Nuclear Energy

Why India must cancel its nuclear expansion plans

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : EPR design

Mains level : Paper 3- Issues with the nuclear energy

Context

A fire broke out near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine (Europe’s largest) during the course of a military battle. Had the fire affected the cooling system, the plant’s power supply, or its spent fuel pool, a major disaster could have occurred.

Issues with India’s nuclear expansion plans

  • On December 15, 2021, the Indian government informed Parliament that it plans to build “10 indigenous reactors… in fleet mode” and had granted “in principle approval” for 28 additional reactors, including 24 to be imported from France, the U.S. and Russia.
  • Capital intensive: Nuclear power plants are capital intensive and recent nuclear builds have suffered major cost overruns.
  • Decreasing cost of renewable: In contrast, renewable energy technologies have become cheaper.
  • The Wall Street company, Lazard, estimated that the cost of electricity from solar photovoltaics and wind turbines in the U.S. declined by 90% and 72%, respectively, between 2009-21.
  • Recent low bids are of ₹2.14 per unit for solar power, and ₹2.34 for solar-wind hybrid projects; even in projects coupled with storage, bids are around ₹4.30 per unit.
  • Global trend suggests declining use of nuclear energy: In 1996, 17.5% of the world’s electricity came from nuclear power plants; by 2020, this figure had declined to just around 10%.
  • Safety concerns: In a densely populated country such as India, land is at a premium and emergency health care is far from uniformly available.
  • Local citizens understand that a nuclear disaster might leave large swathes of land uninhabitable — as in Chernobyl — or require a prohibitively expensive clean-up — as in Fukushima, where the final costs may eventually exceed $600 billion.
  • Indemnity clause: Concerns about safety have been accentuated by the insistence of multinational nuclear suppliers that they be indemnified of liability for the consequence of any accident in India.
  • India’s liability law already largely protects them.
  • But the industry objects to the small window of opportunity available for the Indian government to hold them to account.
  • Climate concerns: Climate change will increase the risk of nuclear reactor accidents.
  • Recently, a wildfire approached the Hanul nuclear power plant in South Korea and President Moon Jae-in ordered “all-out efforts” to avoid an accident at the reactors there.
  • In 2020, a windstorm caused the Duane Arnold nuclear plant in the U.S. to cease operations.
  • The frequency of such extreme weather events is likely to increase in the future.

Consider the question “What are the concerns with the nuclear energy expansion plans of India? Suggest the way forward.”

Conclusion

Given the inherent vulnerabilities of nuclear reactors and their high costs, it would be best for the Government to unambiguously cancel its plans for a nuclear expansion.

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Back2Basics: What is EPR (nuclear reactor)

  • The EPR is a third generation pressurised water reactor design.
  • It has been designed and developed mainly by Framatome (part of Areva between 2001 and 2017) and Électricité de France (EDF) in France, and Siemens in Germany.
  • In Europe this reactor design was called European Pressurised Reactor, and the internationalised name was Evolutionary Power Reactor, but it is now simply named EPR.

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