Opportunities And Challenges Of Nuclear Energy In India – Analysis
Meeting increasing energy demands will remain one of the major issues for India in the 21st century owing to high dependency on energy imports. It becomes a serious issue in the recent past when energy demand continues to increase plus there is a raising concern about supply, and the issue of global climate change. Nuclear Energy offers both opportunities and challenges for any aspiring countries including India. Without nuclear power, achieving energy security will be much more difficult; and without nuclear security, nuclear power is destined to failure. Nuclear security is an important component of achieving energy security.
The Indian Prime Minister and other members have invested a lot of energy to successfully conclude nuclear agreement in a bid to show the way for nuclear energy to meet India’s energy demands despite opposition by other political parties in India. ‘The civil nuclear cooperation agreement between India and the United States is aimed at facilitating a substantive and clean energy sources to a fast emerging, huge energy deficient nation like India’. Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh in his briefing to the Parliament on 29 July 2005 has made it very clear that, “India’s quest for energy security as an essential component of our vision for our development was a significant theme of my talks.” He also underlined the needs for India to have unhindered access to all sources of energy, including nuclear energy, if we are to maintain and accelerate our rate of economic growth….It was in this context that we affirmed the importance of cooperation in the civilian nuclear energy sector.”
India accounting for 17 per cent of the world population is holding less than 0.5 percent of the world’s hydrocarbon resources and consumes just 5 per cent of global energy consumption. India’s commercial energy basket is currently dominated by coal (53 percent); oil (31 percent) and gas (8 percent). Electricity generation continues to be predominantly coal-based followed by hydro power. To meet its increasing energy demands, New Delhi depends on unclean coal for more than half which can be highly dangerous for environmental and health reasons for not only India but also it would have its implications to the global community.
At present, India is the sixth largest energy consumer in the world and is projected to emerge as the fourth largest consumer after the United States, China and Japan in the coming decades. Its economy is projected to grow 7 per cent to 8 per cent over the next two decades, and in its wake there will be a substantial increase in demand for oil. For India to sustain this projected economic growth and eradicating poverty would require solving energy problem.
India currently imports roughly 70% of its oil from the oil supplying countries. Furthermore, India’s proven oil reserves stand at 5 billion barrels in India. As the energy needs of India continue to grow, oil imports are set to increase substantially in the coming years. Due to the size of their populations and their rapid economic growth, India faces a formidable challenge in their pursuit of energy security. Such a quest for energy security is being impeded by India’s sometimes tense relations with energy suppliers, energy transit countries and energy competitors. The World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), projects that India’s dependence on oil imports will grow to 91.6 per cent by the year 2020.
India currently suffers from a serious shortfall in electricity supply, estimated at 15 per cent and growing further. Presently, only 3 per cent of the country’s electricity is generated from nuclear power plants. About two-thirds (68 per cent) is generated from coal, 15 per cent from hydropower, 8 per cent from natural gas, 4 per cent from oil and 2 per cent from renewables. The seriousness of energy security can be gauged from the fact that only 660 billion KWh of electricity is what India produce and over 600 million populations have no access to electricity, and limited access to other clean, modern fuels such as Liquefied Petroleum gas (LPG) and kerosene. Lack of adequate energy assess is reflected in human development index (HDI) of India. India’s HDI is very serious when compared with other countries such as Canada, United States, Norway, United Kingdom, Japan, etc.
Nuclear power would help increase energy security during a time of unstable competition and surging demand. Nuclear power is the key to reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2). The 17 percent reduction in emissions due to reduced coal-fired generation being taken up by nuclear (and renewable generation) is equivalent to 12 percent of UK emissions and 8 percent of emissions from the EU-25 countries. Increased share of nuclear power in the Indian energy mix will help diminish the reliance on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions from India.
Today, about 17 per cent of the world’s electricity is generated from over 441 nuclear reactors operating in 32 different countries. Besides, another 32 reactors are under construction, and many more are on the drawing board. Nuclear power in the coming decades would make significant contribution to global supply of electricity. For India too, Nuclear energy has the potential to provide a large scale of electricity generation that itself would help lift the standard of living for millions of population.
Other factors that makes nuclear energy more viable option is that hydrocarbon resources are yet to prove themselves as viable alternatives. In addition, renewable sources have only been able to supplement and not replace the fossil fuel requirements as mentioned above. No doubt, renewable energy sources are attractive but powerless. Moreover, they are capital and land intensive
In a bid to raise the contribution of the nuclear power to energy generation, India plans to install another 25-30 nuclear reactors in the next three decades that is expected to fulfill its plans for 65,000 MW energy. By 2020 and 2050, India is expecting that the nuclear energy would account for 10 per cent and 26 per cent reflecting a significant increase and many more to come in the years to follow. This does not mean that nuclear energy would replace coal, but to some extent it would reduce the burning of fossil fuel and low quality coal, thereby reducing environmental deterioration. Moreover, in the long run nuclear energy would be economical than any other alternatives.1
It is the duty of the Governments to ensure the safety and security of using nuclear power as a source to meet growing energy challenges. Nuclear technology suffers from genuine problems of safety and waste management. Mainly for this reason, the civil application of nuclear energy has become a matter of serious controversy. If nuclear energy is not generated adhering to the highest standards of safety, there is possibility of catastrophic accidents such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the deaths owing to improper disposal of Cobalt 60 in New Delhi. The recent nuclear disaster in Japan is a serious case of concern for all those adopting nuclear power generation. However, to stop nuclear power generation for the fear of nuclear accident would be a wrong move and instead they should focus on ensuring the safety of the nuclear power generation (in particular to India). These incidents have influenced many countries to take up safety measures.
Certain steps need to be taken to ensure the safety and security of using nuclear power. This includes:
- ensure maintenance of the skills base
- maintain continued effective safety regulation
- foster progress on facilities for waste disposal and management must be given serious consideration.
- maintain and reinforce international non-proliferation arrangements.2
A newsletter of the Levin Institute, The State University of New York states that current forecasts predict that one severe accident will occur every 100 years in the network of nuclear plants such as that possessed by the United States, and there is much debate about whether this level of risk is acceptable.
To encourage confidence among the suppliers of technology and materials, a Nuclear Liability Act has been put in place to limit their liability in line with the international norms. Besides, India has also signed the Convention on supplementary compensation to provide for additional resource for assistance seeking indemnification for loss and injury for a nuclear installation. The costs and risks to public safety are so enormous that government must take an active role in supporting, regulating and monitoring nuclear industry.3 India has a very good record in the context of nuclear accident.
1. Mohammad Samir Hussain, “Recent NSG Decision: Setback to India’s Quest for Energy Security”, Institute of Foreign Policy Studies, University of Calcutta, 22 August 2011, pp. 2-4.
2. “Nuclear Energy Outlook 2008- Key graphics”, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, p. 20, available at .
3. M M K Sardana, “India’s Quest for Nuclear Energy”, pp. 1, 3, available at.