Nuclear Energy is unviable??

Chandra Sharma

An IITian of New Delhi (1968). He has over four decades of experience in various fields of engineering – Design, Commissioning, Auditing, etc. Written a book titled – Crisis of Energy in India – which has been published from Lap Lambert Academic Publishing Gmbh & co. KG, Germany.

The book is available on Amazon and MorebooksThe article is based on this book. Delivered more than two dozen lectures in National and International seminars on Power sector / Energy Audits.

Dr. Sharma can be contacted on

Should India go nuclear for energy or not? The question is debatable. I would say it is not worth debating because of the horrible consequences of playing with a demon. Energy from atom is dangerous. The nature has preserved it an a very scientific way so that people can line near it. It need not be disturbed. Energy from atom is unethical. It is as much unethical as trading in human organs. This energy into the hands of man is destined to bring disaster. The very first instance is the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945). The world has already witnessed the accidents at Three Mile Island, USA (1979), Chernobyle, Ukraine (1986) and Fukushima, Japan (2011). The world would never forget the worst industrial disaster of Union Carbide, Bhopal, India in 1985. The bigger question is- Is the humanity at the mercy of science or scientists? Science is bound to create problems. It does not offer permanent solutions. The permanent solution lies with the Nature.


India’s total installed generation capacity is 199877 MW as on March 31, 2012. This is including 4780 MW from Nuclear Power Plants. The contribution from nuclear sources is 2.4% only.

A look at the history of nuclear power in India would be more beneficial. Dr. Homi Bhaba is known in India as the Father of Nuclear Industry. Initially India has set a target of 10000 MW for power generation from nuclear energy. This figure was to be achieved in 1971. India has achieved only 4780 MW in the year 2012 – 42 years down the line. The reasons may be many but nuclear energy did not find favours in India. By all accounts this performance is dismal.

What is the current position? Indo-US deal was signed in 2005 between India and the United States for undisclosed reasons. The deal gave a boost to the nuclear feelings and India set a target of having 20000 MW by 2020. It was not a difficult task to achieve in fifteen years. With the Indian economy surging between 8% to 9%, everyone looked at nuclear energy for additional cheap power. The government put itself to risk in the parliament in 2009 for the sake of approval of Indo US deal. Finally the approval was obtained. Nuclear Bus went in the fourth gear. Two years later in 2011 Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), agency responsible for the execution of nuclear projects in India, “scaled down the power generation target from its earlier goal of 20000 MW to 11080 MW by the year 2020. Does this mean that 20000 MW was also an unachievable target in 2011? Is 11080 MW a realistic or unrealistic target? Or it moves further southwards in the near future? The nuclear picture is blurred.

India has planned to have four mega projects in four corners of the country – Jaitpur in Maharashtra, Koodankulam in Tamilnadu and Fatehabad in Haryana. The fourth site was initially located in West Bengal. West Bengal government does not want a nuclear power station on their land and hence a new site is required. It is undecided. The other sites are facing strong opposition from the local population. The environmental and geophysical studies have not been done in an honest way and the people have been kept in dark. Fukushima is still fresh in the minds of the people in India. The people are more responsible as compared to many elites. They do not consider the Fukushima accident as “no nuclear accident or incidence….It is a well planned emergency programme.”. This is the statement from the top nuclear scientist of Indian government just after Fukushima accident. How can one trust nuclear establishment of Government of India. So there is lack of trust.. The local people consider the nuclear power station as ticking nuclear bomb which may explode anytime. The radiation hazards are enormous. Even the scientists and engineers have started opposing the nuclear energy as such.

Per capita Consumption

In the world, per capita electricity consumption is taken as a sign of prosperity. Comparisons are made on that basis. In India the per capita consumption is 734 (2008-09) units as compared to 2751 units for the world and 705 units for Asia. These figures are from International Energy Agency 2009. The figures are 31 units for Haiti and 36920 units for Iceland. The main question – is the energy consumption per capita a bench mark? The per capita consumption for USA is 16900 units. Should USA be considered less prosperous as compared to Iceland? The answer would be negative.

