Debunking the Myth of the Necessity of Nuclear Energy

Breakdown of the electricity production capacity of India by sourceBreakdown of the electricity production capacity of India by source

There is a prevailing fiction actively promoted by the government that Nuclear Energy is the only way out of the energy crisis for India. Every time I write about issues with nuclear energy, there are people making comments like stay in the dark ages, etc. So let us look at some facts around this scenario.

To begin with, before getting into serious data, let me state the overwhelmingly obvious. There are many ways to boil water – which is what a nuclear reactor does and still more ways to produce electricity – which is the purpose of building a nuclear reactor. The rest of the process is no different from any other boiling water driving turbines like a coal or diesel plant or other force driving turbines – like a windmill or water falling from a height from a dam. Nuclear Energy just happens to be one with an incomprehensibly destructive potential, however small the chance of occurrence may be.

Here is a table with data of money invested in Atomic Energy and Renewable Energy Sources from Official budget figures.

[table id=3 /]

Or, in other words,


Comparitive chart for budget expenditures for nuclear energy and renewable energy in India. AE = Atomic Energy; RE = Renewable Energy

As you see, the money invested in renewable energy sources is a fraction of that invested in nuclear energy. However, when you look at the energy being produced in the country, it is clear that Renewable Energy contributes far more than Atomic Energy.

To use statistics from the monthly executive report provided by the Central Electrical Authority in February 2012, out of 190592.55MW, Coal (105437.38MW), Gas (18093.85MW), Diesel (1199.75MW) Together as Thermal Energy (124730.98MW) are the largest chunk. Followed by Hydroelectric Energy (38848.40MW), then Renewable Energy (22233.17MW) and finally Nuclear Energy (4780.00MW).

Breakdown of the electricity production capacity of India by source

Compare that with the money being poured in, the risks inherent in nuclear energy, the known risks and emerging data on previously unknown risks, conflict and trauma to local populations with agitations and suppression, and the longterm responsibility of managing safe processing and storage of radioactive waste. Then the costs of the construction, maintenance and shutdowns (India has had at least three accidents that put plants out of action for over two years), local community welfare expenses and the potential for incalculable costs in damage to land, livelihoods, health and environment in the event of an accident. The US has long given up the initial belief of nuclear power being so cheap as to provide virtually free energy. Currently, the costs are estimated to be only slightly lower than other forms of energy. Japan has actually reevaluated to put the costs of nuclear energy as on par with other energy resources. It is quite puzzling to perceive a need for nuclear power specifically when it offers little advantage and considerable disadvantages.

We have been pursuing nuclear power almost since the creation of our country. The Department of Atomic Energy was established on 3rd August 1948 – just short of completing a year of independence. Our estimations of nuclear energy production in the 1960s was for 8000MW by the year 1987. It is now 2012 and we have just over half of that capacity (incidentally from little resisted plants compared with what lies in our future). However, our optimistic projections continue unabated, and these are at the root of a lot of propaganda related with the “necessity” of nuclear energy. The projections of 20,000MW by 2020 and 207,000MW to 275,000MV by 2052 are extremely unlikely to be achieved considering our track record so far, and the growing resistance to nuclear energy. The kicker here is that even if by some remote chance we did manage to pull this one off, it would constitute 8-10% of projected electricity capacity in 2020 and about 20% in 2052 – not even remotely the energy savior of the country it is projected as.

In comparison, while the Commission for Additional Sources of Energy (CASE) was created in 1981 and the Department of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (DNES) was established in 1982, the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES) itself was formed in 1992 and it was renamed as Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) in 2006. We are in 2012 and enjoying 4.65 times the energy production of nuclear energy for a 1/7.7th of the budget investment with New and Renewable Energy.

Renewable energy is considerably healthier for the planet than say your garden variety coal plant or nuclear plant. It is also more likely to be cheaper once the initial investment is done. To quote from the MNRE’s excellent book on Solar Radiant Energy over India that publishes detailed information on solar radiance all over the country:

The solar energy received by the earth is more than 15,000 times the world’s commercial energy consumption and over 100 times the world’s known coal, gas and oil reserves. And this energy is readily available during the day for anyone to tap and that too free and without any constraint.

This is no quantity of energy to sneeze at. India has excellent natural sunlight. The Direct Natural Irradiance maps provided by the Ministry of New and Renewable Sources of Energy shows that most of India gets excellent sunlight and areas like Rajasthan, for example getting very strong sunlight. Solar Energy is very viable in India. It is almost free to use once the initial installation is done and has the added suitability of being able to be deployed to remote regions with no access to an electrical grid.

Direct Natural Irradiance - Annual averages map data from the Ministry for New and Renewable Sources of Energy

While building solar plants will be more suitable in Rajasthan and other areas with strong sunlight, there are many other uses that can be started all over the country. We spend energy on heating water and cooking. Solar energy is very useful for this, and it does not require the strong sunlight that is needed for optimal performance from photovoltaic cells. Solar electricity generation for distribution will be better in areas with strong sunlight, but solar electricity for home use can be generated from rooftop panel installations almost all over the country.

As the cost of grid power rises, and that of photo-voltaic panels from China and US drops, it makes increasing sense to shift funds to this area, where there is massive potential for expansion and quick and dramatic transformation in this much neglected area. Currently, only 1% of our energy needs come from solar power, and funding will help this area grow much faster, as the main prohibitive factor for solar energy is its initial investment. This potential for near free energy is a treasure mine in energy in a country where abject poverty is common. In addition, the tentative forays into public lighting, traffic signals and so on can be expanded to become more and more autonomous. This has the obvious advantage of not requiring electrical connections to the grid, not having bills to pay and functioning reliably.

Other forms of energy like wind and tidal enegy can be used to generate electric power. Although a relative newcomer to the wind industry compared with Denmark or the United States, India has the fifth largest installed wind power capacity in the world. In 2009-10 India’s growth rate was highest among the other top four countries. As of 31 March 2011 the installed capacity of wind power in India was 14550MW.

Another vast treasure potential in energy is bio-fuels. 80% of our population being rural and agriculture and livestock being widespread, biofuels help generate gas for cooking or lighting. The waste from the bio-gas plant serves as cheap and excellent manure, which in turn will help heal our lands destroyed by rampant use of chemical fertilizers and boost the increasing movement toward organic farming and the production of healthier food.

The potential is endless, and the results from this area have so far been gratifyingly efficient. The amount of money invested in the pursuit of nuclear energy being available to this would likely wean us off the coal plants and get started on the large and harmful dams in the kind of time nuclear energy has taken to get here.

I cannot fathom the logic behind calling nuclear energy “necessary”.

Note: I am no expert on any subject related with economics or energy generation or nuclear energy. However, all data is from government sources and seems fairly straightforward.

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About the Author

Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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