At a time when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is starkly highlighting the implications of climate change and the urgent global need to opt for sustainable development and clean energy, Nuclear Asia spoke to the Indian Atomic Energy Commission’s Former Chairman Anil Kakodkar on issues coming in the way of the country taking a more proactive role in promoting civilian nuclear energy.
The eminent scientist noted that despite the historic consensus on limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Centigrade arrived at in Paris in 2015 at the UN conference on climate change (COP21), the world will still see a 2.7-3.7 degrees Centigrade rise in temperatures when compared to pre-industrial levels, according to studies, and, thus, much more needs to be done.
He said that while the growth of electricity generation is unavoidable to meet the world’s development needs, the shift to non-fossil fuel energy sources has become an urgent necessity. According to Kakodkar, the emphasis on renewable energy, such as solar and wind, is only a partial answer in this context. “Nuclear energy, which is the only non-fossil source able to meet both base load energy demand and sustainability requirements, must be implemented on a large scale to meet the world’s carbon reduction goals,” he said.
“India’s continued work with innovative nuclear technology can help the international community meet the climate change agenda laid out in Paris,” he said, adding that nuclear technology was not being adequately considered, particularly in developing countries where energy needs are projected to increase phenomenally.
Kakodkar pointed out that in a context where there are a large number of emerging economies with growing energy needs, the adoption of nuclear power to combat climate change would depend on the availability of cost-efficient technologies that are readily deployable with the assurance of safety and security, even as the Fukushima disaster in Japan has helped improve safety standards and measures worldwide.
With a population of 1.3 billion and counting among the world’s fastest growing economies, fossil fuels, however, contribute to satisfy the bulk of India’s current energy needs, but there is a massive effort by the South Asian nation to transit to non-fossil energy, with nuclear power becoming a major part of this transition. Following the 2015 climate change conference in Paris, among India’s stated goals to reduce the impact of global warming include achieving a 40 percent electricity generation capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 and 63,000 MW of installed nuclear capacity by 2032.
In this connection, Kakodkar noted that India’s vast reserves of thorium, constituting around 25 percent of the world’s total, can lead to a sustainable and safe adoption of nuclear technology to meet the challenges of climate change.
The year 2008 was an important landmark in India’s clean energy programme when the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of 48 countries adopted a policy of civilian nuclear cooperation. Following this, India has entered into civil nuclear agreements with 14 countries, including the US, Russia, France and Japan for exchange of expertise and technology. Russia continues to be a key supplier of nuclear fuel to India, and has helped construct operating reactor units at Kudankulam in India’s Tamil Nadu state. In 2019, the two countries also announced the intention to set up over 20 Russian-designed nuclear reactors in India over the next two decades. France and Japan also have also entered into key nuclear cooperation agreements with India.
What, however, stands out in this context is that India continues to be denied entry into the NSG, despite the willingness of most member states. At the same time, nuclear energy curently contributes to only 2 percent of India’s total energy requirements, while the country has 22 operable reactors, with 7 more under construction.