Priority of the Day

In India, a nation on 1.2 billion, 60% of the population do not get second meal in the day. They survive on one meal every day. Is n’t electricity a luxury for them? It may be from nuclear or fossil fuel. For them food is more important than electricity. Food is a priority. Business houses who campaign/ lobby for nuclear energy should themselves realize the needs of their fellow citizens. Only then they will realize the importance of food and the myth of money power. It is the agriculture which needs attention. Investments, research and innovations are required in agriculture. Investments in power sector/ industry is not the call of the day. The solution lies somewhere else.

Even if it is considered that electricity is a must, is nuclear the answer? No doubt, nuclear energy is the most expensive form of energy. No one knows the exact cost per MW. These figures are well kept secrets by the suppliers and the governments. Finnish reactor of 1650 MW whose construction started in 2007 and is expected to be completed by 2016, has gone to Euros 7 billion. This is the cost of reactor only. Other costs are in addition which will be of sizable amount. In India, Jaitpur project expected to house 6 nos of 1650 MW reactors, the projected cost is Indian Rupees One Lac Crores ( Euro 11000 million). These costs are exorbitant and unbearable by poor Indians.

A critical look at the various studies opens a pandora box before us. The studies, undertaken in India and abroad, reveal that nuclear power is the costlier option as compared to thermal power in the world. The same is true for India as well. We are living in an illusive world to believe that nuclear power is ‘the cheap power’.

Studies on Nuclear Energy

Mr. J.C. Robinson undertook a study on “Electricity Generation in Hydro, Thermal & Nuclear Sources in April 1972. In his report, available with National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) New Delhi, the reference is made to “Report of the Energy Survey of India Committee, table 138 & 139 page 130”. Here the unit cost of energy is mentioned as 5.8 naya paisa (np) for nuclear, 4.6 np for thermal and 2.9 np for hydro. The plant load factor considered in all cases was 60%.

According to Mr. J. C. Robinson, the Third Five Year Plan (1962-67) document (page 399) of Government of India states: “The average production cost of electricity from hydro, coal fired and diesel power stations are in the neighborhood of 1.2 np , 3.0 np and 25 np per unit respectively. The cost of atomic generation tentatively estimated at 3.5 -4.0 np may be comparable to that of coal fired stations in areas remote from coal fields”.

Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) carried out a study on the ‘Long Term Cost Effectiveness of Nuclear Energy’ in India. A Senior Engineer in the Corporate Planning Section of NPCIL, Mumbai carried out the study. At 10% discount rate, the cost of nuclear power was 249 paisa per unit while thermal power was 225 paisa per unit. At 13% discount rate the cost of nuclear power was 306 paisa per unit while thermal power was 254 paisa per unit. These costs were based on 1997-98 constant prices. Commercial operation was considered to be in 2004-05. Thermal energy cost is sensitive to fuel cost as it is a major cost. On the other hand nuclear energy is sensitive to interest rates because of two reasons – (1) because of long gestation period of 7 years to 12 years- interest rates can swing; (2) the provision for decommissioning cost is to be kept at the start of the project. This cost is huge and unbearable.

Coal Power is cheaper than Nuclear Power

International Energy Agency (IEA) (Report –Projected Costs of Generating Electricity 2010 Edition) has worked out the cost of generating nuclear electricity at 10% discount rate. The same is $136.5 per MWh (1 MWh=1000 KWh) and $109.14 per MWh for Switzerland and Belgium respectively. Similar cost estimate for coal energy is $100.43 for Belgium. Switzerland does not have coal based plant.

The Central Electricity Authority has been using a 12 per cent discount rate in their calculations for planning and evaluation of projects [Bose 2000]. So has the Planning Commission. However, this is a nominal discount rate and translates to a real discount rate of about 6-7 per cent at the prevalent 5-6 per cent inflation rates. 12% discount rate seems more reasonable.

