Energy is the most fundamental requirement of every society or nation as it progresses through the ladder of development. Today, India is going through a phase of rapid economic development and industries are evolving at a significantly higher rate. To support and sustain this economic growth there is need of massive energy. Currently, the country has a deficit of 15 % during peak hours. It is predicted that the total electricity demand will grow five times from the current 150,000 MW by the year 2030.

Many reasons including the limited availability and shortage of fossil fuel coupled with its rising prices has led to the underachievement of development targets. Under current scenario nuclear power can play a key role in diversifying India's fuel mix along with providing clean and cheap power, much needed to meet the country's energy demand and fuel its growth drive. Nuclear power is the one word answer to meet the rising demand for cheaper and less pollutant power.

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The Government of India intends to draw twenty-five per cent of its energy from nuclear power by 2050. This plan includes 20,000 MW of installed capacity from nuclear energy by 2020, and 63,000 MW by 2032. India's nuclear power capacity is over 5,780 MW.

Nuclear power can help to improve energy security. For rapidly developing economy such as India, it (nuclear energy) can make a vitally important contribution to growth. Besides, nuclear power can also reduce the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Not only for developing countries, but even developed countries need electricity to maintain economic competitiveness and nuclear power will have an important contribution to make.

Nuclear energy is the energy stored in the nucleus of an atom. It can be used to produce electricity. But, before it can used, it must be released. The enormous energy that is stored in the bonds that hold atoms together can be released by two processes: nuclear fission or nuclear fusion. In nuclear fission, atoms are split to form smaller atoms, releasing energy whereas in nuclear fusion atoms are combined or fused to form a larger atom. This is how the sun produces energy.

Although nuclear technology is mainly used for the production of electricity in nuclear power plants, this is not the only utility that can be given.

This type of energy appears in many other aspects of our everyday life and in science.

The radio-isotopes produced from nuclear power reactors are used for radiation sterilisation of medical products, production of radio-pharmaceuticals, nuclear medicine and cancer treatment.

The radio-isotopes are also used for production of improved varieties of seeds in agriculture, radiation processing of food items like spices, onions, potatoes, and mangoes.

Radiation technologies developed in Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) have also been used for various industrial applications like radiography, detecting leakage points in long natural gas pipelines, tracking petroleum pipelines, for assisting dredging operations in ports, gamma ray densitometers, radiography cameras and blood irradiators.

The isotopes are used to determine the exact amounts of polluting substances and places in which they occur and their causes. Furthermore, the treatment beam electrons reduces the environmental and health consequences of large-scale employment of fossil fuels, and has a better contribution compared with other techniques, solving problems such as the "greenhouse effect" and acid rain.

Unmanned spacecraft rely on radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) for the power they need for space exploration. RTGs use heat from plutonium to generate electricity. The craft use this electricity to run the computers that control their operation and collect and process the vast amounts of data, including images, that are sent back to Earth.

Nuclear desalination uses the excess heat from a nuclear power plant to evaporate sea water and to condense the pure water.

 Nuclear energy Scenario

In India, nuclear energy development began with the objective of peaceful uses of atomic energy in improving the quality of life of the people and to achieve self-reliance in meeting the energy needs.

The atomic energy program, which was initiated in a modest manner initially, has now grown as a wide spectrum, multi dimensional multidisciplinary with 63 organizations under DAE. The spectrum of these significant activities include R&D in Nuclear Sciences and Engineering, Exploration & Mining of Radioisotopes,  Nuclear energy development and implementation, application of Nuclear Energy, Bio-Agricultural Research, Medical Sciences, etc.

The Indian nuclear programme was conceived based on, unique sequential three-stages and associated technologies essentially to aim at optimum utilization of the indigenous nuclear resource profile of modest Uranium and abundant Thorium resources. This sequential three-stage program is based on a closed fuel cycle, where the spent fuel of one stage is reprocessed to produce fuel for the next stage.

The commercial nuclear power program of the first stage (comprising of PHWRs and imported LWRs) is being implemented by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), and the second stage (comprising of Fast Breeder Reactors) by Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (BHAVINI), both companies owned fully by the union government in accordance with the provisions of the act.

