Nuclear power mitigates economic & carbon impact: Shah Nawaz Ahmad

The protests against nuclear power notwithstanding, India continues to attract global attention in this regard, owing to the immense potential here. Shah Nawaz Ahmad, senior advisor, World Nuclear Association(WNA), in an interview with Sanjay Jog, explains how a decent mix would help India tackle the rising demand for power. Edited excerpts:

How does WNA see India’s move to increase nuclear capacity?
In India, the need for electricity is huge. The highest levels of the country’s establishment are committed to nuclear power, and this has been proven over time. There may be some issues on civil nuclear liability laws, funding, production costs and localisation.

These are under various stages of negotiations. While it may be necessary for the public to know how these discussions are progressing, when there are technical and commercial discussions, you are likely to hear the good news only when the agreements are signed. A bit of patience would be of immense help. During the period between 2005 and 2013, we have, perhaps, not seen the sort of fruits expected. But we have to realise India has its own culture and mechanisms in the area of international cooperation.

The fact that Australia has agreed to supply uranium to India is seen as a victory of diplomacy and negotiations. In the beginning, Australia had insisted on NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), but later, it changed its stand. These things take time.

On the energy mix issue, I agree with former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar’s view that all resources — conventional, renewables and nuclear — have to be harnessed to meet India’s electricity requirements. There is great consistency needed in conceptualising the country’s energy needs.

In India, those against nuclear power cite safety issues.
Obviously, if any stakeholder has concerns, those have to be addressed. The nuclear community is very good at technical communication, but there is need for more associative communication in dealing with the concerns of the people. Perhaps, it needs augmentation and capable people who know local languages and have competencies on the technical side.

There is a need to build trust over the long term by associating all stakeholders — right from the inception stage. Also, we have to tap experts from outside the government — credible experts from the academic community and from local leaders. The first step would be to educate stakeholders at their level of interest and understanding, in their language. This is an important job; communication with affected parties would yield positive results.

Has nuclear power lost its vigour, especially after the Fukushima nuclear accident in  2011?
The nuclear landscape improved in 2012. For reactors across the world that were on a ‘delay’ mode after Fukushima, we have seen restarts. The world went into a mode of re-examining reactor safety, visualising what could happen in their systems.

Once satisfied after stress tests, they decided to go ahead. Many countries say they plan to shut nuclear plants, even as the time comes to continue operating these. WNA estimates at least 73 Gw of net new capacity would be added by 2020. Agneta Rising, director general of WNA says, “Countries representing more than 50 per cent of the world’s population are committed to building nuclear power plants.”

We have to remember power demand is huge, particularly in developing countries. For instance, by 2034, the demand for power in China would grow by more than the current demand of Japan and the US together. A substantial part would be met through nuclear power. Of course, it is a big challenge, as major decisions have economic and political impacts. In Germany, the cost of electricity rose after the country revisited its policy on nuclear power; it is also finding it difficult to meet its carbon commitment.

The continuation of nuclear power would, at the least, mitigate the economic and carbon impact. This is applicable to India as well. We have found extra care in the case of construction of plants and the quality of materials used leads to plant life, originally 40 years (according to design), safely being extended by 20-40 years. The economic impact of life extension means adding megawatts at a very low incremental cost.

This has enabled the Tarapur nuclear power plant to supply cheap power. So, if it is safe, why not continue to operate? But there may be a need to convince the public by laying stress on transparency.


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