Energy independence is India’s first and highest priority. India has to go for nuclear power generation in a big way using thorium-based reactors. Thorium, a non fissile material, is available in abundance in our country.” Those are the words of former President of India Dr A P J Abdul Kalam .
Whenever there is a discussion on nuclear energy we only think of the nuclear holocaust at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when nuclear bombs were dropped on those cities in Japan by the United States of America, ending World War II. But the abundant peaceful uses of nuclear energy are seldom realised, particularly power generation.
Nuclear power is the fourth-largest source of electricity in India after thermal, hydroelectric and renewable sources of electricity. India has 21 nuclear reactors in operation in seven nuclear power plants, while seven other reactors are under construction.
India first signed the agreement for nuclear energy sharing of technology with Canada in 1956 thanks to visionaries Homi Bhabha, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and then Prime Minister Nehru. Since then India has signed several agreements with France, USA, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazhakastan,Argentina and Namibia.
Australia has largest reserve of natural uranium. A significant quantity of uranium deposit has been found in Tummalapalle belt in the Cudappa basin in Andhra Pradesh. Atomic Minerals directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) is undertaking pioneering work to identify uranium deposits.
The Madras Atomic Power Station situated at Kalpakkam, 50 km from Chennai, is a classic example of a totally safe nuclear reactor using fission technology to produce green energy. It was planned and constructed in the late 70s at a cost of 236 crore for two units. It was the first indigenously constructed nuclear power station, based on Canadian technology.
The first unit was connected to grid in 1983 by Indira Gandhi and the second reactor became critical and production of electricity commenced in 1985. The station was dedicated to the nation by Rajiv Gandhi, then PM of India.
The plant is eco friendly producing clean energy at a low cost of `2.05 per unit. The water that is let out to the sea is clean and there is no damage/threat to marine life. Nuclear waste is a myth as the spent fuel is again used for extracting isotopes like plutonium and other byproducts used in defence laboratories and a second generation nuclear power plant that is coming up nearby.
Security and safety measures are continuously monitored and the radiation effect is considered to be insignificant compared to the natural radiation that one receives otherwise. There is no pollution at all unlike in coal based thermal units. Even during the 2004 Tsunami that hit Chennai, the plant, built to withstand 11 metres of tide, was not affected. Now the plant has been further buttressed to bear 13.5 metres of tide.
Cyclone, tsunami and earthquake warning system is globally linked and alerts are received in real time. In times of emergency the plant can shut down within seconds with no danger of a Fukushima type of mishap.
Consumption of uranium fuel is about two tonnes a month, or just a lorry load, received from the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad. For 1000 MW output, the nuclear power plant utilises 70 tonnes of fuel against a coal consumption of 35,00,000 tonnes by a thermal power plant — 50,000 times compared to nuclear fuel! So far sixty thousand million units have been produced, which in rupee terms is about twelve thousand crore. An investment of 236 crore has yielded this!
About ten thousand employees including top class dedicated engineers and technicians work with dedication in the country’s nuclear power plants to keep the wheels of development moving.
The installed capacity of nuclear power generation is expected to increase from 3 per cent to 9 per cent in the next 25 years. India enacted the Nuclear Liability Act in 2010 to safeguard the interest of people in the event of any mishap.
Active research is also going on to harness nuclear energy effectively without any risk, giving primacy to safety.
The day is not far off when we will have tabletop nuclear power generators replacing the diesel gen-sets and nuclear batteries which can run for years.
We salute the dedicated nuclear scientists and engineers who produce power for us, empowering the nation. On our part we should save power and not indulge in wastage.