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Nuclear energy is undoubtedly most controversial, yet critical part for India’s future energy security. As we know India’s annual energy demand is expected to rise to 800 GW by 2032, it is very important to consider every source of energy in the optimum energy mix.
Arguments in favor of nuclear energy become even more compelling if we consider vast thorium reserves that India have. Yet there are strong and reasonable apprehensions against use of nuclear energy which can’t be ignored. Stress can be laid on cautious development, safety precautions in operations and disposal of wastes through continuous innovations, and also on minimization of waste generation.
But development of nuclear energy can’t be stonewalled because of such concerns.India Nuclear Program has roots in establishment of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1945 with initiative Dr. H. Bhabha. It undertook research in nuclear physics and cosmic rays.
The latest report further reveals that most nuclear reactor constructions are behind schedule, with delays resulting in increase in project costs and delay in power generation. There are 37 reactor constructions behind schedule, of which 19 reported further delays over the past year. In India itself, five out of the six reactors under construction are behind schedule. Eight nuclear power projects have been under construction globally for a decade or more, of which three have been so for over 30 years.
India has a largely indigenous nuclear power programme.
• The Indian government is committed to growing its nuclear power capacity as part of its massive infrastructure development programme.
• The government has set ambitious targets to grow nuclear capacity. At the start of 2018 six reactors were under construction in India, with a combined capacity of 4.4 GWe.
• Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons programme, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant and materials, which hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009.
• Due to earlier trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium.
• Since 2010, a fundamental incompatibility between India’s civil liability law and international conventions limits foreign technology provision.
India in 2016 produced 1478 TWh of electricity, 1105 TWh (75%) of this from coal, 138 TWh (9%) from hydro, 71 TWh (5%) from natural gas, 59 TWh (4%) from solar and wind, 38 TWh (2.6%) from nuclear, 44 TWh from biofuels, and 23 TWh from oil. There were virtually no imports or exports of electricity in 2016, and about 18% of production was lost during transmission. Consumption in 2016 came to about 1110 TWh, or about 840 kWh per capita on average. Total installed capacity as of June 2017 was about 330 GWe, consisting of 220 GWe fossil fuels, 58 GWe renewables (including small hydro), 45 GWe large hydro, and less than 7 GWe nuclear.
India's dependence on imported energy resources and the inconsistent reform of the energy sector are challenges to satisfying rising demand. The 2017 edition of BP’s Energy Outlook projected India’s energy consumption rising by 129% between 2015 and 2035. It predicts that the country’s energy mix will evolve very slowly to 2035, with fossil fuels accounting for 86% of demand in 2035, compared with a global average of 78% (down from 86% today). There is an acute demand for more reliable power supplies, though early in 2019 India was set to achieve 100% household electricity connection.
The government's 12th five-year plan for 2012-17 targeted the addition of 94 GWe over the period, costing $247 billion. By 2032 the plan called for total installed capacity of 700 GWe to meet 7-9% GDP growth, with 63 GWe nuclear. The OECD’s International Energy Agency predicts that India will need some $1.6 trillion investment in power generation, transmission and distribution to 2035. In March 2018, the government stated that nuclear capacity would fall well short of its 63 GWe target and that the total nuclear capacity is likely to be about 22.5 GWe by the year 2031c.
Indian nuclear power industry development
Nuclear power for civil use is well established in India. Since building the two small boiling water reactors at Tarapur in the 1960s, its civil nuclear strategy has been directed towards complete independence in the nuclear fuel cycle, necessary because it is excluded from the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) due to it acquiring nuclear weapons capability after 1970. (Those five countries doing so before 1970 were accorded the status of Nuclear Weapons States under the NPT.)
As a result, India's nuclear power program has proceeded largely without fuel or technological assistance from other countries (but see later section). The pressurised heavy-water reactor (PHWR) design was adopted in 1964, since it required less natural uranium than the BWRs, needed no enrichment, and could be built with the country’s engineering capacity at that time – pressure tubes rather than a heavy pressure vessel being involved. Its power reactors to the mid-1990s had some of the world's lowest capacity factors, reflecting the technical difficulties of the country's isolation, but rose impressively from 60% in 1995 to 85% in 2001-02. Then in 2008-10 the load factors dropped due to shortage of uranium fuel.
India's nuclear energy self-sufficiency extended from uranium exploration and mining through fuel fabrication, heavy water production, reactor design and construction, to reprocessing and waste management. It has a small fast breeder reactor and is building a much larger one. It is also developing technology to utilise its abundant resources of thorium as a nuclear fuel.
The Atomic Energy Establishment was set up at Trombay, near Mumbai, in 1957 and renamed as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) ten years later. Plans for building the first Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) were finalised in 1964, and this prototype – Rajasthan 1, which had Canada's Douglas Point reactor as a reference unit, was built as a collaborative venture between Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) and NPCIL.
It started up in 1972 and was duplicated Subsequent indigenous PHWR development has been based on these units, though several stages of evolution can be identified: PHWRs with dousing and single containment at Rajasthan 1-2, PHWRs with suppression pool and partial double containment at Madras, and later standardized PHWRs from Narora onwards having double containment, suppression pool, and calandria filled with heavy water, housed in a water-filled calandria vault.