Bills/Act/LawsDOMRExplainedGovt. SchemesHistorical Sites in NewsIOCRMains Onlyop-ed of the dayop-ed snapPIBPlaces in newsPrelims OnlyPriority 1SC JudgementsSpecies in NewsStates in News
August 2021
M T W T F S S
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Nuclear Energy

The future of nuclear energy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fast reactors vs thermal reactor

Mains level : Paper 3- future of nuclear

Context

Bill Gates recently announced the decision to launch his own nuclear reactor with an eye on the possibility of exporting fast breeder reactors to power-hungry nations.

About the Gates plan

  • TerraPower, the nuclear company founded by Mr. Gates, has just announced an agreement with private funders, including Warren Buffett, and the State of Wyoming, U.S. to site its Natrium fast reactor demonstration project there.
  • Moreover, since it falls within the “advanced” small modular reactor project of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Department will subsidise the project to the extent of $80 million this year.
  •  Mr. Gates believes that the fast breeder reactors will replace the current reactors.
  • The DOE and other nuclear enthusiasts also believe that small, factory-built, modular reactors will be cheaper and safer, and will be so attractive to foreign buyers.

The impact of Fukushima Daiichi accident on nuclear power situation

  • The Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan on March 11, 2011 completely transformed the nuclear power situation.
  • Countries phased out nuclear power: As the global community turned its attention to strengthening nuclear safety, several countries opted to phase out nuclear power. 
  • The nuclear industry was at a standstill except in Russia, China and India.
  • Liability clause in India: Even in India, the expected installation of imported reactors did not materialise because of our liability law and the anti-nuclear protests in proposed locations.
  • India had to go in for more indigenous reactors to increase the nuclear component of its energy mix.

Regaining place as a climate-friendly energy option

  • Two factors have contributed to the emergence of nuclear power as a climate-friendly energy option once again after the Fukushima Daiichi accident:-
  • 1) Intensive efforts to strengthen nuclear safety, and
  • 2) Threat of global warming is becoming ever more apparent.
  • Countries such as Japan and Germany reopened their reactors to produce energy.
  • Organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) recognise the ability of nuclear power to address major global challenges.

Challenges ahead

  • Delay in adoption: Even as IPCC and IEA recognise the importance of nuclear power, it remains uncertain whether the value of this clean, reliable and sustainable source of energy will achieve its full potential any time soon.
  • Policy and financing framework issue: In some major markets, nuclear power lacks a favourable policy and financing framework that recognise its contributions to climate change mitigation and sustainable development.
  • Without such a framework, nuclear power will struggle to deliver on its full potential, even as the world remains as dependent on fossil fuels.

Concerns with Gates plan

  • Proliferation risk: TerraPower announced in March that Natrium would be fuelled with uranium enriched to 20% U-235 rather than explosive plutonium.
  • The critics believe that there will be a rush to make 20% enriched uranium world wide.
  • The main objection to nuclear enrichment beyond a point in Iran arises from the fact that it would lead to weapon-grade uranium being available for them.
  • Facilitates the production of material used as nuclear explosives: The other objection being raised against is that the principal reason for preferring fast reactors is to gain the ability to breed plutonium.
  • That is surely what foreign customers will want.
  • The way it is configured, the reactor would make and reuse massive quantities of material that could also be used as nuclear explosives in warheads.
  • Focus on India and China: The opponents of TerraPower believe that India and China will be encouraged in their efforts to develop fast breeder reactors and may even want to buy them from Mr. Gates.
  • India’s fast breeder reactor, which is not subject to international inspections, is seen as capable of feeding the nuclear weapons capability of India.

Conclusion

With the threat of global warming due to climate change amplifying with each coming day, the world needs to take a serious relook at the adoption of nuclear technology.


Back2Basics: What is a fast breeder reactor?

  • This special type of reactor is designed to extend the nuclear fuel supply for electric power generation.
  • Whereas a conventional nuclear reactor can use only the readily fissionable but more scarce isotope uranium-235 for fuel, a breeder reactor employs either uranium-238 or thorium, of which sizable quantities are available.
  • Uranium-238, for example, accounts for more than 99 percent of all naturally occurring uranium.
  • In breeders, approximately 70 percent of this isotope can be utilized for power production.
  • Conventional reactors, in contrast, can extract less than one percent of its energy.