NCAER, New Delhi also concluded in its study titled “India’s nuclear option – An Overview” that cost of energy from nuclear power plant is costlier. According to the report, NTPC produced 118676 million units (MU) at a cost of Rs. 11217.5 crores. The average cost per million unit comes to Rs. 0.095 crores. On the other hand NPCIL produced 12460 MU at a cost of Rs. 2478.9 crores. The cost of nuclear energy comes to Rs.0.199 crores per MU.

Nuclear energy is 128% of coal energy

As worked out by M V Ramana and Amulya K N Reddy in their paper –“Economics of Nuclear Power from Heavy Water Reactors” (Economic and Political Weekly April 23, 2005) the cost of energy from nuclear plant is costlier. Energy from Kaiga 1 & 2 costs Rs. 2.10 and from Kaiga 3 & 4 costs Rs. 1.98. This is costlier when compared to the cost of energy from RTPS VII (D) which is Rs. 1.49 per unit. The discount rate considered is 6%.

They further considered “that electricity from the 220 MW Kaiga plants is costlier than thermal power for a large range of parameters. Their conclusion – nuclear power is more expensive than thermal power from coal – is robust. This contradicts numerous claims by the Directorate of Atomic Energy that nuclear power is cheaper than coal-based thermal power at sites which are 800-1000 km away from coal mines. Nuclear power plants, therefore, have been and remain a costlier way of trying to address India’s electricity needs than coal-based thermal plants. ….. In the end it seems that atomic energy has neither delivered energy nor security.”

In 2004 the US Department of Energy sponsored a study to University of Chicago to compare the levelised costs of future nuclear, coal and gas fired power generation in the USA. Various nuclear options were covered, and for an initial ABWR or AP1000 they ranged from 4.3 cents to 5.0 cents per KWh on the basis of overnight capital cost of $1200 to $1500 per Kilowatt, 60 years plant life, 5 years construction and 90% capacity. Coal gives 3.5 cents to 4.1 cents per KWh and gas (CCGT) 3.5 cents to 4.5 cents per KWh, depending greatly on fuel price.

According to MIT study on the Future of Nuclear Power the cost of energy from nuclear and coal plants at 75% capacity factor for a life span of 40 years is 7.5c and 4.6c per unit respectively.

According to Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) the cost of energy from Kaiga Generating Station Units 1 to unit no. 4 is Rs. 3.04 per unit. On the other hand all India average rate of sale of power (according to Central Electricity Authority) from generating stations to power utilities is Rs. 2.36 per unit in 2008-09. This is interesting to note that sale price of mix power (nuclear and others) is cheaper by 22% as compared to energy from nuclear power stations.


India has cheaper ways to boost its economy and generate energy. The GDP growth has not translated into success for the economy. The demand of energy continues to grow without reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. It has widened. The concept of nuclear energy was to make its availability to the poor at cheap prices. But it is not cheaper. As the GDP grows, the number of poor also goes up. So the demand for providing cheap power will also go up. This way there is no solution. The solution lies in using the existing resources without straining the economy. The poor stands last in the queue. So let us attend to his requirement. Let us understand what he needs on priority!! It is not the electricity that he needs but he needs water for drinking and irrigation purpose and energy to cook food. Electricity is nowhere in his priority. For a moment forget the city’s requirement. We are looking into the requirement of 80% of India’s population. Our objective is to bring these 80% people above poverty line. GDP growth does not attend to this situation. Higher GDP growth results in more number of people joining billionaire’s club. At the same time number of poors are increasing.

In an agriculture country the solution lies in the agriculture economy

The solution should be cheaper and feasible. Fossil fuels increase GHG emission. Hence they are no where near the solution. Their reserves are limited. Solar and wind are the viable options but are not available round the clock. The option is the utilization of waste and convert it to energy such as methane. This is the most appropriate solution.

