Is it time to phase out nuclear power in India?

Germany just shut down its last nuclear power station, and France, the world’s nuclear superpower, is battling to replace its ageing reactor stock. With solar and wind power growing more popular around the world, the question of whether nuclear power, with its attendant cost and safety problems, remains a viable choice for a fossil-free future, particularly in India, arises. The debate here is whether nuclear power should be phased out in India.

Global Nuclear Power Prospects

  • Nuclear power renaissance in Europe and US: A lot has happened in the last two years. Particularly after the Ukraine war, nuclear power is seeing a renaissance, even in Europe and the U.S.
  • China: China has anyway been surging ahead on nuclear power.
  • South Korea’s new president has modified the country’s energy strategy and pledged to expanding nuclear power’s part of the country’s energy mix to 30% by 2030.
  • Japan: Japan, which should have entirely shut down reactors following the Fukushima (disaster), is reviving them. Ten reactors have been reactivated after years of inspection and updating safety measures, and I believe the goal is to restart ten more. Japan has little choice but to do so because it was otherwise reliant on either expensive imported coal or natural gas (LNG).
  • Beyond Germany, the United Kingdom has stated that decarbonizing the electricity sector will be impossible without increasing nuclear power capacity.

Why is nuclear power regarded as low-carbon or green energy?

  • Emissions of greenhouse gases are low: Nuclear power stations do not emit carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases during operation, in contrast to fossil fuel plants, which generate enormous volumes of CO2 and contribute to climate change.
  • Nuclear fuel has a very high energy density, which implies that a small amount of fuel may generate a great amount of energy. As a result, nuclear power is an extremely efficient and dependable source of energy.
  • Nuclear power plants provide a secure and consistent source of energy, which can help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and increase energy security.
  • Air pollution is reduced because nuclear power stations do not release pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, or particle matter, which can be harmful to human health and the environment.
  • Land use: Nuclear power facilities use far less land than renewable energy sources like wind or solar power, which can aid in the conservation of land and natural habitats.

How Is nuclear energy also at blame for greenhouse gas emissions?

  • Nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gases while operation, but it does emit greenhouse gases during the plant’s lifecycle, which includes mining, processing, and shipping of nuclear fuel.
  • Nuclear power plant development and decommissioning also emit greenhouse gases. Furthermore, nuclear power plants rely on fossil fuels for nuclear fuel transportation and the operation of auxiliary systems.
  • Although greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear energy are significantly lower than those from fossil fuels, they are not zero.

Why is there opposition to nuclear energy?

  • Concerns about safety: Nuclear mishaps, such as those at Chernobyl and Fukushima, have raised safety concerns regarding nuclear power facilities. Many people are afraid of nuclear power because of the risk of radioactive contamination and long-term health consequences on the nearby population.
  • Nuclear proliferation: Many countries, particularly those with nuclear weapons programmes, are concerned about the possibility of nuclear power being used to create nuclear weapons.
  • Waste disposal: Nuclear power facilities generate dangerous radioactive waste that must be carefully kept for hundreds of millions of years. Finding a safe and secure way to store this garbage is a significant challenge.
  • Nuclear power facilities are costly to create and maintain. Overruns and delays are typical, and the cost of decommissioning nuclear power stations at the end of their useful lives can be substantial.
  • Nuclear power has a bad public view in many nations, with many people equating it with risk and disaster.

What are the concerns over radioactivity from spent fuel?

  • Long-term storage: Spent nuclear fuel is radioactive for thousands of years and must be handled and stored carefully to avoid potential exposure to humans and the environment.
  • Accidents: Mishaps during the transport or storage of spent nuclear fuel can result in the emission of radioactive material, causing serious environmental damage and posing health concerns to humans and other living organisms.
  • Spent nuclear fuel can also be used to make nuclear weapons, raising worries about the risk of nuclear proliferation and the potential use of these weapons.
  • Long-term disposal of spent nuclear fuel is also a huge concern, as it necessitates the discovery of safe and secure locations to keep the waste for thousands of years.

Why should India never consider abandoning nuclear power?

  • Limited hydropower growth potential: India’s hydropower growth potential is limited due to considerations such as biodiversity conservation, landowner rehabilitation and compensation, and seismological factors in the Himalayas. As a result, nuclear power is a viable alternative to coal-fired power facilities.
  • Net-zero emissions target: In order to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2070, India will require a combination of small modular reactors and big reactors. As a result, rather than a monopoly by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, multiple corporations should be allowed to operate nuclear reactors.
  • Firm, reliable, and low-carbon power: Nuclear power is a source of firm, dispatchable, low-carbon, and reliable power. It can provide a consistent and dependable source of power, particularly when wind and solar energy are intermittent or fluctuating.
  • Nuclear fuel availability: India has limited access to enriched uranium, which is necessary to power nuclear reactors. The country’s nuclear programme, on the other hand, is predicated on working around its restricted supply of enriched uranium, and it has not encountered any serious difficulties in obtaining nuclear fuel.
  • Technology portfolio: To solve energy concerns, a combination of supply-side and demand-side technology is required. Nuclear power might be part of the technology portfolio that India requires to meet its energy goals. As a result, rather than being technology-specific, policy frameworks should be enabling.
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