Natrium fast reactor demonstration project

  • Natrium nuclear power plants represent a significant advance over the light water reactor plants in use today.
  • The Natrium plant uses a sodium-cooled fast reactor as a heat source.
  • This heat from the reactor is carried by molten salt from inside the nuclear island to heat storage tanks outside the reactor building, where it is utilized as needed for generating electricity or industrial processes.
  • The net effect is that the overall plant can load follow, thus increasing the revenue and value of the plant while maintaining the optimum constant reactor power.
  • At the same time the cost of the overall plant is reduced since many of the systems outside of the nuclear island need not be nuclear safety grade.
  • The Natrium reactor enables these abilities because it operates in much higher temperature regimes than the light water reactor, thus pairing well to the temperature requirements of the molten salt heat transfer medium.

Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

A cycle of low growth, higher inflation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Minsky moment

Mains level : Paper 3- Policy intervention needed for recovery of economy

Context

In recent times, several economists have been arguing that the Government does not need to do anything with the economy. They argue that like after the Great Depression, the economy rebounded worldwide, and so will it with us. The argument is fallacious on four accounts:

Four factors that make recovery different from the recovery after the Great Depression

1) Demand destruction

  • In the case of the Great Depression, demand was created by the Second World War effort, especially in the United States.
  • Demand destruction: In the current scenario, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in demand destruction.
  • This is because many jobs have been lost, and even where jobs were retained, there have been pay cuts.
  • Both of these trends were confirmed in the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy and other surveys.

Bright spot on export front

  • The only bright spot in this dismal scenario is that the western world has spent a lot of money stimulating the economy.
  • However, the Indian exporter face the challenge of rising freight costs and structural issues such as a strong rupee relative to major competitors.
  • Only the Indian IT sector is placed well to capitalise on rising demand in the world markets.

2) Inflation and factors driving it

  • India is suffering from stagnant growth to low growth in the last two quarters.
  • As in the low initial base set by last year, almost any growth this year is seen as a significant growth percentage.
  • Commodity prices and monetary policy: Inflation in India is being imported through a combination of high commodity prices and high asset price inflation caused by ultra-loose monetary policy followed across the globe.
  • Liquidity infusion: RBI is infusing massive liquidity into the system by following an expansionary monetary policy through the G-SAP, or Government Securities Acquisition Programme.
  • Foreign portfolio investors have directed a portion of the liquidity towards our markets.
  • India has a relatively low market capitalisation, therefore, India cannot absorb the enormous capital inflow without asset prices inflating.
  • Supply chain issues: Additionally, supply chain bottlenecks have contributed to the inflation we see in India today.
  • Rising fuel prices: India’s usurious taxation policy on fuel has made things worse.
  • Rising fuel prices percolate into the economy by increasing costs for transport.

Impact of inflation

  • The middle and lower-middle-class get destitute due to regressive indirect taxes and high inflation, with their wealth eroding due to said inflation.
  • Especially in the case of the lower middle class, inflation is lethal as they do not have access to any hard assets, including the most fundamental hard asset, gold.
  • The increase in fuel prices will also lead to a rise in wages demanded as the monthly expense of the general public increases.
  • This leads to the dangerous cycle of inflation and depleting growth.

3) Interest Rate

  • The only solution for any central banker once he realises that inflation is entrenched is tightening liquidity and further pushing the cost of money.
  • If this does not dampen inflation, repo rates will need to go up later this year or early next year.
  • Tightening the money supply is a painful act that will threaten to decimate what is left of our economy.
  • Rising interest rates lead to a decrease in aggregate demand in a country, which affects the GDP.
  • There is less spending by consumers and investments by corporates.

4) Rising NPA and its impact on credit growth

  • Rising interest rates, lack of liquidity, and offering credit to leveraged companies instead of direct subsidies to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to counter the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects will result in NPAs of public sector banks climbing faster.
  • Our small and medium scale sector is facing a Minsky moment. 
  • The Minsky moment marks the decline of asset prices, causing mass panic and the inability of debtors to pay their interest and principal.
  • India has reached its Minsky moment.
  • This means that the public sector unit and several other banks will need capital in copious amounts to make up for bad debt.
  • The Union government’s Budget is in no position to infuse large amounts of capital.
  • As a result of the above causes, credit growth is at a multi-year low of 5.6%.

Way forward

  • Indian economy is in a vicious cycle of low growth and higher inflation unless policy action ensures higher demand and growth.

Conclusion

In the absence of policy interventions, India will continue on the path of a K-shaped recovery where large corporates with low debt will prosper at the cost of small and medium sectors. This means lower employment as most of the jobs are created by the latter.

