Powering India-6 Nuclear

India produced over 1,30,000 MW last fiscal

India hopes to add another 78,000 MW by 2011-12.

Some estimates that India must add nearly 20,000 MW per annum in power capacity to sustain 9-10 per cent GDP growth that is one way to eliminate poverty.

According to the Union power minister, the electricity projects providing a capacity of over 50,000 MW, will make India “a power-surplus country by 2012”. These new plants will result in a power surplus of 5.6 per cent, and peak-time surplus of 0.7 per cent, by the end of the 11th Plan.

With a conservative estimated annual GDP growth rate of 7-8 per cent and an estimated energy elasticity of 0.80, India’s energy requirements are expected to grow at 5.6-6.4 per cent per annum over the next few years. This implies a four-fold increase in energy needs in the next five years.

The country’s energy basket is highly skewed towards coal (53.4 per cent), natural gas (10.2 per cent), and hydro (24.8 percent). http://powermin.nic.in/JSP_SERVLETS/internal.jsp

India’s nuclear power capacity has stagnated at 4,120 MW and contributes less than 3.1 per cent to our power generation. Nuclear Power Corporation Ltd has 14 pressurised heavy water reactors PHWRs under operation and four more are under construction.

In the best-case scenario, the increase in nuclear power’s share implies an addition of 16,000 MW by 2020, though PM targets 20,000MW or double of it.

Constraints such as the shortage of uranium are holding India’s existing reactors today to operating at 70 per cent of their capacity. Sanctions prevent India from buying uranium from the Nuclear Suppliers Group countries.

Global scenario

For the Western world dependent on a shrinking number of hostile or unstable countries for imports of oil and gas, nuclear power can eliminate the dependence.

Around the world, 31 reactors are under construction and many more are in the planning stages.

Nuclear reactors emit almost none of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

Uranium, used as fuel in nuclear power plants is available in relatively abundant amount in reassuringly stable places such as Canada and Australia.

At the moment 439 nuclear reactors in 31 countries supply 15% of the world’s electricity.

The worldwide generating capacity of nuclear power plants will probably increase from about 370 gigawatts today to 520 gigawatts in 2030.

Each nuclear plant can cost several billion dollars to build.

Areva, General Electric (GE), Hitachi and Westinghouse, are today vendors for new nuclear plants.

Today France has 59 nuclear reactors supplying 78% of its electricity. After the oil crisis of 1973, France decided to pursue the goal of fossil-fuel independence.

All the commercial nuclear plants operating in France today were based on technology devised by Westinghouse, which licensed its PWR design to France in the 1960s.

Once up and running, nuclear plants have a distinct advantage over those run on coal or natural gas.

Although the price of uranium jumped from about $70 per pound in January to about $130 in mid-July, operating costs of nuclear power plants have changed very little. (Construction accounts for as much as three-quarters of the cost of nuclear generation.)

The new plants are safer and easier to operate with longer lifespan and reduced maintenance costs, and so improved economics.

Westinghouse’s new AP1000 has “passive safety” systems that can prevent a meltdown during an emergency without operator intervention. If the reactor loses pressure because of a loss of coolant, for example, pressurised tanks deliver water to the core, since the pressure in the tanks is higher than that in the core. The new reactor’s simplified design also means that fewer motors, pumps and pipes are needed, reducing not only the potential for mechanical errors, but also costs of maintenance, inspections and repairs. Westinghouse recently agreed to provide four new plants to China.

Areva, a French nuclear company, is engineering ever more powerful plants. Its first reactor, which began operating in 1977, was rated at 900 megawatts; its latest model, the evolutionary power reactor (EPR), is a 1,600-megawatt design. The company has already begun building two such plants in Europe: one in Finland, which is now expected to start operating in 2011, about two years late, and another in France.

The “pebble bed” reactor, scheduled to be built in South Africa starting in 2009 is small size (165 megawatts) that makes it comparatively fast and cheap to build; depending on power needs, several units sharing a single control room could be constructed on one site. And the uranium fuel is encapsulated in rugged “pebbles”, the size of tennis balls, which are designed to withstand a loss of coolant without disintegrating, making the reactor extremely safe.

Cost of Power- the main objection of Indian political parties
The cost of producing electricity from various sources: Combined cycle gas turbine running on gas or naptha – Rs 3 cr per MW; coal-based thermal power plants – Rs 4.5 cr per MW; indigenously-built nuclear reactors – Rs 7/8 cr per MW and imported nuclear reactors – Rs 10 cr per MW. (Yaswant Sinha in TOI on Sep 23)

Two separate studies by the University of Chicago (2004) and MIT (2003), computed the base line cost of new nuclear power at 6.2 to 6.7 cents per KWH, as compared to 3.3 to 4.2 cents for pulverised clean coal and 3.5 to 5.6 cents for natural gas. (Brahma Chellaney)

The cost in India of nuclear power plants could be anywhere between Rs 10 to Rs 12 crore per MW. (Former PM VP Singh)

“The Prime Minister has announced a target of generating 40,000 MW of nuclear power in the future. Of this, assuming that 10,000 MW would be generated from domestic reactors, the remaining 30,000 MW would cost us Rs 330,000 crore. Now the same 30,000 MW, if produced through coal, would cost us at best Rs 120,000 crore. Using gas and water, this would cost Rs 90,000 crore only. By using the nuclear option, India would be spending anywhere beyond Rs 2 lakh crore more than by using the available alternatives. Can India afford such an expensive option?” (Sitaram Yechury, CPM)

According to all these estimates an additional 20,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020 would need an investment of at least Rs 2,00,000 crore.

India must cut down its execution times in setting up of the generation plants.India must based its decision on scientists and technologists and certainly not on politicians. India must move on all sources simultaneously. It must go for clean coal based plant, more and more hydroplants and other alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. India must also shun its isolation from the rest of the developed nation on nuclear technology and so must go for Indo-US Nuclear deal and concentrate on high breeder and throrium-based technologies where it can be the pioneer. Indian researchers must also get ahead of the other nations on waste and proliferation management and improved economics.

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