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Cover Story
 
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Solar VS Nuclear What Should India bet its Money On?
Proponents of Nuclear Energy are Blatantly and Deliberately disregarding The Solar Energy Option, many with Their own Ulterior Agendas B&E Analyses why India needs to Urgently look Beyond Nuclear Energy towards The Solar Option for a Sustainable, Safe and Secure Energy future
Issue Date - 23/06/2011
 
Twenty Five years post the chernobyl disaster, The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster in Japan has once again reignited the global focus on The Mammoth Dangers surrounding Nuclear Power Generation. While The World is actively considering shifting to The Solar Energy option, Nuclear Energy Proponents in India are claiming that investment in Solar Energy is a lost cause. B&E exposes the perfidy in pro-nuclear arguments and analyses how India can align profitably over the coming years to solar energy

“Foolish romance!” If you were the Executive Director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), and if you were to provide your views on the viability of solar energy, would you give that answer? Unbelievably, Nalinish Nagaich, Executive Director of NPCIL, did just that in an unsolicited communication to us, while attempting to discredit solar energy. As per Nalinish, “Solar power is nothing more than a foolish romance as far as large scale deployment or energy-intensive applications are concerned.”

That, sadly, is the unlettered and opinionated perfidy that is the hallmark of individuals whom B&E calls pro-nuclear-extremists. In a post-Fukushima world, where nations like Germany have decided to shut all their nuclear power plants in the next 11 years to shift to renewable sources like solar, where the Swiss Cabinet has called for the decommissioning of Switzerland’s five nuclear power reactors to replace them with alternate sources, where the Chinese government is considering doubling of its solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation target by 2015 to 10 gigawatts (GW) from the current 5 GW, India has people like Nalinish Nagaich at key positions in our top government organisations refusing to accept the phenomenal danger that nuclear energy generation options present, and also refusing to accept solar energy as a viable alternative.

While the motives behind such a polarized and illogical anti-solar view seem unclear at the outset, the moment one realizes the fact that India has practically zero usable uranium reserves (the government confirms our uranium reserves are at around 115,000 tonnes; and almost all of this is of low quality and not usable), and that India therefore has to necessarily import high quality uranium from the western nations, that one starts seeing the unsaid monetary connection of the billions of dollars that the Indian nuclear industry holds for foreign firms and domestic pro-nuclear lobbyists. The Indian nuclear industry is estimated to be worth a smashing $100-250 billion.

 
This ironically amusing stand – of groups in India lobbying for an energy source for which India has no raw material – is pitiable. In November 2010, for example, India celebrated its 20th nuclear power plant, a 220 MW plant set up in Kaiga (called ‘Unit 4’) becoming active. In the celebrations that followed the plant going operational, was forgotten the fact that the Kaiga Unit 4 plant was actually built a few years back; but due to the non-availability of uranium fuel, India just couldn’t make it active. In fact, between 2006 to 2008, nuclear power generation in India fell by 12.68%; from 2009-10 to 2010-11, the same rose by 40.94%, proving how erratic is its behaviour.

And after all this, nuclear power generation still contributes only 2.75% of total power generated – again, providing a grim certification of how lack of a continuous uranium fuel source stymies the option from the scruff of its neck. Comparatively, nuclear energy currently accounts for 15% of electricity generation globally. The US generates 20% of the nation’s electricity from its 104 licensed reactors at 65 plant sites (Barack Obama’s FY2012 budget would nearly triple the loan guarantee ceiling for nuclear power plants from $18.5 bn to $54.5 bn).

No surprises, NPCIL now claims that by 2032, India would be able to generate nuclear power of 63,000 MW by setting up 16 more indigenous pressurised heavy water reactors, of which, ten would be based on reprocessed uranium. There is a mystical silence on how the uranium would turn up in these various plants. Was it a coincidental surprise that in August 2008, the US proposed the lifting of a 35 year old nuclear trade embargo on India? The main motive was clearly business development for western companies like Westinghouse, GE, Areva and many more from America, France, Russia, Spain and other nations.

Fantastically, we’ve not even started talking about the humongous danger the nuclear option poses to human life. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster on March 11, 2011 and the destruction caused thereof have opened up the floodgates on a heated global debate amongst the intelligentsia about whether a nuclear plant can ever be 100% safe. While the world has been berating Japan, a so-called Six Sigma process driven economy, for having not taken enough care to ensure fail-safe measures at the Fukushima Perfecture, on June 8, 2011, the Japanese government – in a report submitted to IAEA – conveniently doubled up its estimates for how much radiation might have leaked into the environment. Yes, we said ‘doubled’ – making the disaster 1/6th as harmful as the Chernobyl blast and proving that there is no fail safe reactor and there is no honest government. That is how uncontrollable a nuclear disaster is, which can maim millions within seconds and can scar millions more for eternity. Researcher Benjamin K. Sovacool has documented in the Journal of Contemporary Asia, in an article titled A Critical Evaluation of Nuclear Power and Renewable Electricity in Asia, that 120 and more “hazardous nuclear accidents” took place in India between the years 1993-95. In 1993, for example, fire broke out in the steam turbines at the Narora Atomic Power Station at Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh. The reactor escaped damage. The question is, if by chance the reactor had gotten damaged for whatever reason, what all could have happened? For records, Bulandshahar lies geographically just after Greater Noida, clearly not that far a distance from the national capital of New Delhi.

          

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