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[Yojana Archive] Energy Security: Nuclear Power

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October 2021: Science and Technology

Aspects of Energy Security

  • Energy security means consistent availability of sufficient energy in various forms at affordable prices.
  • These conditions must prevail over a longer period of time if energy is to contribute to sustainable development.
  • India is one of the world’s largest energy consumers and currently relies on importing fuels to a significant extent.

India’s energy mix

  • The major fuel in India’s energy mix is coal 55%, a major portion of which is produced domestically.
  • Nuclear energy makes up about 3%, and renewable energy sources about 20%.

Why focus on nuclear energy?

  • There is a huge gap between energy demand and energy supply in India, due to its rapidly growing economy.
  • Nuclear energy is considered by many as being the only source of energy suitable to support continuous industrialization and urbanization.

India’s Nuclear Program

  • India embarked on its commercial nuclear power production in 1969 with the commissioning of two boiling water reactors (BWR) of 210 MWe capacities each.
  • India’s nuclear power program was conceived to be a closed fuel cycle, to be achieved in three sequential stages.
  • Dr Homi J Bhabha, who is regarded as the father of the Indian nuclear power programme, who envisioned the roadmap of the three-stage nuclear energy:

First stage: Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) will be used to produce energy from natural uranium. Besides producing energy, it will produce fissile plutonium (Pu)-239.

Second stage: It involves using the indigenous Fast Breeder Reactor technology fuelled by Pu-239 to produce energy and more of Pu-239.  By the end of the second stage of the cycle, the reactor would have produced more fissile material than it would have consumed, thus earning the name “Breeder.”

Third stage: It would involve the use of Pu-239 recovered from the second stage, in combination with thorium-232, to produce energy and U-233 — another fissile material — using Thermal Breeders. This production of U-233 from thorium-232 would complete the cycle.

Why was 3 stage program envisaged?

  • These stages feed into each other in such a way that the spent fuel generated from one stage of the cycle is reprocessed and used in the next.  
  • It was designed to breed fuel and to minimize the generation of nuclear waste.
  • The ultimate objective is to utilize the country’s vast reserves of thorium-232. India has the world’s third-largest reserves of thorium.
  • Thorium, however, cannot be used as a fuel in its natural state. It needs to be converted into its usable “fissile” form after a series of reactions.
  • Hence, to eventually produce nuclear power from its thorium reserves, three-stage nuclear program was envisioned.

Nuclear Reactors in India

Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd is the public sector enterprise, under the Department of Atomic Energy, entrusted with the task of nuclear power generation in the country.

Currently, there are 22 operational nuclear reactors in India with a total installed capacity of 6780 Mwe. These are:

  • Tarapur 1 & 2 (BWR) – 2X160 MW;
  • Rajasthan 1 to 6 (PHWR) – 100 +200 + 4X220 MW
  • Madras 1 & 2 (PHWR) – 2X220 MW;
  • Kudankulam 1 & 2 (PWR) – 2X1000 MW
  • Narora 1 & 2 (PHWR) – 2X220 MW;
  • Tarapur 3 & 4 (PHWR) – 2X540 MW
  • Kaiga 1 to 4 ((PHWR) – 4X220 MW;
  • Kakrapar 1 & 2 (PHWR) – 2X220 MW

Projects under construction

Relevance of Nuclear Energy

  • Non-renewable sources: Currently, India draws nearly 63 per cent of its total energy generation from thermal sources. Of this, nearly 55 per cent is met from coal and the rest from gas, with a minuscule amount from oil-fired plants.
  • Import dependence: India imports a significant part of its fossil fuels which raises economic and strategic vulnerabilities.
  • Emission reduction: India’s per capita carbon emissions stand at 1-1.2 tons, compared to 20 tons per capita of the US. If a growing Indian economy continues to rely on coal, carbon emissions are bound to rise.
  • Limitations of Renewable Energy: Solar and wind energy generation is land-intensive. Solar plants carry a dependence on imported technology.  Another solar and wind power generation related handicap is in energy storage, which makes them unsuitable as a baseload source of electricity.

Conclusion

  • India is a developing nation and its economy is dominated by the manufacturing and service sectors which are energy-intensive.
  • Its power generation capacity has increased a hundred-fold since independence, and it is today the third-largest producer of electricity in the world, are applaudable developments.
  • India needs to scale up electricity production to assure a reasonable quality of life for citizens.
  • Such requirements make the choice for India, not between nuclear and renewable, but to include all available sources.
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