'India's N-plants safe, poised for big expansion'
Rawatbhata: All the nuclear power plants in India are safe as they have undergone stringent "stress-tests", a top official said, adding the country aimed high double-digit expansion in the segment despite some external and internal resistance.
"We temporarily halted expansion and did stress test on all our plants after Fukushima crisis," Srikumar Banerjee, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said.
He said the commission had enhanced security features of all the projects, wherever needed.
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) started construction work on two 700 MW indigenous nuclear power reactors at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan July 18.
The construction work at the Rawatbhata Atomic Power Project's seventh and eighth unit, which was originally scheduled to start in March, was delayed because the government had asked NPCIL to revisit its security features after a devastating earthquake followed by tsunami triggered a core meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
"We have enhanced security features and our plants are now safe from Fukushima like crisis," an Atomic Energy Commission official said.
Banerjee, who is also the secretary of the Atomic Energy Department, said India had embarked on an ambitious expansion plans in nuclear energy sector buoyed by supply of uranium from other countries and findings of increased sources domestically.
"Electricity sector must grow 10 percent or more to sustain 8-9 percent economic growth," he said.
Growth in electricity sector has not been very encouraging in the recent years. In the first two months of the current fiscal, electricity sector grew 8.4 percent, according to official data.
"Electricity sector needs to grow at least one percent above the GDP growth," said Banerjee.
He pointed out that almost 40 percent of the 1.2 billion Indian citizens did not have access to power and it was a big challenge before the government to ensure that everyone gets it.
Banerjee said India can become self-reliant in energy sector only through expansion in nuclear and solar segment. "Nuclear and solar are the two sources of energy with which humanity will survive."
He said India should gradually reduce dependence on thermal power to curb the emission of greenhouse gases and reduce budget deficit.
"We are importing coal for thermal power projects. Today our economy is strained by the import of petroleum products. In future, it would be because of coal import," said Banerjee, adding that once the economics of scale is achieved, nuclear power would become economical.
Almost 65 percent of India's electricity consumption is generated by thermal power plants while nuclear plants supply less than three percent. Hydro power segment accounts for nearly 22 percent and renewable energy sources nearly 11 percent.
On opposition on nuclear power projects in Jaitapur and some other places, Banerjee said the opposition was against the interests of common people in the country.
"Those who are propagating these kinds of things are sitting in air-conditioned rooms. They don't know the realities," he said.
Environmentalists and some political parties are opposing the proposed 9,900 MW nuclear power project at Jaitapur in Maharashtra saying it was not economical and might create environmental problems in the region.
He said some developed countries like Germany and France were opposing expansion of nuclear power facilities in developing countries like India, because they did not need it domestically.
"We can't compare ourselves with Germany and France. In whole of Europe, energy sector growth is less than 0.5 percent. Their demand is stagnant while 40 percent of our population do not have access to electricity," he said.