energy is being advocated by experts and environmentalists to check pollution. Apart from the thrust on solar energy, the option that has been doing the rounds is nuclear energy to tackle the country’s ever-increasing energy demands. It is understood that five sites across the country have been finalised the Nuclear Power Corporation for construction of power plants. Work has already started at Kudamkulam in Tamil Nadu while the process of land acquisition is underway at Jaitapur in Maharashtra with Mithi Virdi in Gujarat, Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh and Haripur next in line.


The Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Dr. Srikumar Banerjee, recently said that the five energy parks are critical to India achieving the target of 35,000 MW of installed nuclear power capacity by 2020 and 60,000 MW by 2032. Out of this, 40,000-45,000 MW would come from energy parks and the balance from other installations. Further, environmentally, nuclear power is a lot cleaner than thermal, which requires large fly-ash collection ponds and railway yards.


As of now, contiguous land of around 2.5 km is proposed to be acquired across the sea coast and 1.25 km in radius. The proposed investment at each site is $ 2.2 billion or around Rs 10,000 crores. It is understood that for the Kudamkulam project the deal for reactors have been signed with the Russians while for the one at Jaitapur, negotiations are at an advanced stage for French reactors.


Responding to the concerns that green activists raised over the Haripur project, the DAE has reassured that extensive studies had been conducted and more were under way to ensure that the impact on the environment was minimal. For five years, eight universities studied the tolerance of sea water temperature variation so that aquamarine life is not affected. The findings have shown that at no point should the water released from the nuclear plants should be more than 7.50 above the sea water. Additionally, the extensive baseline study was intended to track changes minutely.  It may be mentioned here that the plan in Haripur is to build six 1000 MW each.


Thus, one cannot deny the need to develop nuclear power in the country from various considerations. However, opponents of nuclear power refer to the risk factors though these are no longer quite valid as many safeguards are in place and these work quite effectively. Moreover, compared to the innumerable disasters at coal mines and considering the aspect of carbon emissions that is now a subject of concern the world over, nuclear power is relatively safe. One may mention here that a staggering 300,000 coal pollution-related deaths take place every year. As regards, nuclear waste, it is no longer a big problem and is well under control.


It is a well-known fact that carbon dioxide emissions are a serious threat to human welfare and the Copenhagen Accord has urged the need to reduce such emissions. Ironically, on an average the Chinese emit 3.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year compared to nearly 10 tonnes by the Britons and 20 tonnes by the Americans. Though Indian emissions are much lower than the Chinese, these are likely to increase in view of large-scale energy requirements of the country, if proper steps are not taken. It may also be added here that most coal available in the country is not high grade quality and the ash content is high, leading to more environmental pollution and not conducive for use in power plants.


An important consideration for generating power through nuclear sources is the dwindling natural resources. At the current rate of consumption, crude oil can last for 20 years, coal for 150 years but, with only a 5 per cent increase in demand, for only 50 years and gas for a mere 30 years. With the discovery of new sites, the life span of these resources can be extended only marginally. Though it is being argued that nuclear power may not provide energy security to the nation but it also cannot be denied that a substantial amount of energy can be generated from this source without any pollution-related problem.


The Indo-US nuclear deal paved the way for supply of uranium to the country and subsequent setting of nuclear power plants in the country. But a section of nuclear scientists believe that India should have experimented with thorium-based reactors as the country has huge resources of this atomic mineral. However, little is known on the status of research on thorium-based power plants and whether in the coming years such indigenously manufactured reactors could help in setting up power plants. 


Land is no doubt a big problem for setting up mega nuclear projects, as is the case with nuclear project at Haripur. While environmental concerns have to be clarified, it is also necessary that the land losers should be properly rehabilitated which means, apart from compensation at market rates, either one family member should be given a job in the power plant or provided with alternative sources of employment. This should help in acquiring the land without any resistance and not lose time in setting up the power plant. This process should be applicable for all types of power plant in future. 


It goes without saying that if human civilization were to escape the greenhouse nightmare, it is necessary to tap every possible source of renewable energy to obliterate the dependence on fossil fuel. Apart from nuclear power, the government has also launched the National Solar Mission and there are plans to achieve the target 1000 MW of solar power by the year 2013 and 20,000 MW by 2022 as the country receives about 5000 trillion kilo watt (kWh) equivalent of energy per year through solar radiation. Just one per cent of the country’s land area can meet its entire electricity requirement till the year 2030, if properly harnessed.


Experts believe that nuclear and solar power could go a long way in realizing the government’s dream of electrification of the villages of the country and meeting the increasing energy requirements in the coming years. It is indeed regrettable that nearly 400 million people in the country do not have access to electricity and it is imperative that electricity has to reach every village if the living conditions of the masses have to be improved. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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