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India dreams big on Nuclear energy
By Pallava Bagla January 26, 2013
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NEW DELHI: India has big plans for nuclear energy. There are both opportunities for countries to sell nuclear technology and material to India and for smaller countries to buy reactor technology from India. India being a founding member of the global nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna has had a spotless proliferation record, so doing business with India is opportune in the 21st century.

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has always strongly batted for use of nuclear energy, speaking at the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Saha Institute of nuclear physics in Kolkata, West Bengal, Singh said, “I am convinced that nuclear energy will play an important role in our quest for a clean and environmentally friendly energy mix as a major locomotive to fuel our development processes.”

In a global landmark, the world’s safest nuclear reactor, the 1000 MW Russian made reactor tat experts say can never face a Fukushima type of disaster since it can be cooled simply by air flow and gravity in times of emergency is being commissioned at Kudankulam in southern India.

India today has 20 operating nuclear power plants all owned by the government which generate about 4,780 MW of power and in addition runs about half-a-dozen research reactors. The country has accumulated, according to the government, about 350 reactor years of experience and has an “impeccable (safety) record.” Singh, a known votary of nuclear power, had staked the future of his own government in 2008 in favour of the landmark Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement that brought India back into the fold of global nuclear commerce. India now wants to ramp up its nuclear capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032, by importing reactors from France, Russia and USA.

India’s nuclear energy programme has been unique as it rallies mostly on home-grown technology and today the department of Atomic Energy makes its own 700 MW pressurised heavy water reactors, while a smaller 220 MW reactor is being offered for export to countries who may seek the technology.

Nature unfortunately has been unkind to India as it is not well endowed with uranium and if all the resources are used a 10,000 MW nuclear programme can be sustained only for 40 years. But on the other had since the Indian soils are rich in thorium, a globally unique nuclear energy development pathway called the three stage nuclear grand plan has been put in place by the country.

The idea is to install small reactors that use natural uranium to generate power, the waste that emerges from this can then be used as fuel in so called “fast breeder reactors” and finally a completely new kind of reactor the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor, a plant that feeds on the abundant thorium reserves could generate enough electricity to power the nation for 250 years, fulfilling India’s quest for energy independence.

India had been under international sanctions ever since it exploded a nuclear device in 1974, which became stifling in 1998 after India tested nuclear weapons at Pokhran, in the deserts of Rajasthan. The sanctions were formally lifted in 2008, when the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency, suitably amended their rules to accommodate India into the nuclear commerce club in spite of the fact that India has still not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), India’s impeccable non-proliferation record was applauded and an exception made for India so that India’s desire to provide clean carbon free energy to its vast 1.2 billion population could be satiated.

Today India is ready to import 40,000 MW of installed capacity of nuclear reactors of which 20,000 MW may come from two American suppliers General Electric and Westinghouse, another 10,000 MW may come from Russians and the rest 10,000 MW may be supplied by the French. Negotiations are at an advanced stage, efforts are on to find suitable solutions on how to accommodate the requirements of people-centric nuclear liability regime that the Indian parliament enacted recently.

 If all goes as per plans, the world’s single largest nuclear power park may come up at Jaitapur, a coastal site south of Mumbai where AREVA, the French nuclear giant, is getting ready to install 9,900 MW of atomic reactors.

India is one of the few of handful of countries that has end-to-end capabilities from mining of uranium, enrichment, using it in atomic power plants and then also has the capability to re-process the waste so that every drop of energy is squeezed out from the scarce uranium resource. Since the country believes that plutonium the so-called ‘long lived dirty by-product’ of a nuclear programme is also a rich source of energy, suitable highly modern reactors are being indigenously designed to harness all the energy. The world’s only 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor is at an advanced stage of construction at Kalpakkam, south of Chennai, a plant that will generate more fuel that it consumes.

Ratan Kumar Sinha, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Mumbai, India’s highest decision-making body on matters nuclear says, “India is deeply committed to increasing the role of nuclear energy while ensuring full safety of its citizens.”

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