[Answered] Nuclear energy although has potential to solve India’s energy problems but carry great inherent risks. Elaborate.

Demand of the question Introduction. Contextual introduction. Body. Discuss nuclear energy potential and need of utilisation of nuclear power in India. Mention risks associated with nuclear energy. Conclusion. Way forward.

India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) outlines its intent to scale up the country’s clean-energy capacity. At the same time, India’s energy poverty remains a big challenge. The Integrated Energy Policy review, estimated that the country will need to increase its primary energy supply by 3 to 4 times, and electricity generation capacity by 5 to 6 times (2003-04 levels) if it is to meet the energy needs of all its citizens by 2032 and maintain an 8% GDP growth rate. While successive governments have long touted nuclear power as the solution to India’s energy woes, there are inherent risks associated with the same.

Nuclear energy potential and need of exploiting nuclear power in India:

  1. Thorium and Uranium reserves: India has vast reserves of Thorium that can fuel India’s nuclear energy provided appropriate technology. India’s thorium deposits, estimated at 360,000 tonnes, and natural uranium deposits at 70,000 tonnes. The country’s thorium reserves make up 25% of the global reserves.
  2. Energy poverty: Although India is the 3rd largest producer of electricity, about 20 % of the population of the country does not have access to electricity today. The per capita consumption of electricity is very low at about 1,181 kWh per annum, about half of the world average and way below that of advanced countries. There exist shortages in energy and peak power in the range 10-15%.
  3. Energy demand: Nuclear energy is a 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.
  4. Energy efficiency: Quantities of nuclear fuel needed are considerably less than thermal power plants. For instance, 10000 MW generation by coal will need 30-35 million tons of coal, but nuclear fuel needed will be only 300-350 tons.
  5. Economic growth: Rapid economic growth is also critical to achieve developmental objectives and poverty alleviation. A sustained economic growth of about 8 to 10% is needed over the next few decades. As electricity is a key driver for economic growth, it is necessary that there is a massive augmentation in electricity capacity, apart from transmissions and distribution systems.
  6. Decrease in Energy Supply: Energy supply has been negatively affected by changing weather patterns. As water reservoirs decreases due to lower precipitation and increased evaporation, capacity for electricity production from hydropower and other water-intensive generation technologies may decline.
  7. Climate change: Due to its emission-free nature, nuclear energy can contribute to global efforts under the Paris Agreement. India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has outlined goals to reduce the carbon emissions intensity of its economy by 33-35% by 2030 as well as increase the clean energy electricity capacity to 40% of the total installed capacity in the same period.

Issues and risks related with nuclear energy:

  1. Meltdowns: A meltdown is an accident in which severe overheating of the nuclear reactor results in the melting of the reactor’s core. If a meltdown occurred, a nuclear power plant could release radiation into the environment. After incidents such as Chernobyl and the Fukushima disaster, countries such as Germany began to undergo a nuclear phase out shutting down their nuclear energy units.
  2. Health risks: Nuclear power generation is fraught with ionising radiation, an invisible poison, which is unsafe in all doses, however small. Radiation causes cancers and genetic damage. Nuclear plants expose not just occupational workers, but also the general public, to radioactive hazards in numerous ways.
  3. Nuclear waste: Nuclear power generation is not as clean as it is often considered. This is demonstrated in the case of Kudankulam. People have been protesting for decades as they worry that the hot water dispatched from the plant will affect the marine life of the surrounding water sources and subsequently their livelihood.
  4. Displacement: To build nuclear reactors, it requires huge amounts of land. This would displace local communities who may not want to leave. Further, it is not easy to rehabilitate them and provide them with appropriate compensation.

Nuclear power can help to improve energy security. For a rapidly developing economy such as India, it can make a vitally important contribution to growth. Besides, nuclear power can also reduce the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices and mitigate the effects of climate change. India needs to come up with a durable energy strategy to meet present and future energy demands of its population and industries.

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