|Bleak Future For Nuclear Energy?
So, nuclear power is not something the system is betting big time on. As it appears, India has more renewable energy than nuclear power already, by a factor of 4. Moreover, fuel can be an issue. For the last few years, most nuclear power plants in the country have been working at 60% or less plant load factor because of imported and domestic fuel shortages. The US-India nuclear deal helped improve flow of imports with consignments from France and Kazakhstan, according to this report. So, NCPIL’s average plant load factor (PLF) went up from 61% for 2009-10 to 71% in 2010-11. While output was up 41%, says NPCIL.
For those who wish to take the helicopter view, even globally, nuclear power is only 14% of total power generation with 440 power plants, of which approximately a little over 100 are in the US. India has 20. That number is unlikely to go up in a hurry, what with countries like Germany talking about phasing down. Nuclear power contributes to 23% of Germany’s total electricity consumption; it’s shutting down 7 nuclear plants and talking of shutting the remaining 10 nuclear power plants by 2022.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently, “”We don’t only want to renounce nuclear energy by 2022, we also want to reduce our CO2 emissions by 40 percent and double our share of renewable energies, from about 17 percent today to then 35 percent.” Of course there will be a sticker shock but that’s another story. So, while IndiaSpend is not arguing for shutting down nuclear power plants, the fact is India’s own ambitious nuclear power projects will face opposition as well as delays. This could mean an incessant drain on taxpayer money for the foreseeable future. And the Government’s ambitions seem excessive. For instance, Kudankulam is projected to go to 6,000 MW and a new one in Jaitapur on the western coast of Maharashtra was 1,650 X 6 plants or almost 10,000 MW, large by any stretch. Jaitapur too is grappling with local protests which for now are showing no sign of abating.
To sum up, using Kudankulam in the backdrop, here are some questions.
1. How much money has been spent in and on Kudankulam till date?
2. What was the cost of the land at Kudankulam and new sites like Jaitapur?
3. What would have been the cost of the reactors, if India did not have an agreement with Russia? As in, what is the monetised value of the transaction, subtracting concessions et al ?
4. How does a project like Kudankulam compare with a comparably sized thermal plant today?
5. If renewable energy capacity is higher already in India, then why not invest more money there? What are the learnings from countries like Germany?
6. What are the realistic chances that any more nuclear plants will come up? To that extent, should be investing more or better looking after the existing capacity?
7. Are there other benefits of sticking to a nuclear power programme, particularly if there is no real cost benefit and the public is unlikely to feel any safer in coming years?
8. Finally, what is the strategic thought if there is a complete halt on fresh nuclear power capacity, for legislative or for practical reasons?
Answers to these questions will help understand why we want to stay so firmly invested in this space, because it sort of flies against conventional logic. One must also acknowledge that nuclear energy benefits from subsidies in many countries. Though the key issue is whether the same subsidies could go elsewhere. The radical though feasible solution is to re-mandate, re-skill and re-focus organisations like NPC and its talent pool on renewable energy, which is not an impossibility by any stretch. It’s not that the NPC does not believe in other renewable energies. As it happens, its success includes a 10 MW wind power plant, right at Kudankulam, the hotbed of the current controversy. It also so happens the blades are already turning and the windmill is generating electricity.
Coming Soon: A recent primer on renewable energy