Since the advent of history, the agriculture economy as such has been dependent on animal power for its energy needs.. Animals have been a part of family assets which provided all the energy needs of the family- milk for protein & fats, animal dung for cooking & fertilizer for agriculture and horses for transport and bullocks for farm power etc. This is how all the civilizations in the world have evolved over the ages. There was no mechanization. Industrial revolution is a part of present history.

The most important source of power on the farm all over the world and particularly in India is the animal. The animal population in India is more than 530 million (as of 2009) of which 102.4 million is bullocks. Each bullock delivers power equal to 0.5 horse power. It accounts for 51.2 million horse power which is equivalent of 38400 MW. This figure is 20% of the current installed capacity in the power ministry. The total consumption of electricity by agriculture sector is 25% of installed capacity. The input to the animal power is agri residue/ fodder.

It is estimated that, nearly 80% of the total draft power used in agriculture throughout the World is still provided by animals. Even now bullocks can be the principle sources of animal power with the farmers. However, camels, horses, donkeys and elephants are also used for the farm work.

The animal power has many advantages. It is easily available and can be used in all types of work. The investment is small and decentralized.

There is another beneficial aspect of using all 530 million animals. It is the usage of animal waste in bio gas plants. These plants provide not only bio gas as fuel but also provide much needed organic fertilizer at no cost.
Business Model for Alternate Energy


A bio gas plant which runs on 4 animals provides sufficient energy to cook food which is 0.2 cubic meter per animal per day. From 530 million animals India will get 106 million cubic meters. The cost of this biogas is $ 286 billion per year at current rates in India. In addition the animal waste gets converted to bio fertilizer. This bio fertilizer replaces chemical fertilizer. India will have surplus bio fertilizer so that the excess can be exported to fetch $436 billion per year. The chemical fertilizer will no longer be required. Hence 10000 MW, consumed by chemical fertilizer factories, will be saved. The cost of 10000 MW power station is Rs 60000 Crores ( $ 11 billion). There will be a annual saving of $18 billion on account of removal of subsidy from the fertilizer sector.
The total annual earning will be $ 740 billion and one time saving of $ 11 billion.

The average cost of a 3 M3 capacity is about $ 200.00. For 530 million animals we need 132.5 million plants (considering 4 animals per plant). The total cost of such plants shall be $ 26.5 billion.

Profit per year is $ 713.5 billion.

Project of this magnitude needs at least five years for implementation. Hence the total investment of $ 26.5 billion also gets distributed in five years. The yearly investment now requires in only $5,3 billion which is a reasonable manageable investment. The earnings will also be reduced to one fifth. The subsidy to fertilizer industry also gets trimmed. The income at the end of the year is now $ 139.1 billion. The investment for the next year comes out of the income of the last year. Hence there shall ne no fresh investment thereafter in succeeding year. At the end of five years the income generated is $ 740 billion. The net investment remains at $ 5.3 billon. The business returns emanating is over 500 times the initial investment.

In terms of energy the bio gas produced is equivalent of about 366 MW.

The employment generation will be of the order of 3975 million man days i.e. 159 million (15.9 crores) work force. This will be the direct work force required in the rural sector.

By all accounts agriculture sector holds the key to prosperous India and the world. It also addresses the concern of climate change.

Nuclear Energy is not the answer.

Scientists must listen to the call of the day. They should come out of their nests and allow everyone to breath fresh air and have organic food. A great scientist named Albert Einstein also regretted his invention after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Chemical fertilizer has polluted the top soil and the underground water source. The usage has resulted in cancer deaths. Agriculture based on bio technology has not succeeded in addressing the water and pest problems. Scientists should learn. But as Dr. S. Radha Krishnan, the second President of independent India said, “ We learn only one lesson from the history. The lesson is that we do not learn from it”



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