India Must Keep Its Faith in Nuclear Power
French President, Emmanuel Macron, might witness a game-changing moment in India as we go bullish on nuclear energy and say goodbye to our energy crisis for good. As he plans to visit India in early 2023, there is a newfound sense of urgency to expedite the construction of 1,650 MW nuclear power reactors at Jaitapur in Maharashtra, which could become the nation’s largest nuclear power site once completed with a total capacity of 9,900 MW.
India is the world’s second most populous country, with over 1.4 billion people, and it is projected to be the world’s most populous country by 2023. India is also the world’s fastest-growing major economy, with an annual growth rate of 8.9%. India must ramp up its energy production to sustain this rapid economic growth. And for this, nuclear energy is a safe, reliable, and carbon-free source of energy that can help India achieve its energy and climate goals.
Since the last few decades, nuclear energy has faced skepticism and fierce resistance in Europe and the western world at large. Influential non-profits such as Greenpeace lobby against nuclear energy and claim that it “has no place in a safe, clean, sustainable future. Nuclear energy is both expensive and dangerous, and just because nuclear pollution is invisible doesn’t mean it’s clean. Renewable energy is better for the environment and the economy and doesn’t come with the risk of a nuclear meltdown.” They are, of course, wrong and wrong by a long margin.
Accidents at nuclear power plants are extremely rare. In the nearly 60 years that nuclear power plants have been in operation, there has only been one major accident: at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan in 2011. This accident was caused by a tsunami, which knocked out power to the plant’s pumps and led to nuclear fuel meltdown. However, the safety systems worked as they were designed to, and no one was injured or killed by the release of radiation.
Talking about the Chernobyl disaster, it was a failure of the top-down government system of the Soviets and not of nuclear power. The Soviet Union’s centrally-planned economy meant that decisions about safety and risk were made by few at the top, without much input from those who handled the technology. This resulted in a culture of secrecy and cover-ups, preventing the spread of information and the implementation of necessary safety measures. The Chernobyl disaster was a direct result of this top-down decision-making approach. If the Soviet Union had better institutions, the tragedy could have been avoided.
European politicians chose to ignore these facts and closed their nuclear plants. And now they are stuck with Russian gas. Nuclear is still their best shot — along with fossil fuels, only because they chose to close down their nuclear plants — at reducing their dependence on Russia. Still, European policymakers have forced a rapid transition from fossil fuels and nuclear energy to renewable sources. The problem is that renewable resources are not ready yet, which has caused an energy shortage, leading to price spikes and gas shortages. European policymakers should allow energy buyers to sign long-term gas import contracts, reverse nuclear phaseouts, and give natural gas a new look to make their respective country’s energy secure and independent.
If such discourse has hijacked the energy policy narrative in Europe and managed to cause an energy shortage there, it can happen to India too. We have active anti-nuclear energy movements and chapters of anti-growth organizations in our country, including Greenpeace. Thankfully, India is choosing to invest in nuclear power. Even the pandemic did not stop the government from progressing on this path. Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pensions Jitendra Singh announced in the Rajya Sabha that by 2024, nine new nuclear reactors would be up and running, with a capacity of 9000 MW. This is in addition to the 12 reactors approved during the pandemic.
This is the right thing to do, and we must continue investing in nuclear power and stand against any unfair criticism. Nuclear power is a low-carbon energy source that can help India reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. Nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases or air pollutants and have a very small land footprint. In comparison, coal-fired power plants are a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. As researchers have found, “Compared with nuclear power, coal is responsible for five times as many worker deaths from accidents, 470 times as many deaths due to air pollution among members of the public, and more than 1,000 times as many cases of serious illness, according to a study of the health effects of electricity generation in Europe.”
Investing in nuclear energy would also help India achieve energy security and independence. India is currently heavily reliant on coal imported from other countries. This dependence on imported coal leaves India vulnerable to price fluctuations and supply disruptions. In contrast, India can build nuclear power plants to use indigenous uranium resources, providing the country with a secure and reliable energy source.
One can switch to solar, wind, or hydroelectric power, but these energy sources have limitations. Solar and wind energy are variable and intermittent, meaning they cannot be a constant and reliable energy source. Hydroelectric power causes floods, which in turn, causes damage to people’s homes and their way of life. Hydropower also blocks sediment flow and disrupts fish movement, which negatively impacts the local ecosystem. In contrast, nuclear power is the only carbon-free energy source that is scalable, reliable, and available today.
