India, a country of continental dimensions with 1.21 billon population, faces challenges on the energy front in terms of accessibility, affordability, deficit between demand and supply and national energy security. In terms of electricity, the country faces a deficit of 9-10% in energy and 12% in peaking power. The country imports 140 million tonnes of coal and 160 million tonnes of oil annually. In this context, energy options post-Fukushima should be addressed by undertaking a review of nuclear and alternate energy options.

Some countries would make adjustments to their energy mix in the light of Fukushima, for some countries nuclear might remain important. In 2008, nuclear power accounted for 5.8% of total global energy supply. It powers the homes and businesses for millions of people and it will continue to do so because it is a question of energy security.

However, there are other considerations like relatively higher costs compared to gas, coal and hydro, with implications of foreign exchange in terms of imports; dangers of radioactivity in case of accidents particularly in a location like Jaitapur in Ratnagiri near Koyna (seismic zone-3) which has a history of 92 earthquakes during 1985-2005 (the severest being 6.2 on the Richter scale in 1993). Are we creating the possibility of a mega-disaster by locating India’s largest nuclear power plant of 9,900 MW there?

In the United States they are going slow on nuclear power plants after their terrible experience at Three mile Island in 1979. Recently, many licence applications filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for proposed new reactors have been either suspended or cancelled. Post-Chernobyl Sweden had passed a resolution in its Parliament that it will close down all its nuclear power plants by 2020 in favour of hydro like neighbouring country Norway, which is powered 100% hydroelectricity. Their resolution stands even today! On the flip side, in India there are increasing numbers of cancer cases reported amongst villagers around the nuclear power plant in Kalpakkam because of the atomic reprocessing plant.

Japan has declared its nuclear calamity at par with the worst nuclear disaster in history at Chernobyl in 1986 (Level 7 severity of disaster). Should India go ahead with nuclear option relying on foreign technology and fuel dependency on the ‘Nuclear Fuel Club’? India is less-equipped technologically and socially to cope with the possible disasters.

Let us consider the hydro option whose renewability and sustainability comes from nature’s hydrological cycle being propelled by solar energy and gravitational forces. With more than half of the world’s 20 largest power plants being hydro, hydro energy is capable of powering a country of 1.21 billion. India’s hydropower potential is approximately 300,000 MW comprising identified potential in Indian rivers. An additional potential of 30,000 MW can be harnessed by interlinking rivers and 20,000 MW by developing small/mini/micro hydel projects. India’s power sector somehow lost its sense of proportion along the line. The country’s hydro and thermal mix has come down from 45:55 during the late 1960s to 25:75.

Assessed wind power potential of India is approximately 50,000 MW. We have gone up to 100 m height only. There are more powerful winds above 300 m height. Off-shore wind along the 7,500-km-long Indian coastline has additional potential power. India should harness its renewable resources rather than rely on nuclear power.


BSK Naidu

(The writer is chairman, Great Lakes Institute of Energy Management & Research, Gurgaon)