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India’s potential for nuclear technologies

  • Published
    14th Nov, 2022
Context

In its first visit to a Climatic event at COP 27 in Egypt, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)chief has spoken regarding the importance of Nuclear Technologies for the world to shift towards clean energy.

  • He also highlighted India’s potential for New Nuclear Technologies.
Background

Background: (Baby steps towards Nuclear Building Nation)

  • India's nuclear energy self-sufficiency extended from uranium exploration and mining through fuel fabrication, heavy water production, reactor design, and construction, to reprocessing and waste management.
  • The Atomic Energy Establishment was set up at Trombay, near Mumbai, in 1957 and was renamed as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) ten years later.
  • Plans for building the first Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) were finalized in 1964, and this prototype – Rajasthan 1, was built as a collaborative venture between Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) and NPCIL.
  • The Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) is the main policy body in the country for Nuclear energy exploration and research.
  • The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is responsible for the design, construction, commissioning, and operation of thermal nuclear power plants. Its funding model is 70% equity and 30% debt
  • However, it is aiming to involve other public sector and private corporations in future nuclear power expansion, notably National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC)which is largely government-owned.

The 1962 Atomic Energy Act prohibits private control of nuclear power generation, in which the 2016 amendments allowing public sector joint ventures do not extend to private sector companies, nor allow direct foreign investment in nuclear power, apart from the supply chain.

The Strategy for Nuclear Energy Development in India:

  • Nuclear currently produces 25 percent of the global clean energy.
  • India has a largely indigenous nuclear power program.
  • The Indian government is committed to growing its nuclear power capacity as part of its massive infrastructure development program.
  • The government has set ambitious targets to grow nuclear capacity.
  • Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plants and materials, which hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009.
  • Due to earlier trade bans and a lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium.
  • Since 2010, a fundamental incompatibility between India’s civil liability law and international conventions limits foreign technology provision.

Governing Agencies:

Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)

  • DAE is a department directly under the Prime Minister of India with headquarters in Mumbai. It was established in 1954 by a Presidential Order.
  • It has been engaged in the development of nuclear power technology, and applications of radiation technologies in the fields of agriculture, medicine, industry, and basic research.
  • Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)
  • AERB was constituted on November 15, 1983, by the President of India by exercising the powers conferred by the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 to carry out certain regulatory and safety functions under the Act.
  • The regulatory authority of AERB is derived from the rules and notifications promulgated under the Atomic Energy Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, of 1986.

Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd. (NCPIL)

  • NCP is an Indian public sector undertaking based in Mumbai.
  • It is wholly owned by the Government of India and is responsible for the generation of nuclear power for electricity. It is administered by the DAE.

Benefits:

  • Minimize carbon emission: Nuclear power remains an important part of India’s strategy to minimize carbon emissions in the long run.
  • Meeting targets: This is essential to fulfill the Paris climate agreement as well as maintain high rates of economic growth.
  • Meeting long-term demands: From a long-term perspective, India needs nuclear power. This is because we are short of oil, gas, and even coal. More than 70 percent of petroleum products, 40 percent of gas, and 20 percent of Coal consumption is based on imports.
  • Diversification of energy options to attain energy security.

Challenges:

  • Higher cost: Comparative costs of nuclear production are high as solar energy costs are decreasing, this difference is increasing further.
  • Disposal: The disposal of radioactive material and the danger of nuclear accidents makes it further prohibitive.
  • The threat of weapons: Beyond the risks associated with radioactive wastes, the threat of nuclear weapons looms large.
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