‘Is hundred-fold nuclear growth feasible?’

City-based nuclear physicist M V Ramana shares his concerns over the future of nuclear energy in India and the country’s obsession with it

Published: 20th February 2013 08:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th February 2013 08:00 AM   |  A+A-


A renowned nuclear physicist has questioned the country’s obsession with nuclear growth.

 “At present, there are two questions: is rapid expansion of nuclear power desirable and  ‘hundred-fold growth’ in nuclear energy industry is feasible?” said M V Ramana, nuclear physicist, here on Monday. “Without finding an answer for these questions, we cannot move further,” he said.

M V Ramana is now working at Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University. He was  at Madras Institute of Development Studies to address on the theme ‘Nuclear Energy in India: Perspectives on its past, present and future’.

He has authored ‘Bombing Bombay? Effects of Nuclear Weapons and a Case Study of a Hypothetical Explosion’ and co-edited ‘Prisoners of the Nuclear Dream’. His most recent book ‘The Power of Promise – Examining Nuclear Energy in India’ has been well received by nuclear scientists and activists of international community.

Speaking to City Express, Ramana discussed the history of nuclear energy in India, the faults and failures the country faced. He also questioned the feasibility of rapid expansion of nuclear industry, as it’s  contribution is only 2.3 percent to the total power production.

“In 1948, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru introduced Atomic Energy Bill terming ‘exclusive responsibility of the State’. But one member Krishnamurthy Rao, pointed out that the Bill did not have scope for oversight, checks and balances when compared to the US Atomic Energy Act. He also said that in the UK, the secrecy was restricted only to defence purpose and asked if secrecy had to maintained even for research in India? Nehru then confessed saying, I do not know how to distinguish the two (peaceful and defence purposes),” said Ramana.

He added, “Secrecy is maintained even when it is not needed and that becomes the problem.”

He also revealed that our total installed capacity is 4.78 GW, including Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) and Boiling Water Reactors (BWR). “We have one pilot scale Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR),  the construction of which began in 1985, but it is yet to be completed. We are amid the construction of 5.3 GW reactors. Besides, the government has also plans to import 40 GW  Light Water Reactors (LWR) in the period between 2012-2020, to fill the deficit. With all these, till date, the power from nuclear energy  is just 2.3 percent when compared to other energy sources like thermal, hydro and renewable. Still, the government’s rhetoric is that the nuclear energy industry will be expanded. At this juncture, the debate on costs, benefits and risks of expanding has not come up,” he added.

He further  said that in 2009, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said that our three-stage strategy could yield potentially 470,000 MW of power by the year 2050. But the country’s nuclear society forgets to ask questions like if rapid expansion is desirable and the hundred-fold growth is feasible, in the next four decades. My recent book focuses on these questions.”

“The hundred-fold growth is not feasible. The reasons are our history of nuclear energy, the constraints we faced during the developments of new reactors and oppositions from the people. Till date, all reactors have had overruns in construction, including  time and cost. Meanwhile, every accident is new and likewise, while constructing new reactors in India, each reactor unit has different problems. We have failed to learn lessons from the past and there is a possibility of repeating those failures in the future too,” he said.

When asked about his stand on nuclear energy debate he said, “We are scientists. If we tell the facts of the nuclear energy which are negative, we are ultimately branded ‘anti-nuclear’. Nuclear is a source of energy which needs democratic public discussion,” said Ramana.


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