India’s Bid to a Permanent Seat at United Nations

India set to take over as President of the UNSC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : United Nations Security Council

Mains level : UNSC reforms

India will take over the Presidency of the UN Security Council on August 1 and is set to host signature events in three major areas of maritime security, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism during the month.

Key agendas on the table

During its Presidency, India will be organizing high-level signature events in three major areas:

  • Maritime security
  • Peacekeeping and
  • Counterterrorism

About United Nations Security Council

  • The UNSC is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions.
  • It is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
  • The Security Council consists of fifteen members. Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the United States—serve as the body’s five permanent members (P5).
  • These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General.
  • The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members.

Issues with UNSC

(1) Non-representative

  • UNSC in its current form is not representative of the developing world and global needs — with the primacy of policy being a political tool in hands of P5.
  • By 1992, India, Brazil, Germany, and Japan (referred as G4) had put up their claims and logic for demanding inclusion as permanent members.
  • India has been part of UN since its inception and has contributed maximum peacekeepers to UN so far, has a strong case.
  • Brazil is the largest country in Latin America (unrepresented continent) and fifth-largest in the world. Japan and Germany are one of the largest financial donors to UN.

(2) Rivalry with G4

  • The pitch for reforms of G4 was lowered by their regional rivals like Italy, Pakistan, Mexico and Egypt.
  • They started formulation of another interest group, known to be “Uniting for Consensus” opposing G4 becoming permanent members with veto power.

(3) Rigid framework

  • Reforms in the UNSC also require an amendment to the UN charter, in accordance with Article 108.
  • This highlights that any reform of the Security Council not only requires the support of at least two-thirds of UN member states but also all the permanent members.

(4) Veto power

  • The stance of P5 members to expansion has been varying as per their national interest, like most P5 members agree to Indian inclusion, except China.
  • It becomes obvious that even if one member of P5 doesn’t agree to any reform, the UNSC cannot be reformed.
  • There have been many proposals since its inception from totally abolishing veto power to selectively using it for vital national security issues.

(5) No consensus

  • It has been seen in past that the UNSC, in some of the major global security issues, could not arrive at a consensus and interventions that happened by countries mainly from P5 without UNSC resolution.
  • US entry in Iraq war or Warsaw Pact war in Afghanistan are few cases in point.
  • The UNSC has thus become an organization, which can pass strong resolutions against weak countries, weak resolutions against strong countries and no resolution against P5 countries.

Suggested reforms

  • Expansion: Besides the existing P5 members, an expansion of UNSC from five to 10 permanent members, with the addition of G4 and South Africa. This will provide equitable regional representation besides balancing the developing and developed world to meet the aspirations of humanity.
  • Abolition of veto: The expansion of P5 without veto power makes very little impact on the problems, because of which the reforms are required. Ideally the veto power should be abolished.

Will UNSC reforms ever happen?

  • Under the given charter, articles and structures, there is very little hope for UNSC reforms in near future.
  • The lack of reforms can push the credibility crisis of UN to a degree that it becomes unsustainable for it to function, or incidences of side-lining the UN increase manifold.
  • If the UNSC does not appoint new permanent members then its primacy may be challenged by some of the new emerging countries.
  • There is also a possibility that if UN doesn’t reform itself, it may lose relevance and alternate global and regional groupings may assume greater importance.
  • No P5 member is likely to compromise this power in its own national interest, which is generally prioritized before global interest, thus making the reformation process a mirage.

Electoral Reforms In India

Tamil Nadu legislature turns 100

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Montford reforms, Elections in India

Mains level : Read the attached story

The Assembly chambers at Fort St. George, the 17th-century vestige of the colonial era, and Tamil Nadu’s seat of power have completed 100 years of existence.

Do you know?

Fort St. George is the first English fortress in India, founded in 1639 at the coastal city of Madras, the modern city of Chennai. The construction of the fort provided the impetus for further settlements and trading activity, in what was originally an uninhabited land.

Elections in Tamil Nadu

  • Tamil Nadu witnessed elections in November 1920 as a result of the Montagu-Chelmsford Report and the Government of India Act of 1919.
  • The electors included only men, accounting for just 3% of the population.
  • The concept of dyarchy came into being with Ministers, who were Indians, gaining limited control over certain subjects, such as local self-government and education.
  • It was then that the office of the Chief Minister, also called Premier, got instituted.

Key works accomplished

  • Reservations in public employment: For the first time, caste became the basis for appointment to public services. It took over 70 years for the Central government to follow the principle in its institutions for education and employment.
  • Above 50% cap in reservation: In December 1993, the scheme of 69% reservation for Backward Classes, Most Backward Classes, SCs and STs got legal safeguard. The law was subsequently included in the IX Schedule of the Constitution, through an amendment passed in Parliament, so that its validity could not be challenged.

