From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Thorium based reacter
Mains level : India’s Three Stage Nuclear Programme
Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has planned the use of large deposits of Thorium available in the country as a long-term option.
Thorium-Based Nuclear Reactors
A three-stage nuclear power programme has been chalked out to use Thorium as a viable and sustainable option, right at the inception of India’s nuclear power programme.
The three stage nuclear power programme aims to multiply the domestically available fissile resource through the use of natural Uranium in Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors.
It is followed by the use of Plutonium obtained from the spent fuel of Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors in Fast Breeder Reactors.
The utilization of Thorium, as a practically inexhaustible energy source, has been contemplated during the third stage of the Indian Nuclear Programme.
As is the case with generation of electricity from Uranium, there will be no emission of green house gases from Thorium also and therefore, it will be a clean source of energy.
It is not possible to build a nuclear reactor using Thorium (Thorium-232) alone due to its physics characteristics.
Thorium has to be converted to Uranium-233 in a reactor before it can be used as fuel.
India’s Three Stage Nuclear Programme
India’s three-stage nuclear power programme was formulated by Homi Bhabha in the 1950s to secure the country’s long term energy independence, through the use of uranium and thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India.
The ultimate focus of the programme is on enabling the thorium reserves of India to be utilised in meeting the country’s energy requirements.
Thorium is particularly attractive for India, as it has only around 1–2% of the global uranium reserves, but one of the largest shares of global thorium reserves at about 25% of the world’s known thorium reserves.
However, thorium is more difficult to use than uranium as a fuel because it requires breeding, and global uranium prices remain low enough that breeding is unnecessary.
Stage I – Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor
In the first stage of the programme, natural uranium fueled pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWR) produce electricity while generating plutonium-239 as by-product.
PHWRs was a natural choice for implementing the first stage because it had the most efficient reactor design in terms of uranium utilisation, and the existing Indian infrastructure in the 1960s allowed for quick adoption of the PHWR technology.
Stage II – Fast Breeder Reactor
In the second stage, fast breeder reactors (FBRs) would use a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel made from plutonium-239, recovered by reprocessing spent fuel from the first stage, and natural uranium.
In FBRs, plutonium-239 undergoes fission to produce energy, while the uranium-238 present in the mixed oxide fuel transmutes to additional plutonium-239.
Thus, the Stage II FBRs are designed to “breed” more fuel than they consume.
Stage III – Thorium Based Reactors
A Stage III reactor or an advanced nuclear power system involves a self-sustaining series of thorium-232–uranium-233 fuelled reactors.
This would be a thermal breeder reactor, which in principle can be refueled after its initial fuel charge – using only naturally occurring thorium.
According to the three-stage programme, Indian nuclear energy could grow to about 10 GW through PHWRs fueled by domestic uranium, and the growth above that would have to come from FBRs till about 50GW.
The third stage is to be deployed only after this capacity has been achieved. Full exploitation of India’s domestic thorium reserves will likely not occur until after the year 2050.
Mains Paper 3: Economy| Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Basics of nuclear technology, AERB,IAEA, Indian nuclear Programme.
Mains level: The newscard discusses issues and challenges of EPR in a brief manner.
The idea of nlems, in the past few months, the Modi government has taken several high-level steps towards actuating the project.
Nuclear energy is undoubtedly most controversial, yet critical part for India’s future energy security. As we know India’s annual energy demand is expected to rise to 800 GW by 2032, it is very important to consider every source of energy in the optimum energy mix.
Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project is a proposed 9900 Megawatt project of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) at Madban village of Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra. If and when completed, Jaitapur “will be the largest nuclear power plant in the world”.
An impact assessment report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has strongly criticized the nuclear power plant being proposed at Jaitapur in the Konkan region.
The report has indicated that the project – which requires about 968 hectares of land panning five villages – will have a huge negative impact on the social as well as environmental development of not just these villages and the surrounding areas, but also on the Konkan region in general.
The findings suggest that the government subverted facts and called fertile agricultural land barren. It also says that the Jaitapur project is sitting on a high to moderate severity earthquake zone.
The urgency is inexplicable as it comes before the techno-commercial offer has been examined and as earlier questions about costs and safety remain unanswered.
Moreover, with the Indian power sector facing surplus capacity and a crisis of non-performing assets (NPAs), a large investment in the Jaitapur project is particularly risky.
It is clear that electricity from the Jaitapur project will be more expensive than many other sources of electricity, including solar and wind power.
