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The curious case of Nuclear Power Plants in India

Nuclear Power Plant I have always been surprised by the level of Indian diplomacy in the global arena. In spite of the brightest minds Indians frequently like to boast of, our diplomatic efforts in some areas have been, to say the least shoddy and wanting. Take the case for instance, for India’s membership of the Security Council. India is under the illusion that by harping on its excellent tolerance record and the fact that it has never waged a war against any country, it is going to be admitted as a member. How stupid can you get? Globally it doesn’t matter who is right or who is wrong, what matters is who has the clout. More the weapons, more the clout and to have weapons you need money. India needs to realize that rather than begging for membership of elite groups, it should instead aim at one thing and one thing solely- to become a world economic power. The day we fulfill that, all the five elite nations will beg us to take membership and if they don’t, then we can simply cancel the contract for their fighter jets. They will fall in line. Same is the case for enrichment and reprocessing equipment (ENR) ban of India.

There are some groups that India is yet not completely a part of, chiefly the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group), MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime), Australian Group and Waseenaar Agreement. USA has time and again expressed support to include India but shockingly enough, it has not materialized. When the NSG granted a waiver to India in view of its clean record, it should also include India in the purview of the ENR sales but given that one of the conditions is the NPT membership, it is not likely to happen soon.

If anybody is under the illusion that India got the 123 agreement because of its brilliant track record, think again. However, the usefulness of the agreement needs to be re-examined in the present context. India is still being refused access to ENR technology (Enrichment and Reprocessing) without which uranium supply wouldn’t make much sense. Except France, other countries are yet to commit to supply of ENR equipment to India.

Now let us see how much uranium India has. Not much. In a reply to a question in Rajya Sabha, The then minister in 2010 had answered that India had 1.47 lakh of uranium reserves. The table below (reproduced from NPCIL’s site) shows the available Thorium and Uranium reserves in India. Thorium is widely hailed as nuclear fuel of the future but Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyaar has raised certain important points regarding safety of Fast Breeder reactors in his article on nuclear safety. That we do not have enough uranium is evident that most of the operating plants are operating at between 50 to 78% load factor. What the Indian government must ensure is that we have sufficient uranium supply before we build more reactors. If we are to depend on thorium in future, why not perfect the technology and then proceed with nuclear power plants. In any case, the third stage of our nuclear programme will comprise of Thorium. We have waited for so long for nuclear apartheid to end and in the meantime, our scientists did us proud by perfecting such technologies indigenously. Surely, we can wait a bit longer for nuclear power. Why limit ourselves to uranium and instead not focus only on Thorium. If we can indigenously master such technology, why depend on others for uranium. But if we must, then there is another way to get uranium. Interestingly, we don’t need membership of any group to get uranium or enrichment technology. India is a sovereign country and can ensure such supply by entering into a bilateral treaty with any country. Clearly, lobbying efforts are not good enough. That we have to shift from coal in the coming years is evident. Whether it will be renewable or nuclear power that India will depend on is for Indians to decide. As I write this article, Australia has also agreed to supply uranium to India. This would be significant as Australia has significant supplies of uranium.

India's available energy resources

Update: As of 2018, the total installed capacity from conventional energy sources in the country as on 28.02.2018 is 2,71,300 MW.  This is only from conventional sources and does not take into account renewable sources of power. the private sector has a share of about 89,540 MW. The Indian government has approved construction of 12 nuclear power reactors – ten (10) indigenous 700 MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) 2 Light Water Reactors (LWRs) to be set up in cooperation with Russian Federation to enhance nuclear power capacity in the country. Project locations are as below:

Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors:

Madhya Pradesh- Chutka- 1400MW

Karnataka- Kaiga- 1400MW

Rajasthan-Mahi Banswara- 2800MW


Light Water Reactors:

Tamil Nadu- Kundankulam- 2000MW

The targets for nuclear power generation are set on an annual basis, as a part of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL)’s annual Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) considering planned biennial shutdowns (BSD) of units during the year, connections of new units to the grid if any, during the year etc. The generation target for the year 2018-19 was 36904 Million Units (MUs).

The actual generation in the year 2018-19 was 37813 MUs.

The Government has planned to increase the installed capacity base of nuclear power in the country for increased electricity production from nuclear power. The present installed nuclear power capacity of 6780 MW would reach 13480 MW by the year 2024-25 with the completion of projects under construction (including 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), being implemented by Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd. (BHAVINI). The Government has also accorded administrative approval and financial sanction for 12 nuclear power reactors aggregating a total capacity of 9000 MW, which are scheduled to be completed progressively by the year 2031. On their completion, the total nuclear power capacity would reach 22480 MW. More reactors based on both indigenous technologies and with foreign cooperation may be planned in the future.

Another critical issue is of safety. The Indian government thanks to a more enlightened and demanded public cannot compromise on citizen’s safety. While you can keep debating why the citizens are protesting against Kundakulam or Jaitapura, I feel their protest might not be so unjustified. This is a country where the rich man can be flown away on a plane while the affected citizens die in Bhopal. Who can blame the Indian citizen for not trusting the government on safety given that its records on safety have not been very encouraging.

As per government sources in India, the wastes generated at the nuclear power stations during the operation of Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) are of low and intermediate radioactivity level. Typically, the quantity of low and intermediate level waste to be stored at site is about 0.15 cubic meters/year/MW. These wastes are appropriately treated, concentrated and subjected to volume reduction. The concentrates are immobilized in inert materials like cement, bitumen, polymers etc. and stored in specially constructed structures located at the site under monitoring. The treated liquids and gases are diluted and discharged under continuous monitoring, ensuring that the discharges are well within the limits set by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).  The radioactivity level of the stored wastes reduces with time and by the end of the plant life, falls to very low levels (Information received as per written answer in parliament. Source: PIB, India).

I fail to understand why the operators cannot agree to unlimited liability. If I have faith in my technology, if I believe that it is hundred percent secure then barring an act of God, I should be ready to guarantee unlimited liability in case there is something wrong. But no company will do this. What is stopping Russian or French firms from holding a press conference and state publicly that they are ready to assume unlimited liability in case of an accident regardless of whether the Indian government requires it or not. But they will never do that for a simple reason- they are not sure whether the technology is 100% full proof or not. Areva’s technology is also unproven. In case of an accident, it is the citizen’s who will die so if you ask them to stake their lives then they have a right to demand unlimited liability. Kundalkulam’s operators need to realize we don’t want any Indian or Russian official to say that it is safe. Let a third party scientist team examine and state the same. Is there anyone in this world who will say that see I made this beautiful plant and I accept that it is not fully safe.

The Atomic Energy Commission should have opened dialogue with the protesters of Kundankulam and addressed their queries. If they have concerns, the Govt. should address their grievances. At present, the situation is of mutual mistrust which is adversely affecting the proper functioning of the plant which is not a good sign.

The Government has created an Indian Nuclear Insurance Pool (INIP) on 12th June, 2015. M/s. General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC-Re), along with several other Indian Insurance Companies, have launched the Indian Nuclear Insurance Pool (INIP) with a capacity of ₹1500 crore to provide insurance to cover the liability as prescribed under Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act, 2010. This has addressed issues related to Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act and had facilitated commencement of work in setting up new nuclear power projects.

Read more on;

Is nuclear power safe?

Indian electricity scenario

Anticipated power supply position of India during 2011-12

Image Credit: Wikipedia


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