Nuclear India: The Backgrounder

The Department of Atomic Energy was formed on the 3rd of August 1948, not even a year past our independence. That is how important we considered Atomic Energy to be. At that time, Atomic Energy was still unfolding. Its power had been demonstrated with devastating effect in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and I suppose the idea seemed like a very reassuring insurance to a young and vulnerable country born in conflict. True to our value of self-reliance, the intent was always to be capable of developing the entire fuel cycle on our own merit (those were not the capitalist days)

However, as the complexity was realized, it became clear we would need assistance. Around the time of President Eisenhower’s Atom’s for Peace speech in 1953, and the Geneva conference for peaceful uses of Atomic Energy in 1955, we seeked assistance, and with the aid of Sir John Cockroft (British) we acquired designs and some uranium fuel and our first “indigenous” reactor Apsara went critical in 1956. This was quickly followed by the CIRUS with the aid of W. Bennett Lewis (Canadian). Both were friends of Dr. Bhabha from his Cambridge days. These were followed by reactors at Tarapur and Rawatbhata and the first reprocessing plant at Trombay to separate plutonium from the spent fuel.

The confidence of the Department of Atomic Energy grew and the estimations of electricity production in the reactors planned for nuclear energy were projected to be around 8,000MW by 1980. These were swiftly updated to 20-25,000MW by 1987 (in 1962) and 43,500 by the year 2000 (in 1969). Even as concerns grew over India being able to process fuel for a nuclear bomb, and Indian refusal to allow external controls, we tested our Atom bomb and came under the immediate scrutiny of the world. While the atom bomb was an achievement, the resulting sanctions and bans brought our highly foreign aid and know how dependent “indigenous” nuclear programme to its knees.

However, we upped our budgets for nuclear research and plodded along claiming great pride in our achievements and in 1983, the Kalpakkam reactor reached criticality at MAPS with a really indigenous CANDU type reactor. This plant started producing power on the 27th January 1984. This was followed by a second, similar reactor going critical in 1985 and producing power from 21st March 1986. Both reactors produce 170MW, which is less than the planned capacity of 230MW each, mainly because of cracked cooling system issues.

This was the stage for the Koodankulam reactor (which I will write in the morning)

India was producing Nuclear Energy, even if less than advertized.

For years, we struggled against the odds. Far from our grand plans, installed capacity in 1980 was 600MW, 950MW in 1987 (and later 2720 in the year 2000). From the earlier confidence, we were at a place where we would need international assistance to progress, except our nuclear test had scratched that option.

But the bombastic predictions continue. In 2007, the projections are for 20,000MW by 2020 and 207,000MW to 275,000MV by 2052. These are highly unlikely to be achieved, and even if they were, it would be over countless wars with locals over appropriating their land and sabotaging their interests in the name of National Interest.

You know what, even if these predictions were true, they would constitute 8-10% of projected electricity capacity in 2020 and about 20% in 2052.

Please note: I am neither a historian, nor a nuclear scientist, and like you, I get my information from the news, or I hunt it down. Any inaccuracies are mine.

Sources: Various official websites of our atomic energy organizations, Gauging US-Indian Strategic cooperation by Army War College (US).


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