Rising Electricity Demand and the Role of Nuclear Power

Rising Electricity Demand and the Role of Nuclear Power

Electricity shortages during the months of summer have become routine in almost all the states in India. Power cuts in northern, eastern as well as some western and southern states have become social menace, with ensuing public outcry. For the central and state governments, the only way to deal with this issue is to have a clear long-term vision for power generation in the country.

Electricity shortages during the months of summer have become routine in almost all the states in India. Power cuts in northern, eastern as well as some western and southern states have become social menace, with ensuing public outcry. For the central and state governments, the only way to deal with this issue is to have a clear long-term vision for power generation in the country.

However, for this, it is imperative to analyze the current power generation and future demand.

The world is witnessing a rapid growth in industrialization. Consequently, there is also brisk urban expansion taking place. The pace of adoption of new technology in the fields of communication, information technology and traditional industries is increasing. All this is resulting in higher demand for electricity. Except in the developed nations, electricity shortage is a big problem for most developing countries today. It is becoming increasingly difficult to speed up power generation using traditional energy resources.
Indeed, there is a growing awareness about the damage inflicted on the environment by using such means of power generation. There are rising concerns about carbon emissions and its adverse impact on the atmosphere. Rising carbon dioxide concentrations that cause climatic changes are being increasingly linked with abrupt and disruptive climate events globally.
It is being realized that uncontrolled carbon emissions year after year are seriously changing our climate, and this, in some or other way, is responsible for occurrences of untimely rains, excessively hot summers, extreme cold, unusually heavy snowfall and storms.

Conservation of nature is yet another concern that gives rise to the question as to where our future electricity will come from. Obviously, coal is the cheapest among mainstream sources of power generation. However, it causes large-scale greenhouse gas emissions, so we need to steadily reduce its role in power generation in the coming years.
Another way to generate power is by employing hydroelectric power plants. But burning coal and setting up large water dams is fraught with environmental and ecological costs. While coal combustion for power generation increases carbon emissions, water dams displace and disrupt local populations and cause submergence of large land areas.
Experts believe that petroleum production will increase, reach a peak, become steady and eventually dip. In such a scenario, the prices of petroleum could shoot up to unprecedented levels. In a similar manner, coal and natural gas prices could also increase manifold, and thus the use of coal and natural gas in future would be no longer be easy and cost-effective options.

According to an estimate, the power demand in the country would be 9,60,000 megawatts in the year 2030. Coal, hydroelectricity and traditional power-generation resources would suffice for meeting only up to a maximum of 75% of the projected requirement. Among the resources that cause minimal disruption to the environment, nuclear power is being seen as the only large-scale option. Solar power and other unconventional energy sources such as wind power, biogas, etc. are not only costly options but also impractical for large-scale use.

In 1947, when India achieved independence, the power generation in the country was only 1362 megawatts. Undoubtedly, since then India has made rapid strides in electricity generation, which is now 238420 megawatts. According to the latest July 2015 figures from the Central Electricity Authority, thermal power generates 190625 megawatts, whereas hydro and nuclear contribute 42015 and 5780 megawatts, respectively.
Amid all this, there are hundreds of thousands of villages that are still submerged in darkness. Without adopting modern means of power generation, bridging the electricity demand-supply gap would remain a distant dream. In such a scenario, the plan to increase the share of nuclear power in the country is commendable.

Worldwide, there are 31 nations that utilize nuclear energy for electricity generation. According to the figures available from Power Reactor Information System of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), India stands 7th worldwide in terms of number of nuclear power reactor units in a country.
The present nuclear power generation capacity in the country is 5780 megawatts, which upon the sequential completion of the projects that are currently under implementation, will rise to 10080 megawatts by the year 2019. Presently there are 21 nuclear power reactors in India, with 6 more under construction.

In the meanwhile, some industry observers believe that nuclear power would be able to fulfill only a portion of the country’s power needs. Undoubtedly, large-scale power generation using nuclear energy is only possible based on a long-term policy.

However, apart from this, there are the issues related to nuclear power concerning safety and health. In other words, there is a history of suspicion of nuclear power in India. Today, with India having 21 nuclear power reactors and implementing several more, the moot point is how best can the reactors be made safer and more effective.

The natural disaster of 2011 involving a massive earthquake followed a huge tsunami inundated the reactors at Fukushima in Japan caused heavy damage to the plant, with some leakage of radioactivity in the surroundings. This alerted other nuclear power plants and the people at the helm of nuclear power plant facilities worldwide. The Indian government in power at that time ordered a safety review of the nuclear power plants in operation as well as under construction. The safety review concluded that a disaster of the kind that occurred in Japan is unlikely in India because of the use of stringently tested technology and also due to the geological history of low seismicity in India compared to that in Japan.

Almost each year, during the summer, there is an inadequate grid performance that triggers a discussion on power shortage in the country, and many experts say that there is a need to meet installed capacity targets for nuclear power.
While it is true that over the years the targets for installed capacity of nuclear power have not been met, this is largely due to the opposition of nuclear power in the society. It is now high time to put a stop to the debate, based on facts, and to speed up the on-ground setting up of nuclear power plants so that the country can banish power cuts in the coming years.

India has entered into various agreements related to cooperation on nuclear power with several nations. Also, there are concerted efforts being made to improve the operational and other safety-related systems of nuclear power plants further. It is indeed remarkable that there has not been any significant nuclear power-related incident in any of the states in India in the history of nuclear power generation in the country. This fact clearly shows the seriousness of the Department of Atomic Energy towards the safety of nuclear power plants.

In India, a detailed environmental survey is conducted prior to the setting up of every nuclear power plant, under which several environmental parameters are monitored around the plant. Before the commissioning of the nuclear power plant, data is collected by studying the samples of vegetation, crops, fish and other aquatic and marine produce, food, soil, air, etc. This process continues after the plant becomes operational and samples are obtained and analyzed at regular intervals to ascertain the environmental status continually.

As far as the question of possibility of any industrial accident is considered, in India reactors are adequately cooled and controlled (by heavy water, for example, in case of Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors). There are ample of safety provisions to ensue safe operation of the plant, and highest priority is given to the safety of plant personnel, the surrounding population as well as the environment.

Prior identification and analysis of any possible risk, developing effective risk analysis methodologies and implementing the industry’s best preventive and control systems is an important part of India’s nuclear power programme.

Identifying new sources for meeting the nation’s growing electricity demands is a constant endeavour. Clean and green power generation is necessary not only for the nation but also for the entire world in order to sustain life. Considering this, nuclear power is a good option for meeting the future energy demands while also preserving the environment.
By Rajnish
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