India needs to step up its nuclear game, say experts

Warns that India will have to turn to nuclear energy to meets its energy requirements

nuclear-plant-ap-energy-ap Representational image | File

"Even though coal will be the mainstay of India's power for many years to come, there will come a time when we have to reach a non-coal system, and in that scenario, I cannot see anything except nuclear energy," said Anil Kakodkar, former chairperson of the Atomic Energy Commission. He was speaking at the release of a task force report on 'Nuclear Power: India's Development Imperative' by the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF). Kakodkar headed the task force.

He expressed the need for India to speed up its nuclear energy production, noting that while China began much after India, its programme was already much ahead of India. "India has made commitments for helping mitigate climate change, and move onto cleaner energy. Also, the energy requirements of the nation are going to increase over the following years. While solar and wind energy can be used as distributed energy, they cannot be used to drive the grid. For this, we need either coal or nuclear," he said. Given that coal stocks will run out sooner or later, he emphasised on the need for a robust nuclear powered grid to be ready in time.

Kakodkar pointed out that the energy demand in developed countries had largely plateaued, but in countries like India, the consumption would only increase as more people get access to electricity. He said that even oil exporting nations like the UAE and Saudi Arabia were interesting in establishing nuclear power plants. Suresh Prabhu, minister of commerce and industry and civil aviation, who earlier held the power portfolio, said India's electricity requirements would be huge in the years to come. "The current consumption is 3,50,000 mega watts, we expect it to rise three-and-a-half times more. Even then, per capita consumption will remain among the lowest, because the bulk of power goes into manufacturing, building and other such sectors. But as large sections of society get access to more electricity, at affordable pricing, the power demand will go up."

According to Kakodkar, at the current rate of consumption, India's coal supplies should last a century. "But if we are talking of scaling up consumption four times, we could be looking at stocks depleting as early as in the next 25 years."

The task force report says that the 63 GW nuclear power target by 2032 was adopted in 2006 under the Integrated Energy Policy. "The timelines given in the document envisaged installation of 11 GW capacity by 2010 and 29 GW by 2020. Our current capacity of 6.7 GW, therefore, represents a significant slippage."

The document says that even a 63 GW target would only represent 10.33 per cent of installed capacity by 2032, it is a modest target and far below the capacities of other countries. "For instance, China aims at 160 GW, providing 10 per cent of the electricity by 2030. The comparison with China is relevant as it has broadly the same energy profile as India, with coal providing a major part of China's energy needs (64.56 per cent)."

The report says that for achieving this target, there has to be effort put in by various stakeholders. The government has to provide finances, as well as level-playing field to nuclear vis-a-vis coal and renewables. "The provision of Rs 3,000 crore per annum falls short of the equity of Rs 20,000 crore needed per annum to achieve the target." It recommends that several PSUs form joint ventures with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). The government might also have to amend the Atomic Energy Act if we are trying out a model where foreign vendors are allowed to invest in the plant and operate it for large periods.