Thursday, December 19, 2013
Thursday, December 19, 2013
‘Dangers of nuclear technology being underplayed’
Last Updated: Sunday, May 01, 2011, 15:05
, who retired from the government as Secretary, Ministry of Finance (1999-2000), and earlier served as Secretary, Ministry of Power (1997-98) and Adviser, Energy, Planning Commission, (1989-94), has just written a series of letters to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, seeking an urgent halt on the nuclear energy programme in India. In his last letter of April 14, Sarma alleged that while many countries have acted promptly, against the background of the nuclear emergency in Japan, to suspend all new nuclear power projects in their respective countries, India was still dithering and toeing the line of the global nuclear multinationals. He told
Zee Research Group’s Rakesh Khar
in an email interview from Boston that India could not afford an energy strategy that is unsustainable, ecologically destructive and deleterious from the point of view of protection of the livelihoods of the people and that India could not drive its energy plans with police force and suppression of people`s voices. Excerpts:
Q: There are conflicting views on cost advantage or disadvantage of the nuclear energy option. What is your assessment and is there a credible independent view on this?
A: I chaired the last Nuclear Power Pricing Committee of DAE way back during the nineties. I can therefore comment on this. Nuclear power, contrary to popular belief, is quite expensive. The existing price of nuclear power is underplayed, as there are many cost elements that cannot be adequately quantified and there are others ignored. For example, the cost of waste management has never been properly assessed. In fact, the future generations will indirectly subsidise it; the cost is conveniently transferred to our children and grandchildren. There is no lasting technical answer to dealing with the radioactive wastes. Similarly, the decommissioning cost is not accurately known, as very few nuclear power plants in the world have been decommissioned fully. Fukushima in Japan will take ages to decommission. Chernobyl is being “buried” in a sarcophagus, the cost of which Russia is unable to bear fully. International donors are contributing to it! Some estimates place the cost of decommissioning to be higher than the plant cost itself. In India, the price of nuclear power contains a token element to reflect it.
The liabilities in the case of Fukushima run into several billions of dollars, certainly more than the cost of the plant itself. The very fact that foreign investors are reluctant to enter the Indian nuclear scene without a ridiculously low liability cap demonstrates that nuclear power in unviable without heavy subsidies from the tax payer. In fact, the concept of a cap on liability has introduced a moral hazard dimension. The reactor suppliers tend to cut the corners in terms of the design safety and that itself indirectly enhances the risk of an accident and the liabilities associated with it. Finally, nuclear technology is inherently more risk prone than the other technologies. Several other risks have not been fully factored into the cost structure. For example, several nuclear power plants in USA are known to have caused radioactive contamination of both ground and surface water sources. There are occasional radioactive leaks.
Q: At this stage nuclear energy is totally dependent on import of uranium and its costs represent a growth path. Is there an independent view on uranium pricing allaying fears that it might run riot like the crude prices?
A: Tarapur was based on imported fuel but we shifted to indigenously mined uranium for the latter reactors recently, when we reverted to light water technology for Kudankulam. With the opening of the floodgates to imported reactors through the Indo-US nuclear deal and similar other bilateral deals, the sector will soon become heavily dependent on imported fuel in the coming decades. This is subject to a double jeopardy, one on account of the escalations in the cost of imported fuel (linked to the external costs of inputs) and the second on account of exchange rate variations. In addition, as it happened in the case of Pokhran II, fuel supplies could get linked to nuclear tests and a slew of foreign policy postures that India may take (e.g. gas from the Middle East). The last dimension is far more worrisome. It may foreclose India`s foreign policy options.
Q: India has already placed orders for nuclear reactors worth Rs 1600 crore with Alsthom and BHEL. Is the bidding and the pricing process fairly conducted?
A: The 1991 reform scheme missed an opportunity to introduce transparency into getting investments from external sources through competitive bidding. Enron was a good example of it. Nuclear power is no exception to it. All imports are through non-transparent bilateral deals. Areva`s EPRs will cost more than Rs 24 crore per MW (compared to Rs 5 crore per MW for coal) and there is no accountability if this further escalates. EPRs in Finland have already gone through time and cost overruns. Reform can yield positive results only if there is transparency and competition. Neither exists in most cases in the Indian context.
Q: Costs of various nuclear energy projects such as Jaitpur and others are said to meet huge overruns? Has someone in the government been tracking the cost element and what does the trajectory look like?
A: None in the government seems to be worried about the enormous cost to the consumer. The electricity regulators are helpless as the Atomic Energy Act practically confers monopoly on DAE in this. It is ironic that civil society bodies like Konkan Bachav Samithi should analyse the cost on their own, based on reports obtained from many sources, and question the same. Unfortunately, Atomic Energy Act has many non-disclosure clauses, unlike Right to Information Act that mandates complete disclosure. DAE and NPCIL have been unduly secretive about the safety, the risks and the costs. I believe that EPRs will cost the nation heavy by the time they get installed and become operational.
Q: Is it correct that the Department of Atomic Energy, DAE, has consistently failed in its promises made about providing nuclear power? Is there pressure to escalate the potential of the nuclear energy contribution?
A: There have been both time and cost overruns. DAE slipped on targets. But, that was to be expected in any industry that was in a state of development. Compared to the time and cost overruns in the case of the two EPRs being set up by Areva in Finland, NPCIL`s track record has not been worse. Surprisingly, NPCIL improved the availability and Plant Load Factors of its power stations during the nineties, far better than expected. However, considering the track record of the Indian nuclear industry as well as the nuclear MNCs, the targets being cited by DAE are highly exaggerated. Such inflated targets infuse a false feeling of energy security. On the other hand, the potential dangers of nuclear technology are being underplayed.
