* here nuclear energy generally refers to nuclear energy derived from fission mode, unless specified.
In my last article (A Letter to my Friends, Expression - June 2011), I told you how energy is the making or breaking point of any civilisation. A civilisation’s survival key lays in the type of energy its people use in their day-to-day activities. Cleaner the energy we use, healthier our civilisation would be in the longer run.
But then, few of us presume that going nuclear to meet the energy need of a developing economy is the next best thing. But we must also realise that going nuclear is a very dangerous proposition. It’s like giving a child a grenade and telling him to play with it safely. There are good chances that the kid will blow himself up. I am not trying to be a sadist, but a realist.
The recent nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan is just one example of how we don’t have the power to control such events in the future. If one of the most developed nations in the world was incapable of avoiding the disaster, will we be capable of handling such things? I know there are arguments against this thought process as well. And they (the pro-nuclear think tank) ridicule it by saying that it’s just one such incident, and there was “Nature” against them (read due to Tsunami and Earthquake). My counter argument to it would be - learn from others. It’s better than learning from one’s own mistake.
Most of you might be aware about the half-life concept. Uranium’s half-life is about 6-7 human generations! That’s a long time! So if a disaster happens today (God forbid), the after-effects of it will remain for these many generations to come.
Apart from a nuclear disaster (which might be highly unlikely), other key factors need considerations. The amount of money required to set-up a nuclear reactor (fission mode) can be somewhere between $3-10 billion and might take up to 10 years to build. This makes the overnight cost of nuclear power plants to be about $4,000/kWe. This amount of tax-payer’s money will be used to make a harmful and dangerous energy creating power plant. There are other external costs too, like the cost of security of the power plant, cost of raw materials, transportation costs, etc.
The figure for the exhaustion of the Uranium reserves of the world is 2050. So, a nuclear reactor, built with so much of public money will run dry post 2050. Then what happens to the power plants? There will be a no-habitation zone within a radius of 30 kms of the power plant, where no human will be allowed to settle, chiefly because of pollution and possible radiation. Also, the nuclear waste cannot be disposed of properly, so either the Earth will be dug up to bury the nuclear waste containers or the waste will simply find shelter in the seas and oceans. And if these containers leak, the whole ocean will get contaminated, and pose a threat to the marine ecosystem.
That’s not all. Threat from global terrorism will cause the cost of security for these power plants to increase, and due to recent nuclear disasters, cost of construction of nuclear power plants will increase (due to newer safety norms). And a country like India cannot take its chances with nuclear energy based power plants, when half of its population is hungry.
Another argument against nuclear energy would be that it will still not solve the grid connectivity problem that Indian villages are facing. There are about 10000 villages in India which don’t have any grid connection to supply them electricity. The solution for them would be a decentralised source of energy; micro-grids, or better still, if every village or household could manufacture its own electricity. Electricity has become a commodity, as everyone requires it. The demand and supply gap for electricity is growing, and to keep up with the pace of growth that India is undergoing, it needs the energy. The world is moving towards cleaner sources of energy, and India too should do the same. Renewable energy was the “in thing” 1000 years ago, it still is, and will continue to be so even in the future.
With clean sources of energy fuelling our economic growth, the growth will be sustainable. And with a sustainable economic growth, quality of live will improve and be long term. The most important thing to do today is support, promote and use cleaner sources of energy – for us, our children and their children.
Note: Nuclear energy (fusion mode) is something to look forward to, but it will be another 15-20years before we see improvement in the technologies used to control it today.
This article was published in the July 2011 edition of Expressions, a monthly eZine published by iCare India.