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India’s nuclear energy future – a positive outlook? March 22, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , trackback

Auriol Weigold

Amid media comments on nuclear energy post-Japan’s earthquake and tsunami such as labeling it a pariah in supply terms, latent fears of uranium use have re-emerged with nations assessing their nuclear energy plans.  India however, has strong reasons to continue its commitment.

On 14 March, three days after the start of the emergency at Fukushima, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament that the safety of all India’s nuclear power plants would immediately be inspected. Reuters reported the following day that India’s nuclear program was on track, there would be more stringent controls and, quoting the Prime Minister, “The department of atomic energy and its agencies …  have been instructed to undertake an immediate technical review of all safety systems of our nuclear power plants … with a view to ensuring that they would be able to withstand the impact of large natural disasters such as tsunami and earthquakes”.

On 16 March the Hindustan Times editorial enlarged on the Government’s underlying concerns; that no technology is without risk and that India’s safety procedures are less than well-rehearsed, but that nuclear power remains “the only economically viable renewable source of energy”. The editorial concluded that nuclear power has a relatively good safety record and that “India must not take nuclear power off the table”. 

Reuters also reported that the head of the think tank, Imagindia Institute, had noted that while the government needs to focus more on renewables, it cannot do it at the cost of nuclear development, again stressing that there must be more robust safeguards and focus on site selection.

India’s nuclear power generation capacity is 4.8 GW, set to rise to 7.3 GW by the end of March 2012. By 2020 the country hopes to have over 20 GW of nuclear power generating capacity, and to make this possible it has signed a nuclear power deal with the United States, and opened its estimated US$150 billion nuclear power market to reactor builders including GE and Areva, a French public multinational industrial conglomerate.

Similar figures to Reuters’ are also cited in the recent Climate Group Report (India) and quoted in The Australian (19/20 March 2011), adding that India plans to increase its nuclear power to 63 GW by 2032, constructing 20 new reactors ().

GE and Arevo are not the only reactors builders in India. A Russian-built reactor at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu, has a target start date in April 2011.  It is a VVER-1000 reactor, the first of its kind to be built in India (World Nuclear Association). Despite assurances that everything is on course there has been vocal and long-running local opposition to the plant on three categories: first, location – three large settlements lie within the 5 km zone, second, concerns about the environment and need for fresh water, and third, broad problems related to reactors, regardless of their design or technology. Similar protests are on-going at, for example, the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in Maharastra constructed by Areva, by local villagers and political parties, and at the planned plant at Kovvadu in Andhra Pradesh where some 150 villages have demanded its cancellation in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis.

The positive outlook on nuclear energy taken by the Indian Government, accompanied by undertakings of immediate technical reviews of all safety systems of Indian nuclear power plants and further areas of concern, reflects an aspect of its commitment to limit carbon emissions in support of its massive energy needs. Its commitment to this form of energy is also inherent in the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement. In parallel are the protest movements, summed up by environmental activist and commentator, Praful Bidwai’s words: “We in India must be alarmed …” a remark made in the context of the Tarapur reactors, designed by GE, smaller and older, but otherwise similar to those at Fukushima (Hindustan Times, 16 Mar 2011). A powerful image in future Indian elections.


1. Vikas - March 24, 2011

“Singh told Parliament that the safety of all India’s nuclear power plants would immediately be inspected”

I wish we could trust this man, who used questionable means to get parliamentary approval for questionable nuclear bills.

“the Hindustan Times editorial… concluded that nuclear power has a relatively good safety record”

The Indian government has not yet figured out how to keep drains clear. As a result, cities are routinely flooded during monsoons. A thousand lives were lost in the 2005 Mumbai floods. I am not sure if a government that does not know how to handle usual disasters can handle nuclear accidents.

Nuclear technology and uranium suppliers ought to verify the disaster preparedness of their customers.