Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nuclear the Answer

India is a developing country, and one clear sign of that is the energy demand that its people have created since independence. India is the second most populated country in the world, and has the fifth largest installed capacity of electricity generation. To level those two numbers, the yard-stick to use is the per capita energy consumption, in which India is ranked beyond 140. In today’s scenario, India has a peak load demand of more than 12000 MW. India’s peak-hours shortfall rose by 0.4% in 2011. Clearly, the demand is exceeding the supply – 16000 MW of generation capacity was added from April to December in the same year.

Indian government plans to add 107000 MW to the installed capacity in the next five-years (2012-2017), having added only 70% of the set target of 52000 MW addition between the years 2007 and 2012. And, most of the power plants in place, and those about to be lined up, are thermal, especially, coal-based. As it is, coal based account for more than 55% of Indian power generation, and including other thermal sources, the number is 65%.

Let’s face it – coal is not going to last forever. Different people have different guesses for its extinction. Some say it will be gone by 2020, some say 2050. But, it will be gone very soon at the rate it is being consumed. We can only look at alternate sources of energy. Hydro is an easy option. Just that, you can tap the North-Eastern belly full of hydro energy potential, but have no-where to send it to in the difficult terrain. There is solar energy to tap, but at the cost that it made available for, Indians cannot afford it, even at the 40% subsidiary the government is willing to offer. Solar energy’s other deficiencies add up to its dismissal as the answer to overcoming the power shortfall. Wind energy, likewise, is very costly to install, wind farms are scarcely located and they are very inconsistent in generation for us, as a nation, to bank on for the demand.

The one answer, that may check all the boxes, however, is nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is nothing new to anyone. It has been used around the world, benefiting millions of people. It caters to 15% of world’s electricity requirements. India has, as of 2011, 4800 MW of installed capacity off nuclear power plants, and ranks 15th in the world by generation.

Just to compare the numbers, India’s total installed capacity of power generation is around 185 GW, and USA’s installed nuclear power capacity alone comes to 101 GW. 75% of France’s electricity supply is fulfilled by nuclear power, and even sell it to neighbouring countries.
The most common nuclear fuel is Uranium.

Nuclear power is green. It is non-polluting – it does not cause air pollution, it does not pollute the water, nuclear waste disposal is well watched and is done under watchful eyes of IAEA and other international eyes with the sole interest to not do the environment any harm. Fear not.

To further eliminate any concern about nuclear waste disposal, the nuclear sector is planning to move towards breeder reactors, which will reprocess the spent fuel and recover upto an expected 95% of usable fuel for subsequent reactions nuclear reactions and thereby, generate more power with minimal wastes. As of today, reprocessing done is less, but it will rise as the number of breeder reactors rise.
Nuclear power has to find its support in India too. There are 18 reactors in India, supplying 4.8 GW. It is about time to add more to it. The amount of fuel required to generate electricity for any number of units, is much less than that of coal burnt to generate the same.

The Kudankulam Nuclear power Plant has an installed capacity of 2000 MW burning the pockets. And, more units weighing in at 4000 MW combined will be added to it soon. Tamil Nadu’s power deficiency alone exceeds 1600 MW. Time and again, nuclear watch-dogs from around the world have tested and left satisfied with the safety deployed at the plants at the Kudankulam. It is us people who need to dispel the unnecessary fears locked in our minds.

Let it be known that the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was installed in the year 1971 – two years after Tarapur Atomic Power Station was in place – and the power plant at Fukushima needed an earthquake that measured 9 on the Richter Scale coupled with the gigantic forces of tsunami to cause damage that caught the attention of international eyes. Nothing survives disasters like that, nothing. It was catastrophic, yes. But, accidents cannot be seen as the reason to stop looking forward. Safety mechanisms are put in to avert as many disasters foreseeable as possible.

Technology is a wonderful asset. The Wright brothers crashed their flights in many of their trials, and then made their first successful glide of 120 feet. Today, we fly in planes that measure longer than that. we have seen accidents, and we have overcome those defects. We shouldn’t give up on something good.

India has been blessed with abundant deposits of Thorium, which is quite special. It is only justified if we can make use of this gift of nature and satisfy the hunger of energy demand that has landed upon us.

Hopefully, nuclear is now clear.

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