Using international estimates of capital costs for EPRs from the 2010-2012 period, it is argued that first year tariffs would be around 15 per kilowatt-hour.
Delays and cost overrun
Across the world, EPRs have experienced delays and cost increases. For instance, the first EPR entered commercial operation in December 2018 at the Taishan site in China, five years later than originally projected.
Its final capital cost was estimated by industry sources to be “40% over the original estimate
High capital cost and NPA
The high capital costs of the EPRs are of particular concern because power-generating capacity in India has grown faster than demand causing projects to run into financial difficulties.
In March 2018, the parliamentary standing committee on energy listed 34 “stressed” projects, including NPAs and “those which have the potential to become NPAs”, with a cumulative outstanding debt of 1.74 lakh crore.
The NPCIL’s debts would ultimately be underwritten by the Indian government, if the project encounters financial difficulties, the costs would fall on Indian taxpayers.
Safety problems with the reactor design and construction have emerged in several EPRs. The most serious of these pertained to the pressure vessel, which is the key barrier that prevents the spread of radioactive materials from the reactor.
For instance, the EPR at Olkiluoto in Finland encountered problems with vibrations in the pipe that connects the primary coolant system with the pressuriser, which maintains the pressure of the water circulating in the reactor.
Indian nuclear Liability law issue
The safety concerns are exacerbated by India’s flawed nuclear liability law. In the event of an accident, the nuclear liability law would require the public sector NPCIL to compensate victims and pay for clean-up, while largely absolving EDF of responsibility.
Further, the Indian law provides NPCIL with a limited opportunity to obtain compensation from the French company Électricité de France (EDF) for the “supply of equipment… with… defects… or sub-standard services”.
The “enforcement of India’s rules” in accordance with the international Convention on Supplementary Compensation for nuclear damage, which severely limits the operator’s (NPCIL) right of recourse, i.e. not to exercise its right to claim compensation from EDF as allowed by Indian law.
Thus, thereby EDF can escape with limited or no consequences even after a severe accident, having little material incentive to maintain the highest safety standards, particularly if the requirements of safety come into conflict with the imperative to lower costs.
There is little public data about the EPRs being built in China, but these prices are consistent with those proposed for EPRs in Britain and indicate that each Indian reactor may cost as much as Rs. 60,000 crore.
Nuclear energy, though is critical for India’s energy security but is not panacea for the problem. People of India have right to have safe and sustainable energy.
So future development should depend upon cost benefit analysis taking into account all the externalities involved in various components of energy mix.
If this is done, it is most likely that policy will get incline strongly in favor of non-conventional sources of energy that is solar, wind and biomass.
Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)
The PWR uses regular water as a coolant.
The primary cooling water is kept at very high pressure so it does not boil.
Pressurized water reactors (PWRs) constitute the large majority of all Western nuclear power plants.
In a PWR, the primary coolant (water) is pumped under high pressure to the reactor core where it is heated by the energy generated by the fission of atoms.
The heated water then flows to a steam generator where it transfers its thermal energy to a secondary system where steam is generated and flows to turbines which, in turn, spin an electric generator.
In contrast to a boiling water reactor, pressure in the primary coolant loop prevents the water from boiling within the reactor.
PWRs were originally designed to serve as nuclear marine propulsion for nuclear submarines.
Mains Paper 2: IR | Important International institutions, agencies & fora, their structure, mandate
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: FEC 2018, Nuclear Fusion Reaction
Mains level: International cooperation in the fields peaceful use of nuclear energy.
The 27th Fusion Energy Conference (FEC 2018) is being held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
The event is organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and hosted by the Department of Atomic Energy and Gandhinagar-based Institute of Plasma Research.
It aims to provide a forum for the discussion of key physics and technology issues as well as innovative concepts of direct relevance to the use of nuclear fusion as a source of energy.
Experts from across the world will discuss the new challenges being faced by the fusion community in the light of a number of next-step fusion devices being implemented currently.
Scientists across the world are collaborating to use nuclear fusion, the reaction that powers the Sun and the stars, as source energy.
The conference will also set these results against the backdrop of the requirements for a net energy producing fusion device and a fusion power plant in general, and will thus help in defining the way forward.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has suggested the government embed in law the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) as an independent regulatory body.
IAEA recommended that the AERB review the implementation of its policies and existing arrangements to ensure its independence as a regulator.
IAEA has said that in order to ensure the independence of the regulatory body is clear and transparent
Government should strengthen the legislative framework by creating in law the AERB, as a regulatory body separated from entities having responsibilities or interests that could unduly influence its decision making.