STAGE 1: Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor using

  • Natural UO2 as fuel matrix.
  • Heavy water as moderator and coolant.

STAGE 2: Fast Breeder Reactor

  • India's second stage of nuclear power generation envisages the use of Pu-239 obtained from the first stage reactor operation, as the fuel core in fast breeder reactors (FBR).

STAGE 3: Breeder Reactor

The third phase of India's Nuclear Power Generation programme is, breeder reactors using U-233 fuel. India's vast thorium deposits permit design and operation of U-233 fuelled breeder reactors.

Research Reactors:

  • DHRUVA Reactor at BARC was designed, constructed and commissioned by Indian Engineers and scientists. Natural U is the fuel used and heavy water as moderator and coolant, Dhruva enabled India to attain self sufficiency in the production of radioisotopes
  • Kamini, a 30 kWt reactor at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam, achieved criticality in October 1996 for providing neutron radiography facilities and is a small but significant step towards utilization of our vast thorium reserves. It is the only operating reactor in the world using U-233 fuel.

Institutions involved in Nuclear energy Development

India's Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was established in August 1948 within the Department of Scientific Research, which was set up in June 1948. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) came into existence in August 1954 through a Presidential Order. Thereafter, a Government Resolution in 1958 transferred the DAE within the AEC. The Secretary to the Government of India in the DAE is the ex-officio Chairman of the AEC. The other Members of the AEC are appointed on the recommendation of the Chairman of the AEC

DAE's own Research & Development wings include:

1)      Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Trombay: A series of 'research' reactors and critical facilities was built here. Reprocessing of used fuel was first undertaken at Trombay in 1964. BARC is also responsible for the transition to thorium-based systems. BARC is responsible for India's uranium enrichment projects, the pilot Rare Materials Plant (RMP) at Ratnahalli near Mysore

2)      Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR):  IGCAR at Kalpakkam was set up in 1971. Two civil research reactors here are preparing for stage two of the thorium cycle. BHAVINI is located here and draws upon the centre's expertise and that of NPCIL in establishing the fast reactor program, including the Fast Reactor Fuel Cycle Facility.

3)      The Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT): Multi-purpose research reactor (MPRR) for radioisotope production, testing nuclear fuel and reactor materials, and basic research.

4)      Atomic Minerals Directorate: The DAE's Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) is focused on mineral exploration for uranium and thorium. It was set up in 1949, and is based in Hyderabad, with over 2700 staff.

5)      Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre: Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre is a premier R & D unit of the Department of Atomic Energy. This Centre is dedicated to carry out frontier research and development in the fields of Accelerator Science & Technology, Nuclear Science (Theoretical and Experimental), Material Science, Computer Science & Technology and in other relevant areas.

6)      Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership: It will be the DAE's sixth R & D facility. It is being built near Bahadurgarh in Haryana state and designed to strengthen India's collaboration internationally. It will house five schools to conduct research into advanced nuclear energy systems, nuclear security, radiological safety, as well as applications for radioisotopes and radiation technologies. Russia is to help set up four of the GCNEP schools.

Besides carrying out research at its own research centres, the DAE provides full support to seven aided institutions

1)      Tata Institute of Fundamental Research(TIFR): The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research is a National Centre of the Government of India, under the umbrella of the Department of Atomic Energy, as well as a deemed University awarding degrees for master's and doctoral programs. TIFR, carry out basic research in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, computer science and science education. Main campus is located in Mumbai, but additional campuses are in Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

2)      Tata Memorial Centre: The Tata Memorial Centre commissioned state of the art new operation theatres. For delivering hi-tech patient care, sophisticated facilities such as stereotactic radiosurgery and steriotactic and intensity modulated radiotherapy, were added.

3)      Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics: The Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics is an institution of basic research and training in physical and biophysical sciences located in Bidhannagar, Kolkata, India. The institute is named after the famous Indian physicist Meghnad Saha.

4)      Institute of Physics: Institute of Physics, Bhubaneswar is an autonomous research institution of the (DAE), Government of India.

5)      Institute for Plasma Research: Research and development in fusion technology continued at the Institute for Plasma Research.

6)      Harish Chandra Research Institute: The Harish-Chandra Research Institute is an institution dedicated to research in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, located in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh in India.

