DAE’s latest tall and hollow claim: 20,000 MW of nuclear power in India over next decade

Shankar Sharma

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) seems to get a strange satisfaction in continuing to make such tall claims again and again.

Such a tall claim is not the first of its kind. It has been happening since the 1960s.

Observers of nuclear power industry have been of the opinion that whereas the nuclear establishment in the country has been making tall claims on the increased role of nuclear energy, the reality has been much less in successive decades after independence. On the basis of many plans and assuming optimistic development times, Dr. Homi J Bhabha had announced that there would be 8,000 MW of nuclear power in the country by 1980. As the years progressed, these predictions increased. By 1962, the prediction was that nuclear energy would generate 20,000 -25,000 MW by 1987 and by 1969 the AEC predicted that by 2000 there would be 43,500 MW of nuclear generating capacity. All of this was before a single unit of nuclear electricity was produced in the country – India’s first reactor, Tarapur, was commissioned only in 1969! The Integrated Energy Policy (IEP, of 2011) advocates a large and unrealistic addition to nuclear power capacity; an increase from about 3,700 MW in 2006 to 63,000 by 2031-32.

The reality has been quite different. The installed capacity of nuclear power generation in 1979-80 was about 600 MW; about 950 MW in 1987; 2,720 MW in 2000; and 4,120 MW in mid-2009. Despite the huge increase in electricity generation capacity in India, from a meager 1,800 MW in 1950 to 90,000 MW in 2000 and 147,000 MW in 2009, the contribution of nuclear power to the total power generation capacity is less than 3%.

The observers are also of the opinion that this utter failure has not been because of a paucity of resources. Practically all governments have favored nuclear energy and the DAE’s budgets have always been high. The high allocations for the DAE have come at the cost of promoting other, more sustainable, sources of power. In 2002-03, for example, the DAE was allocated Rs. 33.5 billion, dwarfing in comparison the Rs. 4.7 billion allocated to the Ministry of Nonconventional Energy Sources (MNES), which is in charge of developing solar, wind, small hydro, and biomass-based power. Despite the smaller allocations, the installed capacity of the renewable sources was 18,455 MW in 2011 (as compared to 4,780 MW of nuclear power). That is, India’s renewable energy capacity was about 4 times that of nuclear energy in 2011, despite the fact that the government expenditure on the latter has been many times that on renewable energy.

A less known DAE document of 2008 is “A Strategy for the Growth of Electricity in India” (http://www.dae.gov.in/publ/doc10/index.htm ). Dr. Anil Kakodkar, AEC, delivered a public lecture at the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore on 4 July 2008 referring to this document. A cursory look at this document can put even a nuclear power advocate to deep concern. This report indicates that DAE has a nuclear energy plan not covered fully in IEP 2006. According to it about 275,000 MW is planned to be generated through nuclear power technology by 2050.

If we objectively consider the difficulties, hurdles, and opposition to the nuclear power from the project affected communities (as noticed in the case of Kudankulam, Rawatabhata, Kakarapar and other project locations) it will be hard to imagine that the total nuclear capacity in the country can even reach 10,000 MW, as against 6,780 MW (1.9% of the total power capacity in the country) now. The plan to set up a green site project at Mithi Virdi in Gujarath has been dropped because of stiff opposition, and the one at Haryana is also facing massive opposition. Similarly, the capacity expansion proposal at Kaiga NPP in Karnataka is also facing stiff opposition.

The question is whether the society is happy to see the authorities to continue with such tall claims without any accountability, and accept the allocation of enormous amounts of money that is going in to this sector, as against the huge economic advantages of putting the same money into few sustainable and cheaper options such as Renewable Energy, efficiency improvement, demand side management and energy conservation measures.

Shankar Sharma
Power Policy Analyst
Sagara, Karnataka

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