Commentary

Beyond the Nobel Prize: The Rise of Nuclear-Powered India

By Vijay Jayaraj | October 19, 2017 | 10:58am EDT
Nuclear power plant in Dukovany, Czech Republic (Wikimedia Commons Photo/Petr Adamek)

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a consortium of anti-nuclear non-profits, won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017. No one wants a nuclear technology-enabled war, at least not anyone who values human life. Instead, most of us desire peace and prosperity.

Consistent with that desire, developing countries like India are now using nuclear technology not to make weapons but to power millions of homes, offices, and factories, lifting people out of poverty.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report now ranks India as third in the list of countries that are installing new nuclear power plants.

Unlike ICAN, not every anti-nuclear group is working towards peace. There is a war on nuclear power plants and economic development. Nuclear power stations increasingly face opposition by a wave of organizations that advocate their ban.

The existence of rogue nuclear states like North Korea and their misuse of nuclear technology has blinded many people to its actual benefit to humanity.

Anti-nuclear propaganda is not new. It gained momentum during the Green movement in the 1970s, much of it financed and organized by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and was bolstered by the collapse of outdated nuclear power stations.

The nuclear reactors in Fukushima were among these. Situated in a uniquely unsafe location, the Fukushima reactors were uniquely vulnerable to tsunamis. When they succumbed to a powerful earthquake and tsunami, they became a propaganda tool for anti-nuclear radicals.

The media has shunned the positive contribution of nuclear power stations, largely because of preoccupation with the empty glitter of expensive, inefficient, unreliable, and subsidy-enabled renewable technology—mainly wind and solar.

In 2014, nuclear energy contributed 11 percent of the total electricity production in the world. Moreover, this 11 percent is highly stable, resource-efficient, high-output, clean, safe, and reliable.

Nuclear energy has helped accelerate economic growth in developing countries. Earlier this year, India approved 10 new nuclear plants with a total capacity of 7000 MW. This will bolster the current capacity of 6780 MW from the existing 22 nuclear power stations.

The Kalpakkam nuclear power station differs significantly from the rest. Located near my hometown in Tamil Nadu, it will soon add two Prototype Fast Breeder Reactors (PFBR) of 600 MW each to its existing 500 MW reactor.

The only other commercially operational PFBR reactors are in Russia.

Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stated that the "PFBR reactors can help extract up to 70 percent more energy than traditional reactors and are safer than traditional reactors while reducing long-lived radioactive waste by several folds."

With nearly 75 percent of India’s electricity already coming from coal plants, these nuclear reactors will help meet demand for electricity for the country’s fast-growing industries.

Not surprisingly, anti-nuclear groups continue to protest at major nuclear stations in India.

For instance, protestors at Kudankulam (situated not far from Kalpakkam) have protested for the past six years against the commissioning of a nuclear plant there. Recently, a sting operation revealed that radical environmental organizations supported and funded the protestors, who probably wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Few here and abroad understand the difference between safe and unsafe reactors. India’s late president Dr. Abdul Kalam, a respected scientist, was instrumental in creating public awareness of nuclear power plants and their superiority to renewables.

Just like clean-coal plants, nuclear power stations are indispensable to meeting the energy needs of our world. The energy sector is the backbone of industry, and nuclear technology should, and likely will, play a big role.

Nuclear reactors that serve and contribute to the peace of humanity should not be closed, but celebrated—maybe even awarded the Nobel Prize.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in New Delhi, India.

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