"Nuclear power is a must"

Published: Wednesday 31 December 2008

-- India is expanding uranium mining, a hazardous activity. Anil Kakodkar, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, recently inaugurated a uranium mine at Bagjata in East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Kakodkar, who is also secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, spoke to ALOK GUPTA about safety concerns and the country's plans to become self-reliant in producing nuclear energy

Why does India need to expand mining uranium when it can import it after the 123 Agreement with the US?

Once bitten twice shy. We have seen the global embargo after India tested its nuclear bomb. There is a dire need to be self-reliant. It is time to cash in on the opportunity after signing the 123 Agreement. Coal can be mined for another 40 years and solar power is expensive. Nuclear power plants are crucial for the country's development. Apart from power, there is also a vast scope in the field of nuclear medicine and agriculture.

Uranium content in Indian ores is very low. Is the investment in mining worth the cost? Will the power produced using it be affordable?

The cost at which we produce uranium is at a globally competitive rate. The global cost of uranium at one point went up 15 times. It has come down recently but is still high. As for consumer-friendly rates, according to our calculations, power produced by us will be at a competitive rate.

Will the nuclear programme fulfil the country's power demand?

According to an estimate of the Department of Atomic Energy, by 2050 the country will face power deficit of 412 giga watts (one giga is one billion) after taking into account the best use of hydro, non-conventional, domestic hydrocarbon and nuclear resources for electricity generation. If we do not import nuclear reactors and fuel then the only option left will be to import 1.6 billion tonnes of coal in 2050. This explains why nuclear power is the only option.

Can we deal with the radioactive waste and spent fuel?

The international law prohibits export or dumping of nuclear spent fuel. A very small quantity of radioactive waste will be generated from nuclear power plants. For producing 1 mw of electricity the nuclear waste generated will be 1 gramme. We have come up with an expansive nuclear-waste-treatment technology called immobilization, where waste will be recycled and the remaining matter encapsulated in glass and another encasing.

Does massive commercial production of nuclear energy envisage private-sector participation?

It's a learning process. Private sector is welcome to pick up minority stakes in Nuclear Power Corporation of India. A major chunk of the machinery required for nuclear power plants is already being supplied by the private sector. But private entities will have to learn the nuances of the nuclear power production before claiming their stake.

We are moving carefully before making these plants operational. There are lessons to be learnt from the Enron debacle. A nuclear power plant cannot be shut down. Once the plant is operational it has to run.

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