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India's nuclear energy programs

Source: High Commission Of India
Saturday, January 26, 2013

India has big plans for nuclear energy. There are both opportunities for countries to sell nuclear technology and material to India and for smaller countries to buy reactor technology from India.

India being a founding member of the global nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna has had a 'spotless proliferation' record, so doing business with India is opportune in the 21st century.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has always strongly batted for use of nuclear energy, speaking at the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata, West Bengal, Singh said 'I am convinced that nuclear energy will play an important role in our quest for a clean and environmentally friendly energy mix as a major locomotive to fuel our development processes.'

In a global landmark, the world's safest nuclear reactor, the 1000 MW Russian made reactor that experts say can never face a Fukushima type of disaster since it can be cooled simply by air flow and gravity in times of emergency is being commissioned at Kudankulam in southern India.

India today has 20 operating nuclear power plants all owned by the government which generate about 4780 MW of power and in addition runs about half a dozen research reactors.

The country has accumulated according to the government about 350 reactor years of experience and has an 'impeccable record'.

Singh, a known votary of nuclear power, had staked the future of his own government in 2008 in favour of the landmark Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement that brought India back into the fold of global nuclear commerce. India now wants to ramp up its nuclear capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032, by importing reactors from France, Russia and USA.

India's nuclear energy program has been unique as it relies mostly on home grown technology and today the Department of Atomic Energy makes its own 700 MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors, while a smaller 220 MW reactor is being offered for export to countries who may seek the technology.

Nature unfortunately has been unkind to India as it is not well endowed with uranium and if all the resources are used a 10,000 MW nuclear program can be sustained only for 40 years.

But on the other hand since the Indian soils are rich in thorium, a globally unique nuclear energy development pathway called the three-stage nuclear grand plan has been put in place by the country.

The idea is to install small reactors that use natural uranium to generate power, the waste that emerges from this can then be used as fuel in so called 'fast breeder reactors' and finally a completely new kind of reactor the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor, a plant that feeds on the abundant thorium reserves could generate enough electricity to power the nation for 250 years, fulfilling India's quest for energy independence.

India is one of the few of a handful of countries that has end to end capabilities from mining of uranium, enrichment, using it in atomic power plants and then also has the capability to re-process the waste so that every drop of energy is squeezed out from the scarce uranium resource.

Since the country believes that plutonium the so called 'long lived dirty by-product' of a nuclear program is also a rich source of energy, suitable highly modern reactors are being indigenously designed to harness all the energy.

The world's only 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor is at an advanced stage of construction at Kalpakkam south of Chennai, a plant that will generate more fuel than it consumes.

Ratan Kumar Sinha, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Mumbai, India's highest decision making body on matters nuclear says 'India is deeply committed to increasing the role of nuclear energy while ensuring full safety of its citizens'.

* Pallava Bagla is science editor for the New Delhi Television.

Views expressed are personal.

He can be reached at

Credit and copyright of photo:

Pallava Bagla

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