India must increase its energy production to maintain its status as a world power and leader in economic growth. The world would have had 72 billion more tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if it were not for nuclear reactors. Imagine what our county — and the world — can be if most of our energy is produced using nuclear power.
Nuclear power is a proven and commercially available technology that can provide India with the clean and reliable energy it needs to power its economy and meet its climate goals. We must continue to be bullish on nuclear energy and ignore the critics whose agendas are based on the degrowth movement rather than science.
Adnan Abbasi is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) degree in Social and Political Science from Ahmedabad University. He is the Regional Coordinator for Academics & Research with Students for Liberty and a Writing Fellow at Students for Liberty’s Fellowship for Freedom in India.
Mar 11 2023 at 9:35pm
It is the global nuclear establishment that is chiefly responsible for the dire straits the nuclear energy finds itself in. Cost of nuclear plants is uncompetitive in the West–$ 10000 per kW capacity. It is lower in South Korea, just 2500 $.
So India will not find profitable to build American or French nuclear plants. The global nuclear establishment by embracing errors–scientific errors that is has critically hobbled nuclear energy.
They insist that radiation is harmful at any level– the Linear no threshold model which was cause of unnecessary Fukushima evacuation and Three Miles Island hysteria.
Thus any small release of radiation- which is unavoidable when so many nuclear plants are running– leads to great hysteria and unnecessary evacuations leading to unaffordable costs.
I refer you to the online book The Gordian Knot by Jack Devanney which goes deeply into these matters.
Mar 12 2023 at 11:15pm
Thank you for taking the time to share your valuable comments with me, and for recommending a book. Your input is greatly appreciated, and I will certainly make a point to explore the suggested resource.
Thomas Lee Hutcheson
Mar 12 2023 at 10:37pm
Like many policy problems, the failure is in not using cost benefit analysis in forming the regulations.
Mar 13 2023 at 4:33am
While Abbasi claims that Greenpeace is wrong, he never states which other kind of energy comes with the risk of a nuclear meltdown. Nor which other kind of energy comes with a nuclear-sized risk of a financial meltdown.
I know nothing about India’s experience with nuclear power, but I know a bit of the US’s experience. For example, Bloomburg reports that most nuclear generators in the US operate at a loss.
Even before we address operating costs, we must address construction. In the US, the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, Units 3 and 4, are about to come online. The utility made its initial site application in 2006, and estimated that the two reactors combined would cost $14 billion. Seventeen years (and $8+ billion in federal loan guarantees) later, the project has cost roughly $34 billion.
Yes, solar, wind, or hydroelectric power–and energy storage and technologies for better managing customer demand or grid congestion–have their weaknesses. But if you were going to bet $34 billion on a project that would not come to fruition for the next 17 years, and might include untold cost overruns in the interim, would you really bet that conventional nuclear power would prove to be the winning technology? Or would you acknowledge that other technologies–and even new nuclear technologies such as fission–are advancing at a rapid pace, and over the next 17 years may render your entire investment obsolete before you generate your first kilowatt-hour?
Best of luck to India. But if the US has any lesson to teach, it would be this: Don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy; if new circumstances render a project a loser, cut your losses early rather than late. There’s no point in throwing good money after bad–as many investors learn to their chagrin.
Mar 13 2023 at 5:46am
Nuclear power isn’t inherently costly. South Korea builds nuclear plants at fraction of American cost. Thing is nuclear energy is entirely a state-regulated entity. There is no competition. Add to it errors such as Linear no threshold model of radiation risk that led to unnecessary Chernobyl and Fukushima evacuations.
Even with these accidents, nuclear is the safest power , bar none. Chernobyl had very few deaths. Mining accidents kill more every year.
Mar 16 2023 at 12:32pm
1) Why is “energy crisis” never defined? Prices fluctuate but only when higher than some undefined base is there a “crisis.”
2) Two workers received radiation burns after walking in highly radioactive water but was a preventable accident since they didn’t carry a radiation monitor.
3) “However, the safety systems worked as they were designed to,…” Not really, since the GE plant design did not state to place the back-up system below sea level, which was a dumb error when the plants at Fukushima were built.
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