Nuclear power in India

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Context:

  • India has agreements with Westinghouse and Areva to build power plants in India.
  • Recently, both Westinghouse and Areva have gone bankrupt.
  • The Critics of these deals had pointed out that India’s agreements with Areva and Westinghouse were fiscally irresponsible.
  • Had these projects been implemented, Indian taxpayers would be holding billions of dollars of debt and incomplete projects.
  • The issue has also put the government’s recent decision to approve construction of ten 700 MW PHWRs under scrutiny.

India’s Agreements with Westinghouse and Areva

  • Areva had promised to build the world’s largest nuclear complex at Jaitapur (Maharashtra).
  • In June 2016, Indian Prime Minister along with erstwhile U.S. President Barrack Obama had announced that Westinghouse would build 6 reactors at Kovada (Andhra Pradesh).

What has happened to Westinghouse and Areva?

  • In March, Westinghouse, the largest builder of nuclear power plants declared bankruptcy.
  • This led to a major financial crisis for its parent company Toshiba.
  • The French Nuclear supplier, Areva too went bankrupt few months back.
  • It is at present in the midst of a restructuring that will cost French taxpayers about €10 billion.

Nuclear power in India

  • The first nuclear power plant in the country, comprising two nuclear reactor units, was set up at Tarapur, Maharashtra on turnkey basis by GE, USA The units became operational in October 1969.
  • Work on the Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) of the first stage began with the construction of RAPS-1&2 at Rawatbhata, Rajasthan.
  • Commencing from 1983 and over a span of two and a half decades, India built 16 nuclear power units using its own technology, materials, and equipment.
  • These reactors use natural uranium as fuel.

Current Status

  • As of 2016, India has 22 nuclear reactors in operation in 8 nuclear power plants.
  • The Union Cabinet cleared the building of 10 new nuclear power plants in May, 2017.
  • The new reactors would be in addition to the ones that are expected to come on stream by 2021-22, and are expected to add 6700 MW in addition to the current capacity of 6780 MW from 22 reactors.


How cheap are these actually?

  • 700 MW PHWRs are cheaper than the imported reactors.
  • However, the electricity is likely to be costly.
  • Cost of electricity during the first year of operation at these reactors is likely to be Rs. 6 units at current prices.
  • The prices of solar power have dropped below the nuclear power.
  • It is the government tariff model that makes nuclear power more competitive than it really is.
  • The capital invested in any plant yields no returns while the plant is being constructed.
  • At the end of construction, the government fixes a tariff by calculating a rate of return on the nominal amount of capital invested, disregarding the value this amount could have accumulated during this idle time.
  • As a result, the effective rate of return on equity invested in nuclear energy is significantly lower than the rate of return provided by other sources of electricity that have shorter gestation periods.
  • Nuclear power would be even less economically attractive if a methodology that consistently incorporates the time value of capital were to be used to establish tariffs.
  • Employment issueHowever, when viewed in the context of the planned capital expenditure of Rs. 70000 crore these figures do not look impressive The relevant factor for assessing the employment opportunities provided by the project should be the ratio of jobs to the capital invested and not just mere numbers of jobs.The government announced that these plants would generate more than 33,400 jobs in direct and indirect employment.
  • Nuclear Power and Environmental Issues
    • The government argued that these power reactors would strengthen the global efforts to combat climate change.
    • However, climate change is not the only environmental problem the world is facing today.
    • Nuclear power poses threat to environment and public health
    • All the nuclear reactors produce hazardous radioactive waste materials.
    • These radioactive wastes remain for thousands of years.
    • Nuclear reactors are also capable of catastrophe events. Example: Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Chernobyl Disaster.

     

    Social Risks involved

    • Since the 1980s, every new site for selected for the nuclear plant has been greeted with protest movements by local communities.
    • There have been instances, where these movements have been successful in forcing the cancellation of the plans. Example: cancellation of two sites in Kerala and one in West Bengal.
    • However, not all communities have been lucky.
    • In Chutka, the affected local community had been displaced earlier by the Bagri Dam Project.
    • Once again, they are being asked to move out for the nuclear power plant project.
    • Their plight symbolizes the social dynamics associated with nuclear power.
    • Poor rural communities, who consume only a tiny fraction of the electricity that is generated, primarily borne the risks and costs involved.

    New development:  India, Russia ink nuclear plant pact

    • At the 18th India-Russia Annual Summit (2017), India and Russia signed an agreement to set up two units at Kundakulam Power Plant, Tamil Nadu.
    • This step is likely to be a big boost for India’s clean energy requirements.
    • The reactors will be built by the joint efforts of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and Russia’s Atomstroyexport Company, a subsidiary of Rosatom, the regulatory body of the Russian nuclear complex.
    • Each of the two units will have a capacity to produce 1,000 MW of powerConclusion:Nuclear power is an alternative to fossil fuels and has lately emerged as an initiative to sustainable development. It is being widely considered as a solution to global warming and climate change. However, debates have raged over nuclear power with regard to its environmental impact and social costs and risks involved, especially in a developing country like India.

      What is Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor?

      What is Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR)? A pressurized heavy-water reactor is a nuclear reactor, commonly using unenriched natural uranium as its fuel that uses heavy water (deuterium oxide D2O) as its coolant and neutron moderator. The heavy water coolant is kept under pressure, allowing it to be heated to higher temperatures without boiling, much as in a pressurized water reactor. While heavy water is… Continue reading What is Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor?

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