Why Nuclear Power?

Shankar Sharma

The debate as to whether nuclear power is a safe, suitable and essential option for India has been going on for many decades. While the proponents of the nuclear power have been offering many arguments in favour of the option, there have been any numbers of issues raised by those who think it is not the correct solution to meet the legitimate energy requirements of the country. While more and more complex safety systems are being designed and built in the name of the safety of nuclear power stations, it should be noted that they are only increasing the number of sub-systems and the complexity. Such complex systems can result in increasing the risk of failure of individual sub-systems/sub-components, and hence in increase in the number of automatic shutdown of reactors. The rapidity at which a minor problem in the complex system of safety can escalate into a major disaster is great in a nuclear power station, as experienced at Chernobyl.

Although a massive amount of money is reported to have been spent on various activities associated with nuclear power research since independence, and the tall claims made by proponents of nuclear power, the contribution of the nuclear power to the total installed power capacity in India has never been more than 5% and can only much less in future in view of thee large additions projected in other electricity generation technologies. For such a tiny share of the installed capacity, should the society adapt an option, which has failed to win public's confidence even 7 decades after independence?

Efficiency increase in the end use of electricity, whether in lighting, heating or motive power etc. alone is estimated to provide more than 10% of virtual additional power capacity at probably 10% of the cost of new nuclear power plant without any of the attendant risks.

In the background of all these issues, and having accepted the existence of high degree of public health risks associated with nuclear power, the question to be asked is whether nuclear power-stations are necessary for the development of all sections of the society, and whether the nation can achieve the adequate levels of Human Development Index without them.

The primary objective (or as in the words of official circles it is just electricity and nothing elsel!!) of a nuclear power station is the production of electricity. There are many benign ways of producing the electricity. Has the society harnessed all the benign alternatives available to the maximum extent? What is the efficiency of the usage of the existing electricity generating capacity in the country? Is there a scope for meeting all the legitimate demand for electricity of the society by a combination of these benign options? Can an objective analysis of Costs v/s Benefits of a nuclear power project as compared to a renewable energy technology prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is in the true interest of society?

The electricity industry experts say that there are many benign and non-nuclear power options, including measures such as efficiency improvement, Demand Side Management, energy conservation and renewable energy sources to meet the country's legitimate electricity demands on a sustainable basis. The transmission and distribution losses prevailing in the system alone is in the range of 25 to 30%. If these losses were to be brought down to the level of world best practice of, below 10%, one can get about 15 to 20% more virtual capacity. The society must seek satisfactory answer to all these relevant questions before embracing the nuclear power option for the future. It is not without solid basis that many countries are saying 'no' to them, while some countries are actively considering the decommissioning of many of the existing nuclear power stations.

Vol. 50, No.48, June 3 - 9, 2018