Nuclear power to help India meet its carbon obligations

“Today India has the most comprehensive, broad nuclear programme, compared to the top industrialised nations,” comments Shah Nawaz Ahmad, Senior Adviser – India, Middle East and South-East Asia; World Nuclear Association
 The World Nuclear Association (WNA), headquartered in London, represents the global nuclear industry. The association promotes a wider understanding of nuclear energy among key nuclear influencers. In an exclusive interview with EPR, Shah Nawaz Ahmad opens up about the importance of nuclear power, India’s dependence on nuclear, and how WNA is paving the way for expanding nuclear business.
Nuclear power contributes less than 3 per cent of India’s total energy generation. How far India can move from here?Energy, especially electricity, is a fundamental requirement for the development of any community. In India, it is almost an aspirational need. The demand is large and the need to increase electricity production acute. In view of the urgency, India needs to adopt an optimal mix of various generating technologies, including fossil, renewable and nuclear.
Increase in renewable and nuclear will permit India to meet its carbon obligations. I see both renewable and nuclear as being on the same side of the carbon divide.
At their present state of development, nuclear and renewable complement each other. Nuclear is best suited for bulk production and industrial use, and renewable for more distributed loads.
India thus needs to have a fair share of nuclear, about 25 per cent by 2050, or even earlier is an achievable target. This is possible as India has a strong industrial and infrastructure base in this sector. This will need to be further upgraded.
India was outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) due to its weapons program for 34 years. How did it hamper the development of nuclear power sector in India?I would have posed this question rather differently, and like to answer it in a different way.
India has always maintained that NPT is not a fair treaty and still isn’t signatory to it. Also, India’s strategic interests have dictated development in that area.
Pre 2005, the challenges were many, including a much lower GDP, limited infrastructure and so forth. Then there were international restrictions on nuclear trade and information exchange. Indian industry, with considerable help and guidance from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), rose magnificently to make India self-sufficient in this sector. This concentrated effort has had a game changing impact on technological development in the country, including sectors beyond atomic energy. So the challenges may have slowed down the programme but have also been of great benefit.
Today India has the most comprehensive, broad nuclear programme, compared to the top industrialised nations. Hence, it was a challenge well met. Dr R.K. Sinha and his colleagues in DAE need to be applauded by a grateful nation.
What are initiatives World Nuclear Association has been taking to promote nuclear energy and support the companies that comprise the global nuclear industry?The World Nuclear Association, along with the IAEA and WANO is among the leading international organisations with nuclear as its core activity.
WNA is headquartered in London, with Agneta Rising as its Director General. WNA also has a presence in India, China and Australia. WNA is an industry based organisation, with 180 members who make up the who’s who of nuclear power across the globe. In India, our members — NPCIL, UCIL, ECIL, NFC and AMD — are the core players in this sector.
WNA represents the global nuclear industry. Its role is to promote a wider understanding of nuclear energy among key nuclear influencers by producing authoritative information, developing common industry positions as well as pave the way for expanding nuclear business responsibly.
Here I’d like to quote Agneta Rising who says, “We, at WNA, engage with key global stakeholders on a broad range of topics of strategic importance to nuclear development, including economics, public acceptance and the environment.”
Can India, with the mission to generate 25 per cent of its energy from nuclear power by 2050, reduce its dependency on coal and gas imports and meet its climate targets?India has the manpower and skills to accelerate the nuclear power sector. Manufacturing and other infrastructural areas will need strengthening.
The indigenous programme, covering the three-stage programme, appears to be on track. NPCIL’s PHWR reactors and Bhavini’s fast breeder reactors are coming up well.Indian authorities remain committed to the programme; and admit that though there have been delays, the long-term objectives will be met. The new government has also shown continued commitment to both aspects of the programme, both indigenous and imports.
The aftermath of Fukushima has raised many questions about nuclear power. Is nuclear power with its attendant waste and safety issues worth having?If it were a fair world, the world would be applauding the design and construction of the Fukushima reactor, instead of the response in certain quarters. Take the facts. Here we have one of the oldest reactors in the world that sees an earthquake and Tsunami in magnitude much higher than the design value and survives. There is no fatality linked with radiation release.
But the nuclear community still took the whole things with great seriousness. All reactors were examined and stress tests conducted, including very comprehensive exercise in India. It’s only after these reviews and improvements that reactors were permitted to continue operation. Today nuclear generation is at par with pre-Fukushima figures. And new reactor constructions across the globe are in full swing.
I don’t, for a moment, ignore the suffering of the Tsunami affected and those forced to move from the vicinity of Fukushima. It is a great tragedy from which many lessons need to be learnt. The nuclear community has drawn many lessons and carried out improvements.
Perhaps the world would not have taken as much cognizance of Fukushima if the consequences had not spilled beyond the plant site. Improved mitigation and accident handling systems is the principal lesson that the nuclear community needs to learn.
As per Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, India’s liability regime also holds suppliers accountable. Is it going to affect the foreign investment?Some discussions have been in the either yes or no modes. The law is far more nuanced.
Yes, liability may flow to suppliers, but the conditions where this option can be exercised by the operator are fairly clear and demanding.
Suppliers are demanding greater clarity, and I do not wish to belittle that. How this can be worked out through application of rules and contracts is being investigated. This clarity, of course, is necessary to permit the full nuclear potential to be realised.
How successfully is WNA working towards a sustainable nuclear energy future?WNA, along with its members, is addressing this vital issue in a very comprehensive manner, through preparation of guidelines and sharing of best practices of the global nuclear industry.
For example, the environmental impact of uranium mining is much smaller than that of other fossil fuels. The discharges from nuclear plants have a lower environmental impact, and no toxic gases are released.
Nuclear reactors operate at high load factors and supply reliable power. In fact, Indian reactors have done very well. The Unit 5 of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS) recently broke the record for the longest continuous operational run of any reactor in the world. NPCIL CMD KC Purohit and Rajasthan Site Director S. K. Dutta deserve compliments for this feat.
Nuclear technology has some inherently unique strengths that make for effective sustainability. Fast breeder reactors produce more fuel than they consume. Reprocessing extracts fissile material from used fuel, from which considerable power has been extracted already.

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