Why India needs Nuclear Power
1.4 billion people in the world (20% of the total population) have no access to electricity. Of these, 300 million live in India (25% of India’s population). These figures are truly alarming. The only feasible answer to the growing energy crisis is Nuclear Power.
How Nuclear Power Compares:
Despite popular misconception, coal and nuclear have almost the same production costs. Both the alternative energy sources: Solar and Wind have huge production costs. This is largely because of large Construction expenses. Natural gas suffers mainly from high fuel cost. At present solar and wind power’s huge cost rule them out. Solar and wind also require relatively huge tracts of land which would further amplify costs. Lack of sufficient indigenous natural gas deposits puts it out of the question.
This leaves three candidates: Nuclear, Hydro and Thermal.
Thermal vs. Nuclear
Currently Thermal power amounts for 52% of India’s power generation. This is a lot of better than China and Australia’s 75%. Unlike Thermal, nuclear does not directly release CO2 or greenhouse gases into the air. The only pollutant released by Nuclear Power is Steam. Thus, is no way does nuclear energy contribute to Global Warming.
An astonishing statistical survey established that for every 1 person who dies from the effects of nuclear energy, 4000 people die from the effects of coal. Further, this survey does not take into account the number of people who die from the resultant climate change due to Thermal power (remember the number of people who die due to heat-strokes in Nagpur?)
Like coal, India also has large reserves of nuclear fuels such as Thorium. Studies by IAEA and OECD have concluded that India may potentially have a lion’s share in world thorium deposits. Recently, large deposits of Uranium which promise to be among the world’s top 20 were found in the Andhra Pradesh region. This could reduce our dependence on imports as in the case of Oil and Wind Turbines.
Nuclear vs. Hydro-Electricity:
Perhaps nuclear energy’s most potent competitor is Hydro-Electricity. Hydro-Electricity has the least production costs of all sources. Hydro electricity depends on two factors:
Hydro-electricity is strictly limited by the rivers and their course. Secondly by rainfall. Most of India receives highly seasonal rainfall. Lately rainfall has become highly unpredictable. Rivers run dry by March while there are flash floods in July. This limits Hydro-Electricity generation to few monsoon months especially in Southern India. This is one of the primary reasons for the perpetual electricity shortage in Maharashtra. In the north, where rivers are glacier fed, the prospects for Hydr0-Electricity are better.
Although Hydro-Electricity does not directly release any pollutants or toxins it has numerous indirect effects on the environment and the population. Tens of thousands of people are displaced by Hydro-Electricity projects. Knowing our government, most of these people are still to be properly rehabilitated.
The effects on wildlife and forests are equally gruesome. Large areas of forests are submerged by dams. Several endangered species are put to further risk. Construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China reduced the forested area by one half.
The carbon offsets caused by these indirect effects of Hydro-Electricity and the damage to bio-diversity count against it.
Dangers of Nuclear Energy:
Our fear of using nuclear energy is blown way out of proportion. The only major nuclear disasters have been Chernobyl and Fukushima that together killed about 5,000 including cancer deaths. The latter did quite a lot of environmental damage but did not claim a lot of lives. Compare this to the 26,000 lives claimed by the Banqiao Dam collapse and more about 10,000 killed by numerous coal-mining disasters around the world. The Coal-Smog of London killed 2,200 people.
Furthermore, nuclear accidents are extremely rare due to relatively high safety standards of the industry. Fukushima was an unfortunate combination of a strong tsunami (very rare) and a coastal power plant.
Bottom Line: Until solar and wind energy get cheaper and more efficient, Nuclear Energy is our best bet for the present crisis.