Indian nuclear power generation and impact on Sri Lanka

22 May 2012 10:08 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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India with a population of 1.1billion is the fifth largest consumer of energy, and by 2030 it is expected to become the third largest. overtaking Japan and the Russian Federation.

The country’s demand for oil alone is expected to increase at an average rate of 2.9 percent over the next 25 years. Yet, India has only 0 .4 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and domestic production is expected to be constant. It is clear that India will remain a net importer of oil for a long time. If energy consumption follows the present trend it is projected that India will run out of coal, its primary source of energy in 40 years. The domestic gas reserves are also limited and will not be able to meet the demand.

Energy security

In the field of renewable energy, India’s wind, mini hydroelectric and biomass sources have the potential to generate 80 000 MW of electricity.

The country currently produces 4300 MW of wind energy per year making it Asia’s largest and the world’s fifth largest wind energy producer with a projected added capacity of 8000 MW this year. India is the eighth largest consumer of hydroelectricity with a potential to produce 150 000 MW of energy. Further the country is researching on producing bio - fuels from non edible oil seeds.
The eleventh Five Year Plan of India has pledged to increase energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2016-17through improving automobile efficiency expanding public transport,

electrification of railways, encouraging bio- diesel and coal to liquid projects. There are 300 LNG stations and over 300 000 vehicles running on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in India which is also planning to have all commercial vehicles switch to CNG. Five percent ethanol blend is currently used by the Indian railways.

Despite the above reforms, India still faces numerous challenges in achieving energy security as indicated below.

Electricity demand in India is increasing rapidly, and the 830 billion kilowatt hours produced in 2006 was triple the 1990 output, though still represented only some 700 kWh per capita per year. Leaving for significant transmission losses only 592 billion kWh was consumed in 2006. Coal provides 68 percent of the electricity at present but reserves are limited. Gas provides 8 percent and hydro 14 percent. The per capita electricity consumption is expected to double by 2020 with 6.3 percent annual growth and reach 5000 -6000 kWh by 2050. The12th. Five year Plan for 2012 -17 has targeted the addition of 100 GWe  out of which 75 percent would be coal or lignite –fired, and only 3.4 GWe  nuclear power .By 2032 a  total installed capacity of 700 GWe is planned to meet 7-9 percent GDP growth including 63 GWe of nuclear power.

Nuclear power hopes

India was slow to develop its nuclear power program as it refused to sign the United Nations Nuclear Non –Proliferation Treaty about 34 years back due to its nuclear   weapons program and was excluded from world trade in nuclear plant or materials.

However in 2009 this ban was lifted and development of nuclear energy for power generation and other civil purposes commenced. Further due to the above trade ban and the lack of any significant uranium deposits India has been successfully developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium contained in monazite in beach sands also present at Beruwela on the west coast of Sri Lanka.

However it is reported that Uranium Corporation of India has commissioned a Uranium processing plant at Tummalpalee in the Andhra Pradesh which could be one of the world’s largest reserves of Uranium deposits further encouraging India to expand its nuclear power generating capabilities utilizing Uranium as the basic fuel.

India has 19 nuclear power plants generating 4560 MW and 4 additional plants are in the pipeline.

India also envisages a significant growth of its nuclear power industry in the near future and according to the Indo-US nuclear agreement signed recently India is allowed to carry out international trade in nuclear power and technologies so as to develop its capacity of power generation During the operational phase of this deal, the country is expected to improve its total nuclear power production to 45 000MW by generating an additional nuclear power of 25 000 MW by 2020.

Drawback
 After the tragic tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011 and the triple meltdown suffered by the Fukushima Power Plant, worldwide concerns related to safety of nuclear plants from natural disasters were subject to serious review due to protests from people in many countries especially in Europe such as Germany, Switzerland and Italy. These countries have now scaled down or abandoned their nuclear power expansion programs and have given serious thought to expand the renewable energy programs such as wind, solar and hydro and bio -fuels.

 It must be highlighted that Japan is facing an uncertain future after all its 50 reactors have now been taken offline to carry out stress tests for safety. The last time Japan had a nuclear free day was in 1970 when only two reactors operating at that time were shut down for maintenance.  

The shortfall in energy requirements are filled by importing more crude oil and gas and it was reported that for the first time Japan registered a negative growth in exports over its imports. It is uncertain as to how many reactors will be started in the future due to public protests and this will contribute to serious negative economic growth.

 Except United States, India and China, the majority of countries in the world are trying to switch to clean energy except nuclear but continue to burn non renewable fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in spite of global warming.

I shall now focus on a nuclear power plant in India which is very close to Sri Lanka’s maritime boundary.

KKNPP impact

The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) was conceived in the mid 1980s and is located in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu.

The KKNPP operated by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) consist of two reactors of 1000 MW units and will produce a total of 2000 MW of electricity.

The Government of India has announced that the first reactor will be operational from the beginning of October 2012 and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is expected to give the certification in early May 2012.

However this project costing over US $ 3 billion witnessed 8 month long protests from anti –nuclear power groups who have apprehensions on the safety aspects of the plant. The People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy had stated that the government has not shared with the people or their representatives the EIA, site evaluation study, and the safety analyses report and no public hearings were conducted.

 There are reports that coolant water and low grade waste from the KKNPP are to be dumped into the sea which will have a severe impact on fish production and catch. The normal operation of the plant without any accidents will also emit Iodine 131,132,133, Cesium 134,136,137isotopes, strontium, tritium, tellurium and other radioactive particles into the air, land, crops, cattle, sea food and ground water.

However a former Vice- Chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India had stated that with his 50 years experience in the nuclear industry that the fears of the people in the area are unfounded and the KKNPP has got a special design to tackle tsunami and other severe accident scenarios as well as abating pollution.

The Central Information Commission of India has now directed the NPCIL to publish safety analyses, site evaluation reports within 30 days under the provisions of the mandatory disclosure clause of the Right of Transparent Information (RIT) Act.
 NPCIL has objected to such disclosure under section 8(1) (a) of the RIT Act which allow it to withhold information related to security, strategic and scientific interests  of the State and not compromise commercial interests.

Public protests against the KKNPP  commenced again on 1 May 2012 an it is not clear whether the plant will be commissioned in early October 2012 in spite of the earlier delays.

Sri Lankan reaction

  Sri Lanka according to the Atomic Energy Authority has not brought up the safety factor of the KKNPP plant with the Indian authorities although the Minister of Power and Energy was reported in the local media that the matter will be taken up with the IAEA annual sessions in September this year.

In view of the protests and the concerns of the public around the KKNPP, it is prudent the   relevant authorities in Sri Lanka monitor the environmental impact of the KKNPP particularly the discharge of coolant water to the sea and the rise in ambient temperature around our territorial waters. If low grade waste is also discharged it will have serious environmental pollution on our waters and it is recommended that this matter should be taken up through the proper channels with the Government of India and assurances obtained that our seas will be safe.

In the meantime the AEA should work closely with the Marine Pollution Prevention Authority (MPPA) under the Ministry of Environment and closely monitor the pollution levels of our waters in the Gulf of Mannar and the adjoining waters as the KKNPP is at the extreme south of the Indian coast in the Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu.

(The writer is a retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations ESCAP who was also in charge of Marine Affairs and can be reached on fasttrack@eol.lk )
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