The basic problem with nuclear power plants is that even after taking into account known probabilities of failure in the design stage itself, there can still be an incidence which has not been thought about or is overlooked. The price paid for such ignorance is so high that it may not justify going in for nuclear power at all. Thus even after half a century of safe operation of nuclear reactors and power plants, people are still not ready to accept nuclear energy on a large scale, for power generation.
The confidence of the world in N-power was shaken after the Fukushima incidence in Japan. Events such as these were beyond imagination though the N-plants were designed to withstand high intensity earthquakes. The risk is still higher when such plants are established in countries with no previous experience of nuclear reactors. India is not a member of International Atomic Energy Agency. Development of the nuclear industry is impossible without active participation of the government of the respective country. Legislators and regulators have to agree and execute inter-governmental agreements for peaceful use of N-energy. Government to government agreements are required to take care of project funding since the investments are very large. Nuclear power plant commissioning takes a minimum of about 8 to 10 years from the initial conceptualisation stage, if all other issues are settled in time.
In addition to USA, France and Russia now Japan has decided to supply nuclear power plants to commercially exploit the market. It has asked India for a dedicated N-reactor site indicating that it is keen to be a supplier for building nuclear power plants. It is reported that India is giving contracts for six reactors each to US-based companies GE and Westinghouse to set up plants in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The Union Cabinet has given permission to set up two 700 MW units at Kaiga in Karnataka. Presently Russia is working in close co-operation with NPCIL for Kudankulam Unit 1 & 2. Agreement for Units 3 and 4 at Kudankulam is yet to be executed. Russia is already supplying fuel for the thermal nuclear plants including Tarapur in Maharashtra. Rosatom is expecting to get an order for new fast breeder reactors at Kudankulam power station. The demand however is higher for smaller size units since grids in most developing countries are small. Russia is also supplying floating nuclear power plants for ships. These power plants have a shorter life of about 10 years. Transportation, reprocessing of spent fuel and loading/unloading of fuel to these locations is a challenge. The cost of electricity from such plants is about Rs 7 per kwh.
The share of nuclear energy in the world is coming down and share of RE is increasing. Today the share of nuclear is about 11% of total capacity while 12 years back it was about 17 % of total capacity. Over 60% of the world’s new reactors are being constructed in BRICS countries. However, whether nuclear power will be able to compete with RE is still a question.
Jayant D Kulkarni