7)      Institute of Mathematical Sciences: The Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc), founded in 1962 and based in the verdant surroundings of the CIT campus in Chennai, is a national institution which promotes fundamental research in frontier disciplines of the mathematical and physical sciences.

AERB: The AERB reviews the safety and security of the country's Operating Nuclear Power Plants, Nuclear Power Projects, Fuel Cycle Facilities, and Other Nuclear/Radiation Facilities and Radiation Facilities. The regulatory authority of AERB is derived from the rules and notifications promulgated under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 and the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986. The headquarters is in Mumbai. The mission of the Board is to ensure that the use of Ionising Radiation and Nuclear Power in India does not cause undue risk to health and the Environment. Currently, the Board consists of a full-time Chairman, an ex officio Member, three part-time Members and a Secretary.

NPCIL: Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is a Public Sector Enterprise under the administrative control of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE),Government of India. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of thermal nuclear power plants.

NPCIL is presently (June-2016) operating 21 nuclear power reactors with an installed capacity of 5780 MW. The reactor fleet comprises two Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) and 18 Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) including one 100 MW PHWR at Rajasthan which is owned by DAE, Government of India.

The AERB is a regulatory body, which derives administrative and financial support from the Department of Atomic Energy. It reports to the secreatry, DAE.

The DAE is also involved in the promotion of nuclear energy, and is also responsible for the functioning of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which operates most nuclear power plants in the country.

The DAE is thus responsible both for nuclear safety (through the AERB), as well as the operation of nuclear power plants (through NPCIL). This could be seen as a conflict of interest.

 Safety standards in Nuclear Power plants

The performance of Indian nuclear power reactors in respect of safety has been excellent, with about 340 reactor years of safe, reliable and accident-free operation. The releases of radioactivity to the environment have been a small fraction of the limits prescribed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). The yearly radiation dose around the Indian NPPs, measured over the last many years, is an insignificantly small fraction of natural radiation dose and the stipulated regulatory limits.

At all nuclear power stations, state of the art safety measures are provided based on principles of redundancy (more numbers than required) and diversity (operating on different principles). These include fail safe shutdown system to safely shutdown the reactor, combination of active and passive (systems working on natural phenomena and not needing motive power or operator action) cooling systems to remove the heat from the core at all times and a robust containment to prevent release of radioactivity in all situations. In addition, all nuclear power plants are designed to withstand extreme natural events like earthquake, flooding, tsunami, etc.

A multi-tier safety mechanism comprising of safety review committees within Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and safety review committees in the regulatory authority (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board- AERB) is in place to monitor the safety of nuclear power plants. In addition, a framework of periodic safety reviews, audits and inspection is in place.

Nuclear power stations in coastal areas are designed taking into account the technical parameters related to earthquake, tsunami, storm surges, floods etc. at each site. Appropriate bunds are provided at Tarapur, Kalpakkam and Kudankulam sites for shore protection.

The shore protection measures are designed and constructed to withstand the possible impact of natural events. Surveillance of these protection measures is carried out periodically. Post Fukushima, the safety review of all nuclear power plants was conducted by task forces of NPCIL and the expert committee of AERB. These safety reviews have found that Indian nuclear power plants are safe and have margins and features in design to withstand extreme events like earthquakes and tsunamis.

Other steps are: A Bill to confer statutory status on the national safety regulatory authority had been introduced in Parliament. The results of the safety reviews mandated by the Union government had been made public. The National Disaster Management Authority had drawn up a holistic and integrated programme of "Management of Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies".


In pursuit of the peaceful uses of Atomic Energy, power generation based on nuclear energy assume first and foremost place and India has achieved many milestones in this area. A well planned programme for the progressive expansion for the tapping of atomic energy for electricity keeping in view of the country's future requirements for increased power generation capacity and available resources has been under implementation.

A strong R&D base has been established and functions as a backbone for the smooth transition of the research and development activities to the deployment phase and thereby realising the Department of Atomic Energy's mandate. Many technologies of strategic importance have been mastered to meet developmental needs.

But more need to be done to utilize the potential of Nuclear energy properly without effecting the safety and security of the citizens of India.


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