ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Nuclear Power : Help from a Strange Quarter

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It is interesting how the nuclear power establishment can be so completely oblivious of reality. Time and time again, the nuclear establishment has had to confront the fact that the atomic energy industry is on the way out, all over the world. There is enough evidence of this: investment in nuclear power has not risen as expected in years, and there is little hope of that happening now; the review of nuclear plants after Chernobyl has provided enough data to indicate that the possibility of accidents in these installations has been underestimated; there has been no solution to the problem of waste disposal in the industry and evidence on ‘accidental’ exposure of local populations or through accidents is growing; the overemphasis on nuclear power has led to a neglect of investment in the development of other means of generating power. Notwithstanding its ‘clean’ image, the nuclear power industry has not found many takers among ordinary people in any country. Germany which has the fourth largest nuclear power industry in the world, for instance, last year formally put in place a programme of denuclearisation of its power sector. In an agreement with the government, four of its electricity generators – Veba, Viag, RWE and EnBW – have agreed to a phased shutting down of nuclear power stations which will mean a reduction of 6 per cent of the world’s installed capacity. By 2021 Germany will close down its last nuclear power station. This was not an easy decision and the government has had to work on a well-ordered programme so that the power industry does not suffer. In Taiwan the decision to set up a fourth generating station has been long stalled because of wide-ranging protests. In the US the pace of nuclear power development has not recovered from the post-Three Mile accident tremors .

In the circumstance, the department of atomic energy (DAE)’s announcement that it proposes to double the nuclear power generation target for 2021, from 20,000 MW to 40,000 MW can only be described as ludicrous. On the one hand, it does seem to be wishful thinking on the part of the nuclear establishment, when there is little hope of it fulfilling even its current targets for lack of financial resources. However, there has been talk of changing the Atomic Energy Act such that nuclear power generation can be a joint enterprise which may make for fresh investment opportunities. The new chairperson of the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC), V K Chaturvedi, has indicated that the formulation of a scheme envisaging such an arrangement was on the anvil and that once the NPC attains a generating capacity of 6,000-7,000 MW, “we will not need the centre’s help”. It has now been endorsed publicly by the chief scientific advisor to the government, P J Abdul Kalam.

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