Nuclear Power is Viable option for India

Stepping Out

Stepping Out

Nuclear Power a viable option
India can exploit Nuclear Power

Over 30 countries in the world today rely upon nuclear energy as a commercial source of power generation. Some of them include Lithuania and France with over 78% generation coming from nuclear power. Belgium, Sweden, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Armenia receiving over 35% share from nuclear electricity and USA, UK, Germany with about 20% etc. Worldwide 436 nuclear power plants are in operation with 370221 Mwe installed capacity. New plants are added in China, India, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea and Russia last year and over three dozen are under construction. Notwithstanding this evolution and sustained development, capacity addition from nuclear power as commercially viable source of electricity supply has been projected as a contentious issue by a section of society.

In India there is no competition between various sources of energy as there is endemic power shortage here. Current installed capacity is about 140,000 Mwe and new capacities are added @ 4000 Mwe each year. This is totally inadequate when the target is to add 10000 Mwe each year. Given the acute shortages in peak supply ( >12%) and energy demand (>10%), Nuclear power does not have to compete with coal and hydro in India. They are the main sources for power generation and will remain so. There is a question mark on gas fired power plants as having a long-term role. They have short gestation but the gas has been mostly imported. Recently KG Basin gas has started to flow but mostly to Fertilizer plants in India. The prices of the crude oil are linked to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) or imported gas through pipelines. The fears are that crude would remain a volatile commodity and price predictability challenge makes Gas fired plants very vulnerable to investors. Renewable energy will have growing but for decades only marginal role in India.

Nuclear Power in India today has installed capacity of 4120 Mwe and new construction of 2660 MWe is underway. New builds include 2×1000 MW VVER type Russian supplied power plants located at Kudamkulam in Tamil Nadu state. A 500 Mwe capacity Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam town is also under construction since 2004. One 220 Mwe capacity PHWR type unit is also under construction at Kaiga near Goa.

Global warming due to Carbon emissions from gas & coal fired plants is emerging as the biggest threat to environment. In comparison nuclear power seems benign. It does not emit any green house gases at all. Nuclear power is beginning to be recognized as part of the solution to meet ever-increasing demand for electricity by growing economies and without aggravating the problems caused by notorious green house gases in environment. In fact Patrick Moore, one of the recognised cofounders of Greenpeace now consdiers that Nuclear Power  along with recognised sources of renewable energy basket is good answer to the green house gas reduction target faced by the global community and governments.

Very often specter of nuclear accident is raised to frighten public. There were two major accidents, one in 70’s at Three Mile Island in US and second in 1986 at Chernobyl in Soviet Union. Chernobyl killed 31 workers at the plant. Hard lessons are learnt and newer and safer variety of reactors such as European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPWR), pebble bed type inherently safe designs or Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR) and AP-1000 are developed. These would reduce possibilities of accidents to inconsequential levels. Compare this with coal-fired plants that continue to remorselessly kill over 20000 people each year due to coal mining , transport and soot from thermal power plant chimneys.

Main reasons why India should continue with nuclear power are access to proven technology and fast emerging favorable economics. The  Indo- US Civilian Nuclear Cooperation signed in 2008  now allows import of power generation plants by India.  It may take some years for this to deliver the first units from US or France.  Imported reactors could add 6000 MWe within a decade from now.  So far as the capital investments are concerned, Nuclear plants seem expensive in the beginning, as its capital cost is high like hydro plants. But its fuel cost is only about 15% to 20% of the total generation cost. This is because the Uranium prices are still low & stable compared to other fuel sources. In Europe the cheapest thermal power is produced form the nuclear power plants built in 70’s and 80’s. In India coal prices spiral @20% each year. Coal constitutes 40% of generation price, so it relentlessly produces expensive power for years.

Take for example the nuclear plant under construction at Kudamkulam (2×1000 Mwe, VVER by Russians) costing about 6.5 crores of Indian Rupees (INR) per Mwe ($1.3 billion per MWe). Generation cost will be under rupees 4 per kilowatt-hour in 2007. Cost of generation for 90’s nuclear power plant is less than 3 rupees per Kwhr (6 US Cents per Kwhr), 80’s are less than 2 rupees per Kwhr and Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS) built in 1969 produces power at less than1 rupee per unit. Nuclear power plants have 40-50 years useful life. It would win hands down on price front after first 8 -10 years of operation compared to same vintage coal and gas stations.

