USA: Nuclear energy neither clean nor affordable


The USA, which went out of its way to ensure that India becomes a partner in civilian nuclear commerce, believes that the same nuclear power is neither a clean nor an affordable source of energy for itself.

 

It is barely a secret that in the post-Fukushima world, barring India, Iran, China and a handful of African nations, Western and other advanced countries are steadily moving out of the nuclear race. So the question is what keeps us in? Well, ever since we started deliberating on the Indo – US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative, our leaders have ‘educated’ us that nuclear energy needs to be embraced because it is CLEAN AND AFFORDABLE.

Towards the same, following are the excerpts from the Prime Minister’s speeches.

“A lot has been written and said on what our energy requirements will be. A few simple truths stare us in the face. First, our proven resources of coal, oil, gas and hydropower are totally insufficient to meet our requirements. Second, we do not enjoy the luxury of an either – or choice. India needs energy from all known and likely sources of energy. Third, the energy we generate has to be affordable, not only in terms of its financial cost, but in terms of the cost to our environment.” – August 2007, while dedicating the Tarapur Power Stations 3 & 4 to the nation.

“There is now a growing consensus that nuclear power is an important energy source that is also clean. In fact the majority of nuclear power plants under construction worldwide are now located in Asia.” – Prime Minister’s inaugural address at the international conference on peaceful uses of nuclear energy in New Delhi in September 2009.

So, what does our ‘partner’ in this game-changer deal have to say? The USA has chosen action over words. Though it is yet to denounce nuclear energy – like Germans and Japanese have, for decades now, not a single new nuclear plant has materialised in that country. That apart, there is no new investment into that sector either.

But earlier this week, when there did arise an opportunity to interview the Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Robert Blake, an official response finally emanated.

 

Future of N-energy in America

When asked about the future of nuclear energy in the USA, Blake was candid. “President Obama wants emphasis on clean energy. There is a lot of scope there and that is an area where the US lags,” he said.

Blake further informed that the American government – run Overseas Private Investment Corporation  – an agency which provides finance and insurance to American firms in energy sector – has doubled its exposure from 200m USD to an additional 500m USD – NOT IN NUCLEAR ENERGY – but in solar energy! (No deficiency of that in India, I assume?) “That is where our focus is more than nuclear power. But our companies do believe that there is tremendous scope for investment in India,” he added.

And even though our Prime Minister may sincerely tell us that nuclear energy is clean, the Americans honestly don’t think so. Elaborating his point further, Mr. Blake stated, “Your economy is growing with growing energy needs. While parts of those needs will be met by clean energy but part will also be met by nuclear (energy).” If any further evidence was warranted, this is what Blake ended with, “Your energy needs are growing much faster. One of which will be met by nuclear but an increasingly important one is the clean energy side.”

Planned road ahead

Just to put things into perspective, the Department of Atomic Energy’s document, “A Strategy for Growth of Electrical Energy in India” (available online at: http://www.dae.gov.in/publ/doc10/index.htm) states that “The target set by DAE of installing about 20 GWe (i. e 20,000 MW) nuclear power by the year 2020 will be achieved. The study indicates that about a quarter of the total electricity generation by nuclear power by the middle of the century is possible. The R&D issues to be completed before the year 2020 to achieve such a growth have been identified and in our opinion this is doable. It is possible to have a contribution even higher than a quarter based on nuclear energy by the middle of the century.”

To better understand exactly what we are upto, in 2011, nuclear energy contributes around 3% or 4780MW to the total energy production of the country.

Affordable, is it?

There are very few things, if at all, which Americans find expensive but Indians don’t. Nuclear energy seems to be one such thing. When asked about expenses involved, Blake answered, “Nuclear energy is quite expensive. So our companies have decided that they are going to stay with the current levels (in America) and they have put greater emphasis on clean energy.”

It must be mentioned that on the aspect of cost and affordability, the first ‘baby’ of the Indo-US communion, the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant is proving to be quite a tough nut. While the government of India and the French government have signed pacts for the same, a long time ago, till date there is no official figure provided on the cost of electricity generation at Jaitapur or the cost of importing the next-generation French reactors (6 reactors of 1650MW each) which are supposed to add 10,000MW of power to our grids, from there. Even the deployment of the formidable Right to Information Act 2005 came a cropper.

Recently, while I was in Ukraine to witness the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, it was learnt that apart from all the expenses that their government foots for prevention of leakage and construction of a new safety structure around the stricken reactor no. 4, the authorities shell out 1 billion USD worth of medical aid, every year, to their affected countrymen. And Ukraine was only one of the three countries (which includes Russia and Belarus) which was severely affected by the accident!

Affordable, is it?

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5 thoughts on “USA: Nuclear energy neither clean nor affordable”

  1. Jugal – The reason why America and other European nations are scaling down nuclear energy is because they have a lot of it. Investments in energy, like investments in any other type of assets, must be made so that the total portfolio is balanced. It makes sense for India to scale up investments in nuclear energy as our nuclear energy assets are a relatively small part of our energy portfolio. But, as we scale up we must develop our portfolio in such a way that we have a good mix of thermal, hydro, nuclear and unconventional energy sources. There are risks and costs involved in every type of technology – we should minimise the costs and hedge the risks.

    It is not true that nuclear energy is expensive on an absolute basis. Capital costs are high of course but uranium is easily transported where as it takes tremendous effort to transport coal. So, compared to nuclear plants, coal fired electricity plants are cost competitive only where the plants are located very close to the source of coal.

    Nuclear plants have a cost involved in disposal of the decommissioned reactor and in combating emergencies that may occur. These emergencies may cause political opinion leading to a shut down all the plants – so, this risk of adverse public opinion should be catered for when designing the portfolio.

    Summarising, all technologies have merits and demerits. Just mix n match and we should be fine.

  2. What Mahesh says makes sense as the US is indeed very much invested in Nuclear energy (arnd 20% of its needs i think). However ur point that we need to invest much more into Greener energy is well taken. infact it would be interesting to know the impact of all the Wind energy projects all across India and whether it has been beneficial / profitable.

  3. Frank says: Fully agree with your views on nuclear power as a pancea for all our energy needs. Such a populated country with national work ethics which are not great ( see our railway accidents) make nuclear energy unsuitable. Terrorism threat is another aspect. Tsunami is probabaly least of the worry.

  4. Another comment on email:
    Your article brings out the Janus face of our working. If Fukushima can not make us see the nuclear light , no clear what will! Japan has a current Trade surplus of about $60 B, whilst they are in a near recession. India has a deficit of $105B. Most of TEPCO’s finance was through the stock markets, and is hurting their pensioners, with the value falling below 90% of its prior incident value.Perhaps their Govt will bail them out. Ours is paid for by the tax-payer, and our farmers in Vidharba are pulling their own ploughs! Besides the potential of the Holocaust, Nuc Eng is likely to benefit only the Equipment makers and construction companies. Like Prof CS Rao says ‘ the American’s are screwing us!’
    A focus on developing and tapping indigenous R&D for Green Energy will quite possibly open up Energy riches beyond that of the Padmanabaswamy Temple.

  5. Comment on email:
    This was really an eye opener. I think we should strongly lobby for only the clean energy. It would be insane to go after nuclear eergy when the whole world has rejected it.

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