Essay on Indian Perspective of Nuclear Energy

Mohnish Landge
9 min readJan 12, 2023
Photo by Lukáš Lehotský on Unsplash

TL;DR —

Nuclear energy has been a key part of India’s energy production for decades, with the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) leading the way in research and development. The DAE has led to strong scientific collaborations and international partnerships, and has made advancements in various fields such as healthcare technologies, water purification, and food and agriculture. The Nuclear Power Programme, operated by organizations such as the Atomic Energy Commission, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, and Nuclear Power Corporation of India, is a key component of the DAE’s efforts and currently operates seven nuclear power plants with a total capacity of 6,780 MW. There are plans to add seven more plants in the future, which will have a combined capacity of 4,300 MW.

The world’s growing population and increasing energy demand, coupled with innovations in various sectors, is leading to a yearly increase in global energy production of around 3%. By 2040, it is estimated that renewable energy will cover 40% of energy demand, with the remaining 60% coming from a mix of other sources. Nuclear energy has a high capacity factor of over 95%, making it a highly efficient form of energy production. However, growth potential varies from country to country due to different priorities and regulations. Overall, nuclear energy has the potential to play a significant role in meeting the world’s energy demand, especially as efforts are made to move towards cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy production.

Full Essay —

The journey that started 66 years ago has changed the future of India, living up to all its expectations and has gone far beyond them. DAE was established with the vision of providing a pathway to the potential of India. This leads the way to explore the mysteries of the atom and create all the benefits we get doing so. DAE has foreseen Nuclear Power Programme, has led to Stronger Scientific Collaborations & International partnerships, International Cooperation with leading nuclear nations of the world, advancements in many fields across Healthcare Technologies, Water Purification, Food & Agriculture and many more. International projects like LIGO, ITER, MOUs with various organisations & many upcoming projects show the importance and impact of DAE toward making India one of the global leaders in Science & Technology. India’s Nuclear Power Programme is a jewel of DAE, it will be successfully entering the 2nd phase in just a matter of time. Organisations of DAE like AEC, AERB, NPCIL and various others are very successfully operating seven nuclear power plants, with a total capacity of 6,780 MW and the addition of seven more in future whose combined capacity will be 4,300 MW ensuring the bright future of India in energy production. Every achievement of DAE directly or indirectly drives from the Research and Development Sector. DAE-aided Universities & Institutions are home to the world’s leading Scientists & Researchers, whose contributions are resulting in major discoveries & advancement of current technologies. DAE stands strong as India leads the world toward clean & sustainable energy production for the betterment of future generations.

1.1 Energy Demand Present & Future
The world is a very big place. Currently, there are more than 7.8 billion people alive and in the next two decades, another 2 billion people will add up to the global population. Right now, we need to produce more than 200 million GW of energy to power our world, yet there are around 1 billion people who have little or no access to electricity. Our demand for energy and considering constant innovations in various sectors led to an increase in global energy production by on average 3% yearly. This may sound little, but this small amount adds up so fast that there will be a demand for around 70 million GW of energy in the next couple of decades. But it is not just the growing population that is causing an increase in energy demand. Although we are continuously devising energy efficiency, more people are using simply more of it. As poverty is decreasing more people are now able to buy things that require energy to power, especially in India as it is a developing nation.
Now to meet this energy demand we need to get energy from wherever we can get it. Right now, secondary fossil fuels supply about 80% of that energy, about 15% comes from renewable energy & only about 5% comes from nuclear energy. As the world focuses more on energy production from renewable sources hopefully it will cover 40% of our energy demand by 2040. The other 60% will need to come from a mix of everything else. Solar, Hydro & Wind will play important role in producing that energy, but even the most ambitious projects & expansion plans can’t come close to meeting the overall energy demand.

1.2 Comparison of various sources of energy

a. Capacity and Growth Potential
The ratio of total energy output over a given period to maximum electrical energy output over that period is what we refer to as the capacity of a source of energy. All renewable energy has a very low capacity factor averaging about 30%, Solar being lowest at 25% followed by Wind at 35% and most reasonable with Hydropower at 40%. Now in the fossil fuel category coal has around 50% capacity factor and around 57% for Oil & Natural gas. This leads to Nuclear energy which has a capacity factor of over 95% only limited by the availability factor. This makes nuclear energy production the most efficient.
However, growth potential varies from country to country, as the result of priorities & policies that the country adapts for the production of energy. This can be affected by various factors including the availability of resources, economic & financial reasons, political reasons, etc.
The Government of India has released its roadmap to achieve 175 GW capacity in renewable energy by 2022, which includes 100 GW of solar power and 60 GW of wind power. The Union Government of India is preparing a ‘rent a roof’ policy for supporting its target of generating 40 GW of power through solar rooftop projects by 2022. Coal-based power generation capacity in India, which currently stands at 229.40 GW, is expected to reach 330–441 GW by 2040.

b. Safety
This is the topic most misunderstood by the general public. If we are going to quantify the safety of an energy resource, we generally use the metric of death rates from air pollution and accidents related to energy production, measured in deaths per terawatt-hours (TWh). If we follow this metric Nuclear energy comes out to be the safest energy source with a factor of about 0.07 deaths per terawatt-hours which is incredibly less than that of other sources. Coal comes out to be the most lethal averaging about 30 deaths per terawatt-hour followed by oil with 20 & natural gas with about 5 deaths per terawatt hours.
This makes Nuclear energy the safest energy source the only downside comes with the processing of the waste produced by nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, another big problem can occur if the spent fuel is used in the production of weapons. This will lead to nuclear proliferation, the only major thing stopping nuclear energy to unlock its full potential.

