Nuclear’s False Promise of Energy Security for India



Nuclear energy is being sold as “the only”[i] and “the best”[ii] option for India’s energy security. The Indian government is embarking on a massive nuclear expansion programme, with plans to produce 20,000 MW of nuclear energy by 2020, 63,000 MW by 2030 and an astounding 275,000 MW by 2050. Nuclear energy is expected to contribute 35 per cent of total electricity in India by 2050.[iii] This will be a 50-fold increase in India’s current nuclear capacity, which meets less than 3 percent of our electricity consumption.[iv]


The Department of Atomic Energy’s dismal track record in this regard warrants great scepticism about such targets. The last 10 nuclear reactors the DAE built went 300 percent or more over budget. According to the DAE’s plans, India should have had a nuclear power capacity of 8,000 MW by 1980. In that year, the actually installed capacity was 540 MW. Similarly, a target of 43,500 MW was set for 2000. But the installed capacity in that year was only 2,720 MW.


The DAE’s budget has skyrocketed from Rs.1,996 crores in 1997-98 to Rs. 6,777 crores in 2008-09. This planned expansion raises serious technological, institutional, economic, environmental and feasibility issues.


  • Nuclear expansion is based on imported reactors and is likely to be slow and limited.


  • The enormous costs involved would require the involvement of the private sector, which is unlikely, due to huge financial risks and liability issues.


  • The DAE’s long-term projections are dependent on fast-breeder reactors and therefore erroneous. India’s fast-breeder programme has been far from successful, with its 14 MW Fast Breeder Test Reactor operating only for 20 percent of its lifetime. Also, the DAE has simply not accounted properly for the availability of plutonium for a large-scale breeder programme. India’s breeder capacity in 2052 will drop to about 17 per cent of the DAE’s projections.[v]


  • The   new reactors will encounter popular protests on account of displacement, and their health and environmental hazards. Nuclear power expansion will pit the government into a hostile and undemocratic confrontation with its own citizens.


  • Shamefully, this is already happening in Maharashtra, where the government has unleashed police raj in Jaitapur and treated its people as enemies. The government must immediately withdraw all criminal charges against the activists of the anti-nuclear protest movement, and give their land back to them, with a public apology.


  • Nuclear power is irrelevant to the imperative of a decentralised energy system in a country where 70 percent of the population lives in over 6 lakh villages. Because it is a highly centralised form of power which can only feed a large grid for its base load, nuclear energy is of marginal significance to India’s peak load requirements. It is of little consequence for poor people, at least half of whom do not have an electricity connection.


  • Nuclear power is unacceptably unsafe, fraught with grave health hazards, environmentally unsustainable, and exorbitantly expensive.


  • Alternative, in particular renewable, sources of energy have already emerged on a commercial scale, including wind, micro-hydel, solar-thermal, biomass and photovoltaics (solar cells). Wind and photovoltaics are expanding the world over at rates such as 20 percent and 70 percent a year. They are also far more appropriate to India’s energy needs and to the urgent agenda of combating climate change.


  • India should invest in a big way in further research and development in, and promotion of, such decentralised renewable sources, and stop chasing the mirage of nuclear power. To begin with, it must scrap the Jaitapur project and declare a moratorium on further nuclear reactor construction.



Courtesy: CNDP report on Jaitapur –


[i] “N-energy the only way forward”, Indian Express, January 7, 2011

[ii] “Jaitapur gets green nod from Kakodkar” Business Standard, January 11, 2011.

[iii] “35 pc power from n-plants by 2050: Kakodkar” Indian Express, October 14, 2008

[iv] “India’s Nuclear Future” Nature News, Jn 04, 2011

[v] Suchitra J Y and M V Ramana, “Nuclear Power: No route to energy security”, Energy Security Insights, March 2006


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