Nuclear power in India is the 4th largest energy source. Currently, most of the power in India is being generated by thermal (coal) and hydro power plants. There are 19 operational nuclear power plants in India, generating around 4560 MW of energy. Another 4 are under construction. Initially, during the early 19990s, India received most of its fuel from Russia. However, due to the depletion of resources and increasing costs, India received a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers group in 2008, and is now importing uranium (and other nuclear fuel) from countries like Kazakhstan, Argentina, Namibia, UK, USA and France. Through a renewed deal of $700mn USD with Russia in February 2009, India now receives fuel from Russia as well.
India was a Non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This treaty aimed to control the use of nuclear energy for constructive purposes, and prevented its signatories from using nuclear fuel to develop weapons. Finland and Ireland had proposed it initially, and it was signed later by many other countries. India, Pakistan and North Korea refused to sign the treaty and have tested and developed nuclear missiles openly, while Israel keeps its nuclear policies under wraps. This has prevented India from obtaining fuel at reasonable costs through which it can generate the power needed for its people. After the much hyped Indo – US nuclear deal with the US, India will be able to freely trade in nuclear fuel and technologies with other countries at lower prices. It is hoped that the total power generation through nuclear fission will reach 45000MW by 2020.
There have been some problems along the way. The Smiling Buddha incident or the explosion in the nuclear reactor at Pokhran in 1974 was one of the disasters that had occurred in India’s nuclear journey. It was covered up until recently controversial statements were made. It took a long and laborious debate and voting in the parliament, preceded by umpteen talks with the US delegates to get the Indo-US deal through. India has made good progress on the heavy water reactor technology, and needs to go much further ahead to be able to fulfil its energy needs. GMR Energy, a subsidiary of GMR Infrastructure, has announced to develop the first privately owned nuclear power plant in India in another 5 years. However, we need many more power plants in order to achieve the target. Also, the cost of setting us a nuclear power plant is still very high – it is around 7cr (excluding hidden and RnD costs), while it takes about 2-4cr for other power plants based on sources like thermal, gas, etc.
Hopefully, with continuous and sustained efforts from the government and improvements in technology in order to bring on operational efficiency and thus reduction of costs, nuclear power will be able to achieve its full potential in India. This can only happen if the government in India gives incentives to the youth of the country to stay back in India and enter into research related professions, rather than pursuing the same in other countries. The youth of our country, due to the poor opportunities and pay scales for research profiles in India, usually take up other courses like engineering, medicine or commerce and most of them go abroad to look for greener pastures. This must be stopped by making research professions in India merit-based rather than caste-based, and introducing some serious restructuring reforms in the employment for research fields.
Here’s wishing a very Happy World Environment Day, and to hoping that India will be able to make its much needed contribution to the environment through its nuclear energy programmes, among others.