- GS-3: Infrastructure: Energy
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Nuclear Energy: Misguided Policy
Context: On December 15, 2021, the Indian government had informed Parliament that it plans to build “10 indigenous reactors in fleet mode” and had granted “in principle approval” for 28 additional reactors, including 24 to be imported from France, the U.S. and Russia.
- Given the post-Fukushima global and national trends in the nuclear industry, such a policy seems misguide
What was Fukushima Nuclear disaster?
- On 11th March 2011, multiple reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan suffered severe accidents after an earthquake and a tsunami.
- Those reactors were quickly “shut down” following the earthquake. But their radioactive cores continued producing heat and eventually melted down because the tsunami knocked out the cooling system.
Why India’s push towards nuclear energy is misguided?
- Capital Intensive: Nuclear power plants are capital intensive that requires billions of dollars of investment.
- Cost Overruns: Recent nuclear builds have suffered major cost overruns. Ex: V.C. Summer nuclear project in South Carolina (U.S.) where costs rose so sharply that the project was abandoned — after an expenditure of over $9 billion.
- Cheaper Alternatives: The cost of alternative renewable-energy technologies has reduced drastically. Nuclear energy costs at least ₹ 15 per unit excluding transmission costs. In contrast, solar power is now made available at ₹2.14 per unit. (₹4.30 per unit with storage).
- If nuclear electricity is to be sold at a competitive rate, it would have to be greatly subsidised by the Indian government, which operates all nuclear plants through the Nuclear Power Corporation of India.
- Against the global trend: In 1996, 17.5% of the world’s electricity came from nuclear power plants; by 2020, this figure had declined to just around 10%.
- In 2008, the U.S. government projected an expansion of nuclear capacity to 114.9 gigawatts by 2030; in 2021, it predicted that capacity would contract to 83.3 gigawatts.
- Failure of Indo-US Nuclear deal: The government had predicted in 2010 that nuclear capacity in India would reach 35 gigawatts by 2020 (Installed capacity today is only 6.78 GW). Such targets were based on the expectation that India would import many light-water reactors after the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal. But, the deal has not led to the establishment of a single new nuclear plant.
- High Cost of Nuclear Disaster: A nuclear disaster might leave large swathes of land uninhabitable — as in Chernobyl — or require a prohibitively expensive clean-up — as in Fukushima, where the final costs may eventually exceed $600 billion.
- Liabilities of Supplier: Concerns about safety have been heightened by the insistence of nuclear suppliers that they be indemnified of liability for the consequence of any accident in India.
- Climate Concerns: Nuclear power is not the right choice to “adapt” to climate change, which requires resilience in power systems. In 2020, a windstorm caused the Duane Arnold nuclear plant in the U.S. to cease operations. The frequency of such extreme weather events is likely to increase in the future.
- It is also not the appropriate choice for mitigating India’s carbon emissions since it cannot be deployed at the necessary scale.
- Local Protests: Safety concerns following the Fukushima accident have led to protests against each planned reactor.
Given the inherent vulnerabilities of nuclear reactors and their high costs, it would be best for the Government to unambiguously cancel its plans for a nuclear expansion
Connecting the dots: