By Sweety Sinha:
Energy has been synonymous with development. No development plan can achieve its full potential without proper backing and supply of energy. India, as a growing superpower, needs a secure supply of energy to keep pace with its developmental program. Owing to its huge energy demands, conventional options do not suffice and India has to rely heavily on its nuclear potentials. At present, India’s nuclear power production is the fourth largest contributor to its energy needs. India targets to increase nuclear power output to 64,000MW by 2030. It aims to supply 25% of the electricity supply from nuclear power by 2050. But the evolution of India’s nuclear position has been under scrutiny as it has major loopholes.
There is a long standing debate on development versus environment. The advancement of nuclear energy should follow the sustainable development model. The radiations released from the nuclear plant stay suspended in the environment for years and it undoubtedly causes health hazards to the population living in its vicinity. The flora and fauna of the region are affected by the high radio activity.
Opinion is also divided where a few think that nuclear energy undercuts the possibilities for growth and investment. India has limited resources and a large population below the poverty line. As such, we can ill afford to carry out a disproportionate level of investment for nuclear energy as it is very expensive. Nuclear reactors are very expensive and their maintenance is a financial strain. There is also huge cost involved in developing and researching a nuclear program. Uranium is available in abundance at present, but it is non-renewable and nuclear power has to develop other alternatives.
The safety precautions for the production of nuclear energy are limited in India. There are high risks involved in mining, storing and processing the nuclear materials. The radioactive residual, if not safely disposed, has the capacity to eliminate masses. It is claimed to be clean and safe but India does not have access to advance technology and lacks expertise to handle any unforeseen crisis. In fact, potentials for nuclear waste management are also very underdeveloped.
When in 1974, India went for ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ purely for civilian needs, it was little known that within a few years we will attain a NWS status. It implies that civilian and military use of nuclear power is interlinked and cannot be distinguished. In a society like India, where there is so much unrest, nuclear power is a risk. Primarily, because it is under the supervision of the prime minister and is guarded from any legislative surveillance. There is no accountability involved. Moreover, the risk of nuclear power falling into the hands of terrorists and non state actors is immense. This will raise huge security concern.
All this safety concerns raise the issue that India has a vast potential to exploit the renewable sources of energy. It has a vast coastline where it can tap wind energy. The domain to exploit solar energy and hydro power is also immense. It is easily available and cost effective. India can definitely reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and make use of its potential rather that depending on a disastrous and murkier nuclear power. The policy makers need to evolve a more sustainable plan of action that is environmental and community friendly.