Road to Better Prospects for Nuclear Energy

Even as China’s opposition has scuttled India’s entry into Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), 2017 did end for Indian Nuclear Programme with a bang as the country became the 42nd member of the Wassenaar Arrangement, a global export control regime. This not only adds to New Delhi nuclear non-proliferation credentials but also give it access to more sensitive technologies.

Since 1996, the Wassenaar Arrangement has been a pillar of global nuclear non-proliferation regime, with the member states required to share information about the transfer of conventional weapons and dual-use goods to the non-members. For entry to the Arrangement a country needs to meet various criteria of non-proliferation, including the signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, New Delhi – a non-signatory to NPT – has been made to enter the group on the basis of its non-proliferation credentials built up since its nuclear test in 1998.

The significance of nuclear energy is much higher for India for its socio-economic development. Membership in Wassenaar Arrangement would give India a platform to engage with the other 41 nations of the arrangement in improving its knowledge base of nuclear technology as well as developing best practices to avoid misuse. It would give India a broader spectrum and also a stronger push for entry into the NSG.

The Agreement that controls dual-use goods and munitions, include some nuclear-related technologies as well. They are nuclear heat sources, telecommunication systems which can withstand nuclear explosion or radiation, optical sensing fibers which can sense nuclear radiation, advanced nuclear imaging sources among others (The Wassenaar Arrangement – Control List 2017). This would enhance the nuclear technology equipment base and directly or indirectly as it improves the Research and Development (R & D) facilities in India.

Since 2008 India entered a number of agreements with countries like France, the US, Russia, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Korea, Australia, Sri Lanka, Britain, Japan, Vietnam and Bangladesh for co-operation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. A global debate is going on especially after the Fukushima incident in Japan on why or why not to embrace the nuclear energy? In this backdrop, it is necessary to understand the importance of nuclear energy along with the socio-economic and political underpinnings as nuclear energy is going to be a key factor in the ‘low-carbon energy mix’ in India. It also has the potential in the long term to replace coal-based energy.

To achieve the goal of sustainable and complete access to clean energy India must come up with the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Bill and a long-term sustainable policy framework especially to gain the public confidence and support. It also must achieve the goals of capacity building and include regular security dills, providing awareness among the masses in the policy framework.

A case for Nuclear Energy

Modern societies need large amount of energy especially in developing stage. However, the prolonged dependence on oil, gas and coal for more than a century is leading to immense damage to our environment and thus to our society. The need of the hour is sustainable development with access to energy to everyone. The solution, without compromising the needs of common people especially in developing countries, is investing in alternatives such as nuclear, wind, solar, biogas and other new and renewable energy systems, as these are clean and environment friendly. When compared to solar and biogas, the energy returns on nuclear and wind are much higher making them cheaper sources of energy (Janardhan and Pant 2017). The draft National Energy Policy (NEP) clearly states that “the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources of solar and wind limits their share of the energy mix.” Therefore, the only efficient option offering green energy is nuclear energy and India took the lead to improve its nuclear energy base.

The National Development Council’s (NDC) target is to achieve the production of 63 GW of electricity through nuclear energy by 2030. As of now, the contribution of nuclear energy in energy matrix in India is only 3 per cent. But then, India is laying a ‘solid foundation’ through the construction of nine nuclear power reactors with the capacity of 13,480 MWe and approved at least five more reactors. India needs to achieve the target keeping in mind the nature of energy demand that is growing rapidly in terms of electrification and clean cooking.

As per the statistics of the World Energy Outlook 2017 published by the International Energy Agency, the primary energy demand for India from 2016 to 2040 would be 1005 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe). It says that “the largest contribution to increase in demand – almost 30 per cent – comes from India, whose share of global energy use rises to 11 per cent by 2014”. As per the report, in 2016 Indians without access to electricity and clean cooking facility was 0.24 billion and 0.83 billion respectively.

Embracing Nuclear Energy and Gaining ‘Public Confidence’

In this scenario embracing nuclear energy is needed by creating the knowledge base. The key aspects that were mentioned in the draft National Energy Policy (NEP) of NITI Ayog include economic viability, technology access, Research & Development on high-end nuclear security instrumentation, nuclear liability and attaining public confidence. From the time that Indian government had devoted a three-stage nuclear energy program, it has achieved incredible 400 reactor operating years with reliable safety record. This further motivated India to improve its nuclear energy and technology base through public sector units.

It is necessary to understand that every technology has its own pros and cons. The world knows that industrial revolution was possible only with the invention of coal as a major source of energy. It is also important to know the facts about coal mining and the damage it has been imposing on the humans and environment. It is high time that we transform and adapt towards clean, efficient and sustainable forms of energy with confidence. This could be achieved only with the public support, confidence and capacity building amongst the communities. With the membership of the Wassenaar Arrangement India now could get access to sensors with advanced technology which can detect nuclear radiation and telecommunication equipment which can resist nuclear damage. This could improve the safety measures of the nuclear power plants.

The strategy that was mentioned in draft NEP of NITI Ayog clearly mentioned the issues of streamlining of various departments that work on nuclear energy-related issues like Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Atomic Energy Regulation Board (AERB), operators, National Power Cooperation of India Limited (NPCIL) for faster development of nuclear power. Apart from considering the future thrust from the private sector, the strategy gives primary importance to nuclear security issues and stated that AERB has direct access with both technical and manpower, which has maintained high standards of nuclear security. It is also important to note that Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill is under consideration.

(Tejaswi V.L. DeeptiMahanti is a Ph.D candidate at Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has completed her Masters in Political Science and completed her M.Phil with specialization in diplomacy and disarmament. Presently working on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and related strategic issues.)