c. Portability
Every fossil fuel of solid nature is perhaps most easy to transport for example coal. Liquid and gas are harder to transport and store as they are highly combustible, although they can be done relatively easily. Renewables like solar, wind & hydro energy are very much region based as the availability of energy might be more in some regions. Nuclear energy is very hard to transport & requires a big specifically designed plant to process & function.

d. Economics
As for capacity factor, Nuclear energy should be the most profitable energy source but in practice, the cost of building & maintaining a nuclear power plant is greater than alternatives. Enrichment of nuclear fuel & processing of spent fuel also requires major financial resources.
Fossil fuels are relatively easy to process and obtain in large quantities from nature. The cost of setting up a plant and the time required for construction and maintenance are also relatively low. Renewables can be very economically profitable, but they depend very much on the region so the cost of setting up a plant and storing energy as they are unreliable adds up.

e. Sustainability
At the current rate of consumption, we will exhaust all fossil fuels in the next 70 years. This is a very big issue as they are our main source of energy. Nuclear energy has great potential as nuclear fuel is abundant on earth that can last centuries. Renewables are the most sustainable of all energy sources.

f. Availability
Fossil fuels like coal & oil are not easily available and there is a very minuscule amount of deposit left that is not going to last long. Renewables are very abundant in nature. Nuclear energy is also available in large quantities just because the process of extraction of that energy is complicated.

g. Other Applications and uses
Fossil fuels are the most versatile energy resource, they are used to make a vast range of products which are of very high importance in society. Nuclear fuel is used to make RTGs and has a vast area that needs to be researched. Renewables are used in an urban environment.

1.3 Conclusions on the suitability of an Energy Source for a particular application
As EIA reports global energy consumption by sector accounts for about 55% of the industrial sector, about 25% for transportation & rest for residential and other non-energy uses. To avoid further exploitation of non-renewable resources and to alter climate change, a major change is required. The transportation sector which mainly relies on non-renewable resources needs to shift toward using electricity as its main source. This electrical energy can be obtained from renewable & nuclear energy resources. The residential and industrial sectors should focus on renewable and more sustainable energy sources for their demand.

1.4 Policies being perused by various countries about the energy mix
Every developed nation in the world is shifting its focus to more sustainable energy resources. According to IEA’s brief European Union is planning to make 60% of their total energy needed to be obtained from renewable energy resources, which is nearly triple that of their current production. The US & China have plans to increase electricity production from natural gas. India which mainly relies on coal for energy production is actively implementing policies & regulations to shift energy production towards renewable energy resources. The central government has policies towards the savings of 8.67 Mtoe (1.25% of total primary energy supply), representing about INR 95 billion (USD 1.35 billion) in energy costs per year also in reductions of CO2 emissions of around 31 Mt (1.9% of total CO2 emissions). The government aims to increase the share of natural gas in the country’s energy mix to 15% by 2030, from 6% today.

1.5 Propose an Energy Mix for India and why?
India’s complex power system structure, power markets and regulations require a vision for the system as a whole and milestones for a reform roadmap. The aim to increase the share of natural gas in the country’s energy mix to 15% by 2030, from 6% today will strengthen India’s vision. As Coal and biomass dominate India’s domestic energy production which factors in about 44% of the total primary energy supply (TPES), increasing energy production using natural gas will be very beneficial for the current state. The nuclear power plant proposed and under construction will add 33000 MW in future, which is more than five times the current energy production using nuclear energy.
If this vision is realized coal will account for less than 30%, oil less than 20%, natural gas more than 15%, nuclear more than 10% & biofuels and waste equal to 25%. India is very capable of achieving this goal around the 2030s.

1.6 Role of nuclear energy in the Indian perspective
India unlike any other nation is following the three-stage nuclear power programme. The ultimate focus of the programme is on enabling the thorium reserves of India to be utilised in meeting the country’s energy requirements. India has only around 1–2% of the global uranium reserves, but one of the largest shares of global thorium reserves is at about 25% of the world’s known thorium reserves. This can completely change the future of India as we unlock the power and benefits of using Thorium as our main nuclear fuel. This program has been very successful in its operation & soon will be entering phase two which will use Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs), where spent fuel from the first phase of nuclear reactors can be used to kickstart the second phase. This will ultimately lead to thorium-based reactors which will use thorium fuel & enriched U233 for sustainable nuclear energy.

1.7 Conclusion
India is a developing country. As more people rise from poverty and the general quality of life will improve, more people are now able to buy things which require more energy to produce and power. Sufficing this energy needs requires proper planning, implementation & innovation of the process we use to obtain energy. It needs development in science & technology, which will make a pathway for the future generation to explore and find answers to problems faced by society.
As India and all other countries are moving towards a cleaner energy mix, this may create new challenges and those countries will be required to make significant changes to how they operate their power systems. At the same time, the need for flexibility is increasing and can create the opportunity for growth and innovation of countries and nations which ultimately leads to the betterment of future generations to come.

--

--

Mohnish Landge

A generalist digital product designer experienced in crafting user-centered & visually appealing experiences. Portfolio: https://portfolio.mohnishlandge.com