Other facts

  • Women’s suffrage: In early 1927, Muthulakshmi Reddy, the well-known medical practitioner and social activist, became the first woman member of the Council and, in no time, became the Deputy President of the Council.
  • Gopuram as an emblem: The symbol features a ‘gopuram’ (temple tower) – characteristic of south Indian temples has been adopted as the state emblem.
  • Change of name: During the two-year rule of the DMK founder C.N. Annadurai, the Assembly, in July 1967, adopted a motion renaming Madras State as Tamil Nadu, which later got the approval of Parliament.
  • Social reforms: It has passed several landmark laws for the welfare of women, such as Devadasi abolition, equal rights to women in property and the constitution of the State Commission for Women.

Back2Basics: Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms

Central Legislature thereafter called the Indian Legislature was reconstituted on the enlarged and more representative character.

  • Bicameral legislature: The act set up bicameral legislatures at the centre consisting of two houses- the Council of the States (Upper House) and the Central Legislative Assembly (Lower House).
  • Election and nominations: It consisted of the Council of State consisted of 60 members of whom 34 members were elected and the Legislative Assembly consisted of about 145 members, of whom about 104 were elected and the rest nominated.
  • Separation of power: The central and provincial subjects were demarcated and separated.
  • Diarchy: The Provincial subjects were further divided into Transferred Subjects and Reserved Subjects, the legislative council had no say in the latter.
  • Communal representation: The principle of separate electorate was further extended to Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
  • Working review: It provided for the appointment of a statutory commission to report the working of the act after ten years.

Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

Strategic Petroleum Reserves

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Strategic Petroleum Reserves Programme

Mains level : Oil prices volatility and its impact on India

Under Phase II of the petroleum reserve program, the Government has approved two additional commercial-cum-strategic facilities at Chandikhol (Odisha) and Padur (TN) on Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model.

Strategic Petroleum Reserves Programme

  • To ensure energy security, the govt had decided to set up 5 million metric tons (MMT) of strategic crude oil storage at three locations namely, Visakhapatnam, Mangalore, and Padur (near Udupi).
  • These strategic storages would be in addition to the existing storage of crude oil and petroleum products with the oil companies and would serve as a cushion during any supply disruptions.
  • The petroleum reserves established are strategic, and the crude oil stored in these reserves will be used during an oil shortage event, as and when declared so by the Government of India.
  • The construction of the Strategic Crude Oil Storage facilities is being managed by Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL), a Special Purpose Vehicle.

Why need SPR?

  • The Gulf War in 1990 caused a sharp rise in oil prices and a massive increase to India’s imports.
  • During the subsequent 1991 Indian economic crisis, foreign exchange reserves could barely finance three weeks’ worth of imports while the government came close to defaulting on its financial obligations.
  • India was able to resolve the crisis through policies that liberalized the economy. However, India continued to be impacted by the volatility of oil prices.
  • In 1998, the AB Vajpayee administration proposed building petroleum reserves as a long-term solution to managing the oil market.
  • Three storage facilities were built in underground locations in Mangalore, Visakhapatnam and Padur.

Construction of ISPR

  • The crude oil storages are constructed in underground rock caverns and are located on the East and West coasts of India.
  • Crude oil from these caverns can be supplied to the Indian Refineries either through pipelines or through a combination of pipelines and coastal movement.
  • Underground rock caverns are considered the safest means of storing hydrocarbons.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NASA-ISRO SAR

Mains level : Not Much

The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite, aimed at making global measurement of land surface changes using advanced radar imaging, is proposed to be launched in early 2023, informed Earth Sciences Minister.

Note the key features of the Mission. Every statement has a unique information.

NASA-ISRO SAR

  • NISAR is a joint collaboration for a dual-frequency L and S-band SAR for earth observation.
  • NASA and Bengaluru-headquartered ISRO signed a partnership on September 30, 2014, to collaborate on and launch NISAR.
  • The mission is targeted to launch in early 2022 from ISRO’s Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh’s Nellore district, about 100km north of Chennai.
  • It is capable of producing extremely high-resolution images for a joint earth observation satellite mission with NASA.
  • It will be the first satellite mission to use two different radar frequencies (L-band and S-band) to measure changes in our planet’s surface less than a centimeter across.

