Nuclear Power is the talk of the town with the energy crises these days. The world is taking a sharp turn back to the 20th century when there was a ‘nuclear renaissance’. The reasons for this going back to the history may be many, but the most important among them is the stress on the renewable sources of energy that the world is paying attention to.
Nuclear Power | History
In 1945, generating electricity was one of a number of potential applications of atom-splitting technology developed in a hurry by the United States to help win a world war. Nuclear power thereafter became a reality because of government support, public confidence that it would be cheap, and absence of serious misgivings about proliferation, safety, and waste management. Enough resources were invested in this idea to set up more than 400 nuclear power plants in 31 countries that now produce 11 percent of the world’s electricity.
Nuclear Power | The world acceptance
Today, there are good reasons why nuclear power may continue to make advances worldwide.
- At the top of the list are expectations for economic growth linked to urbanization and greater electrification, and the consensus of among almost all nations that they need carbon-free sources to generate most of their power and mitigate dramatic climate change.
- The demands on electricity supply systems will be very different than they were a generation ago when most of the world’s nuclear power plant projects were initiated.
- The shift from non-renewable energy resources indicate that if nations penalize power generated by coal, gas and oil — fuels that account for 67 percent of the world’s electricity production — a shift back to nuclear power could happen.
Nuclear Power | Risks
Besides large scale displacement of people and land acquisition problems attached with starting a nuclear project, there are many other issues involved too.
- In case of a meltdown, a nuclear power plant could release radiation into the environment like in Fukushima disaster.
- Biggest challenge is how to dispose radioactive waste.
- If a person were exposed to significant amounts of radiation over a period of time, this exposure could damage body cells and lead to cancer.
- Nuclear power plants use water from local lakes and rivers for cooling. Local water sources are used to dissipate this heat, and the excess water used to cool the reactor is often released back into the waterway at very hot temperatures. This water can also be polluted with salts and heavy metals, and these high temperatures, along with water pollutants, can disrupt the life of fish and plants within the waterway.
- Terrorists and anti-national forces may target nuclear plants.
Nuclear Power | Safety Measures to be taken
- Continuous check on control rods, lubricants so there remains no mechanical problem during operation.
- Strict regulation guides for checking and measuring radiation level regularly.
- More innovative security system should be installed with continuous up gradation.
- Promoting Private or PSU companies to use nuclear waste for electricity generation so that over or unnecessary disposal can be minimized.
- Setting up nuclear reactors in non-seismic zones to prevent possibility of nuclear disasters.
- Regulating body should stay vigil and lay detailed guidelines.
- Enhancement of the level of safety of the backup systems in reactors that are under construction in India.
Nuclear Power | India’s Measures
- India has highly equipped nuclear plants with full safe shutdown system, early warning systems, combination of active and passive coolant system and robust containment to prevent releases.
- Mechanisms to withstand extreme weather phenomena.
- Periodic and unannounced safety reviews by NPCIL and AERB.
- Coastal plants have appropriate funds to prevent shoreline pollution.
- AERB lays minimum safety regulations that all plants have to follow.
- Licenses are only given to operators with in depth knowledge and skill.
- All nuclear plants have been made in seismically inactive zones.
- The disposal of nuclear waste is as per standards of procedure and no violation has been found till date.
- They are highly protected sites by our intelligence and armed forces.
- All Indian plants have double dome built-up.
Nuclear Power | Alternative source of renewable energy
While nuclear power awaits government fixes, renewable energy technologies led by solar and wind power are jumping into the breach. They now provide a quarter of the world’s electricity. Their market penetration is currently favoured by the same kind of policy stimuli that governments after World War II used to favour nuclear power.
So far, renewables cannot replace the world’s nuclear power plants. But their success may lead decision-makers not to commit to nuclear investments that might become stranded assets. It is also well known that a nuclear investment requires a century-long commitment because of the trajectory for operation, decommissioning, and waste management.
Nuclear Power | Future
The ultimate litmus test for nuclear power in this century is how it will respond to the forces of globalization. So far, the record is mixed. Globalization has favoured procurement and safety standards. But the downsides could prove fatal.
India plans to increase the installed nuclear power capacity from the current 5,780 MW to 10,080 MW by the end of the Twelfth Plan (2017) and 20,000 MW by 2020. Also, India gave an assurance in Paris that by 2030 it would reduce carbon emissions relative to its GDP by 33-35 per cent from 2005 levels and also generate 40 per cent of the country’s electricity from non-fossil fuel-based sources, using among others the solar, wind and nuclear options. In this light efficient mechanisms need to be brought in the interest of humanity.