Q: What is your view on the estimates on nuclear energy by the expert panel on energy requirements headed by Kirit Parikh?
A: The Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) document of Planning Commission, which is the most comprehensive study at the official level, has placed excessive reliance on a supply-oriented energy system tilted heavily in favour of nuclear power. Even that study did not place emphasis on imported nuclear reactors. The Indo-US nuclear deal seemed to have overnight tilted the balance in favour of imported reactors. Apparently, such a sudden tilt was based less on public interest considerations and more on considerations of promoting the commercial interests of the MNCs. As a sequel to this, there has been an orchestrated campaign to paint nuclear energy as a “clean” form of energy, underplay its potential shortcomings and mislead the country on its costs.
Q: How do the solar and wind power option weigh against the nuclear one? What is your assessment of other options?
A: There are no easy alternatives in energy planning. Solar is still extremely expensive (>Rs 12 per peak MW). It requires four times the land per MW compared to a coal-based power plant. Efficiency of conversion of solar radiation is still 12-15% at best. Similarly, wind power too is costly. All these alternative sources of energy are load-specific and location-specific. The solution to future energy needs lies in finding “negawatts”, not new megawatts.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
N-energy’s growth lacklustre: IAEA chief
Osama’s death – India’s vindication
Iran insists on `absolute right` to enrich uranium
Nawaz Sharif seeks civil-nuclear technology from China
60% Japanese oppose govt on nuclear tech export: Poll
Iran failed to live up to its obligations under int’l law: US
comments powered by Disqus.
comments powered by
Most Popular in Exclusive
New HRA exemption rule: How it will affect you
Shoma Chaudhury Messes Up Batting for God Father Tejpal
Delhi Assembly Elections 2013: And the crown goes to…
My only encounter with the legend - Sachin Tendulkar
Triumph motorcycles ride into India: Models and price
My first inning has ended, second is about to begin: Sachin Tendulkar
State in Inertia: Nitish’s 8 Years in Bihar
Delhi gang-rape: 12-point agenda to crackdown on sexual offences
Ajmal Kasab’s hanging could not act as a deterrent for Pakistan
More By Miscellaneous
Manchester United are back on track!
Shoma Chaudhury Messes Up Batting for God Father Tejpal
The bhartiya mahila “vote” bank!
Helicopters for VVIPs: India must act decisively
Is this Arsene Wenger’s chance to finally end Arsenal’s trophy drought?
In David Moyes’ Defence…
Truth be told, India is a minnow for Twitter
India, US - A false partnership
The Lion of Nairobi
Criminalising Poverty - An Equal Law?
Live from Kenya: `If I die, you take care of the kids`
Live from Kenya: London, Mumbai, Nairobi - what is the link?
Importance of pursuing recreational activities in senior years
Agni V and the South Asian Balance of Power
CLT20 needs to find its relevance and build a fan base like the UEFA Champions League
Yuvraj Singh`s century highlights his immense run-hunger and much-improved fitness
Helicopters for VVIPs - a Highly Convoluted Deal
Viswanathan Anand, Sachin Tendulkar and Leander Paes: Three legends without parallel
Whose Kashmir is it anyway?
Ranji: Prince of a small state, king of a great game
Eoin Morgan: Explosive, exciting and innovative
The spurious case against Sonia Gandhi
Where prices rise and the value of women declines
The actual cost of the Food Security Bill is the dignity of the rich
BCCI vs CSA: The implications of the standoff
Will you return to your career after 10 yrs` gap?
Will shift our focus to middle class: Jurgen Klanert
Fitness is important for fast-bowling and I am working on it: Ishwar Pandey
Sachin Tendulkar`s 200th Test: A testimonial match could have saved the BCCI a lot of trouble
Sachin Tendulkar`s 200th Test: The West Indies series could tarnish the last days of a fantastic career
Arjuna Award is evidence of Virat Kohli’s character
India A’s success is a stepping stone towards building a confident national team
Sourav Ganguly should have named VVS Laxman instead of himself in his all-time best India Test XI
Captain Cook has been astute, unfazed and often brilliant
Don Bradman scores a second-ball duck in his farewell Test innings
The legendary Alfred Hitchcock and the 1938 Ashes series in England
Seven women redefine independence
My wife was sure I was the Fake IPL Player: Murali Kartik
Rahul Dravid and Paddy Upton’s tips have helped me develop confidence: Sachin Baby
Safe in 21st Century India? A Tale of Four Cities
Acid attacks - The caustic truth
Chauvinism at Centre Court and beyond
Serena Williams, a symbol of “Victory and Courage”
Here is why Holi is celebrated
Market not delighted with Chidambaram`s eighth Budget
‘Beyond the tipping point, climate change consequences will be difficult’
`Cities should be hospitable and resilient`
Delhi Police tries some reforms to assure women safety
M&M VP talks on symbiosis of business mgmt
‘No country wants foreign aid in perpetuity’
Top 10 News in 2 Mins @5pm
Zee exclusive: Aamir Khan talks about `Dhoom 3`
Top Trending News @4:30 pm
more videos >>
Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung recommends President`s rule in Delhi
Delhi Congress chief JP Aggarwal resigns
more videos >>
News from e-generator.com
Thank for your comment. Your comment will be seen by our moderator..!