It is the public perception promoted by a section of society opposed to nuclear power that is the main challenge and not the techno-commercial viability and its enhanced environmental relevance.

Rajendra Shrivastav


11 thoughts on “Nuclear Power is Viable option for India

  1. Excellent post, particularly on the cost breakdowns!

    Perhaps a bit more focus on India’s Thorium Fuel Cycle program, which is now setting an example of long term thinking, planning & execution by government.

    This program was started by Homi Bhabha 50 yrs ago and will reach complete maturity by 2020. A 60-year strategic thinking, planning & execution cycle by GoI!

    According to science historian Charles Barton “believing that they had mastered all of the individual components of their thorium fuel cycle program, the Indians have set about to build prototypes of commercial reactors that are intended to go into serial production. They have been faithful to Homi Bhabha’s vision. They have found a way to highly efficient technology, a technology that is far more efficient in its use of nuclear fuel, than the French/American nuclear system by ingeniously mastering and organizing relatively old nuclear technologies, and leveraging them into a fuel efficient system. By doing so they will achieve EROIE’s many times that achieved by Western fuel/reactor systems. The Indian Thorium fuel cycle system will provide electricity to an enormous country for at least 350 years, from 500,000 tons of fuel. Indian scientists and engineers are on the brink of a significant human accomplishment, the realization of Bhabha vision of bringing nuclear generated electricity to India’s vast population.”

  2. Thanks for your kind remarks . I did not touch on Thorium as it would than lead to talking about future technologies and its impact could be felt after another 15-20 years from now. I am more concerned at this instance to advocate a rapid addition of commercially viable nuclear power plants including imported ones from say Europe , USA or Russia. Just to speak about Thorium route for India, first of all the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) of 300 MW capacity is to be built and operated for some years reportedly employing 65% of Throium to produce power along with Plutoniuom Oxide as fuel. This design is the brain child of BARC and if successful would open the industrial scale option for three stage program that you are referring to and as conceived by Dr. Bhaha.

  3. I understand your rationale for not discussing Thorium but I think there is a general lack of understanding about the Indian nuclear scene & of Thorium’s place in particular. I spoke with some smart, young people the other day & found that even IIT grads do not have a good handle on the Indian nuclear scene. They had heard of Thorium but had no clue how & where it fits in the overall Indian nuclear scene.

    Another value of speaking about future technologies is for those who have a career planning horizon of 5-10 yrs in mind.

    I spoke to a friend of mine who is at a stage of life where he needs to counsel his two bright young sons about future possible career options. Career planning strategies are not as clear cut as they used to be even six months ago with the recent downturn in both the I.T. & global finance fields.

    My friend was not aware, other than vaguely, of the potential of the Indian nuclear industry; that this could be a viable option for his sons. Like my friend, I’m sure there are others who would like a more comprehensive overview of the Indian nuclear scene.

    • Chris,

      I do not visit my Blog very regularly. only when I wrtie and that is genrally once in 15 – 30 days. So this late reply.

      What exactly you want to know about Indian Nuclear Liability Bill?

      The main concern for international vendors and suppliers is the thrid party ( victims of radiation expsoure in public domain) can sue them or even the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) can lay claim on damages if their fault is proven.

      Now that we are experiencing the Fukushima core melt down and large amount of radioactivity relased in public domain and more releases likely, this Bill will not be adapted for any concessions in India in foreseeable future for French, Russian, US suppliers.

    • Chris,

      Here are few issues that concern compensation and will impact the vendors / suppliers of hardware to Nuclear power plant in India. My sense is that ground rules of Clause 17 are not there in any other countries Nuclear Liability Bill.

      1. Clause 6 of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act , 2010 states that all Nuclear power plants ( each above 10 MW capacity) will have collective INR 15000 million as cover.
      2. This limit can be revised by Union Government.
      3. The Financial liability will be provided by the Operator of the plant by securing necessary insurance cover ( Who will Insure in India is questionable).
      4. For amounts exceeding this limit Union Government can take over as Soverign guarantor.
      5. As per Clause 17 of this act the Operator can take recourse to seek damages from the suppliers / vendors as provided in contract. In fact the contracts will have this kind of clause which was never there till now.
      6. As per Clause 17 recourse to seek damages will be available to the operator in case latent defects were found or sub standard services were provided leading to reactor incident. Paras b) and c) specificy the details.

      The Act is accesible on Government of India web site. .


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