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India’s long-term strategy to transition to a ‘low emissions’ pathway involves more nuclear power

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India’s long-term strategy to transition to a ‘low emissions’ pathway involves more nuclear power

Context- India has announced its long-term strategy to transition to a “low emissions” pathway at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) ongoing in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, which is premised on expanding its nuclear power capacity by at least three-fold in the next decade.

Where India Stands right now?

At present, India has 23 nuclear reactors in operation in 8 nuclear power plants, 7 nuclear reactors are under construction. Nuclear power is the fifth-largest source of electricity in the country after coal, gas, hydroelectricity and wind power. It comprises around 2% of the total energy mix. The Indian Government operates all nuclear plants through the Nuclear Power Corporation of India.

(Credits- Merriam-Webster Inc.)

What are the benefits of using nuclear energy?

  • India has vast thorium reserves that could be exploited using a thermal breeder reactor. A significant amount of thorium reserves are found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India.
  • Low reserves of oil in India create import dependence. Increasing nuclear energy in the energy mix help India attain energy sovereignty.
  • The carbon emissions from a nuclear power plant are much lower than a traditional thermal power plants. Nuclear Energy has the potential to enable India to meet its Climate Goals.
  • Oil and gas constitute a major component of India’s import bill and play a crucial role in raising the country’s fiscal deficit. Focusing on Nuclear energy will reduce demand for imports and the country’s current account deficit.
  • Nuclear Research enabled India to acquire nuclear weapons. Several defence experts have pointed out the importance of ‘nuclear deterrence’ in the context of Russia-Ukraine conflict.

What are the associated concerns?

  • Nuclear fission reactions occurring in nuclear reactors are highly radioactive in nature. Radiation leaks from reactors can prove fatal for human beings.
  • Nuclear power plants are capital intensive and recent nuclear builds have suffered major cost overruns.
  • Amongst the 24 foreign reactors with ‘in principle’ approval, six are of the VVER (water-water energy reactor) design that has had multiple operational problems at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.
  • Safety concerns following the Fukushima accident have led to protests against each planned reactor e.g., locals turned against” the Mithivirdi nuclear project in Gujarat post the disaster.
  • Land acquisition and selection of location for Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) is also a major problem in the country.
  • Solar and Wind are widely emerging as cheap and effective alternatives to Nuclear Energy.
  • Since 2010, an incompatibility between India’s civil liability law and international conventions has limited the provision of foreign technology in nuclear research. Further, India is not a member of the Nuclear Supplier group and has not signed the Non-Proliferation treaty.

What is India’s nuclear policy?

  • No First Use policy (only retaliation),
  • Minimum Credible Deterrence,
  • Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states

What is India’s 3 stage nuclear program?

India’s 3 stage nuclear program: formulated by Homi Bhabha in the 1950s to secure the country’s long term energy independence, through the use of uranium and thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India. Eventually Thorium will be used in stage 3 as a fuel.

  • Why focus on thorium eventually? India has only around 1–2% of the global uranium reserves, but one of the largest shares of global thorium reserves at about 25% of the world’s known thorium reserves.
  • However, thorium is more difficult to use than uranium as a fuel because it requires breeding (conversion technology in breeder reactor, yet to be developed), and global uranium prices remain low enough that breeding is not cost effective.
  • Stage 1 (In Operational Stage): Pressurized heavy water reactor is used. Uranium is used as fuel and it produces Plutonium-239.
  • Stage 2 (In Demonstration Stage): Fast Breeder reactor is used in this stage. Plutonium-239 is used as fuel, it releases 3 neutrons. The released neutrons again reacts with Uranium producing Plutonium-239.
  • Stage 3 (In R&D Stage): Thorium based reactor will be used in this stage . The neutrons in second stage would convert Thorium-232 into Uranium.

Way Forward-

  • Investments on R & D to manage nuclear waste.
  • Addressing displacement and rehabilitation issues of people.

Syllabus- GS-3 ; Energy

Source- Indian Express

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