India go Nuclear Should India Go Nuclear for Energy Solution [pic] Nuclear power plants perhaps can provide solutions to India’s horrible power shortages and outages too. With the US assistance envisaged in recent Indo-US joint statement India plans to take its nuclear power generation capability closer to the goal of 20,000 MW by 2020. The high cost of nuclear power may be one deterrent for its choice or preference. In 80s and 90s many nuclear power projects even in US got cancelled or deferred because of the financial realities rather than environmentalists’ protests. However, many things have changed over the last two decades.
With design standardization and modular assembly of reactors, construction periods have shrunk and might shrink further with further improvements through new researches in technologies and management practices. Nuclear plants still involve high capital investment, at 60 per cent of the total plant cost. However, the oil crisis is forcing all the developed countries to revisit the nuclear technology and through researches such as fusion power and breeder reactors. A new pragmatic approach for the over all cost is making nuclear power a viable alternative with low interest rates and high oil prices more due to uncertainty of political chaos.
A steady improvement in capacity factors is also reducing per unit cost of energy. The basic recurring cost of fuels and its impending price escalation and availability tilt the preference for nuclear plants as a serious contender. A nuclear plant may be having better viability with respect to coal -based plant, if it located at more than 1,000-1,200 km away from coal deposits. It is surprising and many may not be knowing that despite substantive coal reserves (though of low quality coal), India today imports nearly 10 million tonnes of coal annually and this figure could increase eightfold by 2012!
Coal can’t remain the source of energy for a long time in India. However, coal still serves as a primary energy source for 55 per cent of energy generation. Another deterrent of coal-based plant is its adverse environmental impact. Compared to 35 tonnes of spent fuel discharged annually as waste by a 100 MW nuclear plant, a similar capacity coal plant annually emits 6. 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide alone. Will India increase its contribution to the world’s carbon dioxide emission? With coal-based plant if India tries to meet the increase n per capita electricity consumption, India’s contribution to the world’s carbon dioxide emissions would increase between 2020-50 to a whopping 30-35 per cent. Eco-friendly thermal units, such as the integrated gasification and combined cycle power project may provide an alternative way out. But the cost implication will be tremendous. In order to increase the efficiency of coal-based plants even by 1 per cent, an additional five million tonnes of coal would be required. With increasing prices of oil and with 70% import dependence, oil can’t be thought an alternative.
When the price of oil is above $28 a barrel, then its economic advantage declines. The present price ranges around $60 a barrel. Natural gas could have been a solution, but its economics becomes doubtful with limited domestic availability, and the need for long-distance transportation. Nuclear plants may have the disadvantages of cost related to waste management and plant decommissioning at the end of its life cycle Interestingly, the high cost for the disposal of waste from the coal plants, is not properly included in that of the power plant, even though the waste generated is several times more.
A study conducted in Europe that estimated that the inclusion of health and environment costs would double the EU price of electricity from coal and increase by 30 per cent that from gas is an eye-opener. [pic] India has now 234 reactor years of operational experience. India must encourage the initiatives of nuclear power generation plants even by private enterprises such as Reliance Power and Tata Power. Our own technologies as well as all possible collaborations for high-tech nuclear power generation will be essential to solve our perennial power shortage problem without which India can’t hope to achieve its desired growth.
And our research institutes must work for cutting down the cost and make the technology as safe as possible to wipe out the negative perception about these nuclear plants in public mind. Simultaneously, the country must carry on its drive for other renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and biomass too. Hydroelectric power is the cheapest- roughly one-fifth to one-eighth in the cost. Fortunately, India has huge river networks that can easily be exploited but for the problem created by the environmentalists and human rights groups, some times for vested interests.
I still remember that in IIT, Kharagpur, we had a huge pilot plant to produce gasoline fuel from coals that was procured from Soviet Russia in those days. I don’t know if the plant still exists and whether the institute conducted any worthwhile research. It is unfortunate that all our institutes of importance are giving too much importance to IT related studies only and all these areas of real hardware researches are getting neglected.