Objectives of the NISAR

  • NISAR will observe Earth’s land and ice-covered surfaces globally with 12-day regularity on ascending and descending passes, sampling Earth on average every six days for a baseline three-year mission.
  • It will measure Earth’s changing ecosystems, dynamic surfaces, and ice masses, providing information about biomass, natural hazards, sea-level rise, and groundwater, and will support a host of other applications.
  • It would also provide data on natural hazards including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and landslides.

What are L and S Bands?

  • L band waves are used for GPS units because they are able to penetrate clouds, fog, rain, storms, and vegetation.
  • The S-band is used by airport surveillance radar for air traffic control, weather radar, surface ship radar, and some communications satellites, especially those used by NASA to communicate with the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.
  • NISAR uses a sophisticated information-processing technique known as SAR to produce extremely high-resolution images.
  • Radar penetrates clouds and darkness, enabling NISAR to collect data day and night in any weather.

What is collaboration?

  • NASA is providing the mission’s L-band SAR, a high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers, a solid-state recorder, and payload data subsystem.
  • ISRO is providing the spacecraft bus, the S-band radar, the launch vehicle, and associated launch services for the mission, whose goal is to make global measurements of the causes and consequences of land surface changes using advanced radar imaging.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Stellar Mid-life Crisis: What ails the middle-aged Sun?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Stellar Middle Age

Mains level : Not Much

Stars like our Sun can go through a mid-life crisis, according to new research carried out by scientists from IISER Kolkata.

Stellar Middle Age

  • At about 4.6 billion years of age, the sun is middle-aged, that is, it will continue to live for roughly the same period.
  • There are accurate methods for estimating the age of the Sun, such as by using radioactive dating of very old meteorites that have fallen on the Earth.
  • However, for more distant stars which are similar in mass and age to the Sun, such methods are not possible.
  • One of the methods used is called gyrochronology.
  • There is a relationship between rotation rate and age, that is the rotation rate of a star slows down with age.

How does it occur?

  • When the stellar wind escapes from the star, it carries away with it a part of the angular momentum of the star, which results in its slowing down.
  • The stellar wind has two drivers: one is the high temperature of the outer atmosphere of stars – the corona – which results in an outward expansion and hence plasma winds that emanate out.
  • The other is the magnetic field.
  • The magnetic field actually heats the corona and so when magnetic activity is strong the winds are strong and since wind carries away the internal (rotational) angular momentum of the star, it slows down its rotation.
  • This is called magnetic braking.
  • As the star ages, due to this mechanism, its rotation slows down and this relationship is used in gyrochronology to estimate the age of the star.

Impact

  • This can lead to dramatic changes in their activity and rotation rates.
  • The study also provides an explanation for the breakdown of the long-established relation between rotation rate and age in middle-aged sunlike stars.
  • However, there is a breakdown of the gyrochronology relationship, because, after midlife, a star’s rate of spin does not slow down with age as fast as it was slowing down earlier.
  • Another intriguing fact is that the Sun’s activity level has been observed to be much lower than other stars of similar age.

Digital India Initiatives

[pib] Digital Payment Solution: e-RUPI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : e-RUPI

Mains level : Digital Payments

The Prime Minister has launched e-RUPI, a person and purpose-specific digital payment solution.

What is e-RUPI?

  • e-RUPI is a cashless and contactless instrument for digital payment.
  • It is a QR code or SMS string-based e-Voucher, which is delivered to the mobile of the beneficiaries.
  • The users of this seamless one-time payment mechanism will be able to redeem the voucher without a card, digital payments app, or internet banking access, at the service provider.
  • It has been developed by the National Payments Corporation of India on its UPI platform, in collaboration with the Department of Financial Services, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, and National Health Authority.

How does it work?

  • e-RUPI connects the sponsors of the services with the beneficiaries and service providers in a digital manner without any physical interface.
  • It also ensures that the payment to the service provider is made only after the transaction is completed.
  • Being pre-paid in nature, it assures timely payment to the service provider without the involvement of any intermediary.

Benefits offered

  • It is expected to be a revolutionary initiative in the direction of ensuring a leak-proof delivery of welfare services.
  • Even the private sector can leverage these digital vouchers as part of their employee welfare and corporate social responsibility programs.

Answer this PYQ in the comment box:

Q.Which of the following is the most likely consequence of implementing the ‘Unified Payments Interface (UPI)’?

(a) Mobile wallets will not be necessary for online payments.

(b) Digital currency will totally replace physical currency in about two decades.

(c) FDI inflows will drastically increase.

(d) Direct transfer of subsidies to poor people will become very effective