Following is the text of Speech of the Minister of State for Science & Technology, Shri Ashwani Kumar on the occasion of National Science Day:
“Allow me at the outset to congratulate the organizers of this conference on the occasion of the National Science Day for selecting the topic of “Clean Energy Options and Nuclear Safety”, which is of contemporary relevance considering India’s development objectives and its international obligations for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations (UN). The Fukushima tragedy calls our urgent attention to safety issues connected, in particular with civil nuclear energy.
It is well established that there is a direct relationship between energy consumption and human development index. In India, our per capita consumption of electricity is almost one-fourth of the world average. Thus to achieve our long cherished goal of becoming a Developed nation we need to move forward for strengthening the energy infrastructure at a much higher pace while simultaneously addressing environmental issues.
The growing appetite for energy in recent times has been constrained by a rapidly diminishing conventional sources such as Oil and Coal. Globally, nearly 70% of electricity is generated from fossil fuels and so it is in India, too. As a result, electricity accounts for about 40% of global energy-related Green House Gas emissions. And these emissions are expected to grow to 58% by 2030. According to GHG Emission 2007 Report of Ministry of Environment & Forests, India ranks 5th in aggregate GHG emissions in the world, behind USA, China, EU and Russia. However, the emissions of USA and China are almost 4 times that of India. Scientists believe that a temperature rise above 2-2.5 degrees due to the increasing GHG emissions risks serious consequences. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that with rising temperatures, the frequency of heat waves, droughts, and heavy rainfall events will only increase. This, in turn, will adversely affect agriculture, forests, water resources, industry and also human health and settlements.
Presently, of the total installed electricity generation capacity of just over 1.9 lakh Mega Watts in India, about 56% is met by Coal, 10% by Gas & Oil, 21% Hydro, 11% by Renewable Sources and less than 3% by Nuclear energy. In order to emerge as a global super power and strive for a sustained growth of above 9 percent through 2031, we may need to attain growth of primary energy supply by 3 to 4 times and electricity supply by 5 to 7 times of present consumption. However, energy security concerns will also be significant as over 90% liquid fossil fuel and up to 45% of coal requirements would need to be imported.
One of the major challenges is to provide a large proportion of our country’s population with access to energy sources which are clean, convenient & affordable. Renewable sources including Solar, Wind, Biomass, etc. and Nuclear Energy which are clean & green energy options, have vast potential in meeting national demand and addressing the growing concerns about depleting oil reserves and harmful effects of Green House Gas emissions. The challenge before us is to make the renewable energy and nuclear energy technologies sustainable, convenient, efficient, safe and affordable. Though these sources may not completely replace fossil fuel even in the 21st century, we are determined to achieve self-sufficiency to the extent possible.
We are blessed with a significant renewable energy resource base. Estimates indicate that a potential of over 200 Giga Watts (GW) electric power capacity exists from Wind Energy. Solar Energy, has the potential to generate around 50 Mega Watts per square km. of area. Small hydro and Biomass could further augment the capacity by 40 GW.
India today stands among the top 5 countries of the world in terms of renewable energy capacity. We have an installed base of over 23 GW, which is over 11% of total power generation capacity and contributes over 6 per cent to the electricity mix. National Action Plan on Climate Change mandates increasing share of renewable power in the electricity mix to 15% by the year 2020. While the impact of renewable energy from the perspectives of energy security & environmental sustainability is well appreciated, what is often overlooked is its capacity to usher in energy access for the most disadvantaged people. However, most renewable energy sources including wind and solar power are variable and may not always be available for dispatch when needed.
The integrated energy policy of the country recognizes that nuclear energy is capable of providing long-term energy security and is based upon judicious utilization of the nuclear resource profile of the country. We now have 20 nuclear power reactors in the country with an installed capacity of 4780 MW of electricity.
As the major source of electricity generation in the country at present is Coal, the role of nuclear power is to supplement the base load generation from coal fired power plants at locations away from coalmines and, in the long term, to utilize the abundant Thorium resources to generate electricity of over 650,000 Tonnes which is more than one-fourth of the total deposit of Thorium in the world. Comparatively we have barely 1% of the world Uranium deposits which is currently being put to effective use. It is also estimated that Thorium can generate (through uranium-233 producible from it) 8 times the amount of energy per unit mass compared to (natural) Uranium.
The Fukushima accident has shaken given rise to safety concerns in respect of nuclear power plants when exposed to an external event of a very high magnitude. We are now facing a new challenge to restore this confidence even though there has been no casualty due to radiation exposure though the loss of life in Japan exceeded 20,000 due to earthquake and tsunami. Following the Fukushima tragedy, which falls in seismic zone 4 and 5, Government of India has mooted a comprehensive review of the safety standards of all our nuclear power installations which are as such located in Zone 2 expect the one at Narora which is in zone 3. The results of the safety reviews that were mandated by the Government have been made public and several recommendations have already been implemented. A roadmap has been prepared for implementing rest of the recommendations. It has also been decided to invite missions of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) namely Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) and Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) for peer review of safety of our nuclear power plants and of the regulatory system respectively. A Bill to confer statutory status to the regulatory authority has also been introduced in the Parliament.
In India, a systematic approach using well-defined principles is followed in the design of nuclear power plants. While making provisions for the required safety features, Nuclear Power Plants are constructed in accordance with the highest quality standards. Commissioning of the systems is carried out to test and demonstrate adequacy of each system and the plant as a whole by actual performance tests to meet the design intent before commencing the operation of the plant. Operation of the plant is carried out as per defined and approved procedures in the technical specifications that are thoroughly reviewed and approved by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The regulatory framework in India is indeed robust. All these measures are for ensuring safe operation of the plants, safety of occupational workers, members of public and protection of environment. With sound design, trained and experienced operating staff and safety conscious approach to operation, the possibility of any accident is remote. However, to meet any unlikely situation of an accident, well thought-out formal emergency preparedness plans are in place.
All nuclear power plant sites in our country are self-sufficient in the management of radioactive waste. Adequate facilities have been provided for handling, treatment, storage and disposal of nuclear wastes generated at these sites. Management of radioactive wastes is carried out in conformity with regulatory guidelines based on internationally accepted principles.
Undoubtedly, for transition to a highly efficient economy, utilizing renewable & nuclear energy is essential. Shifting to a sustainable energy system based on such options will require replacing a complex, entrenched energy system with innovative policy instruments. Various kinds of fiscal incentives, capital subsidies, generation based incentives, preferential tariffs, etc. are some of the measures. India has already put a cess of Rs.50 per tonne of coal consumption and from the proceeds has created a National Clean Energy Fund to support clean energy development.
Research and development in nuclear & renewable energy is another major area of action. Larger scale applications of new energy systems would depend on how rapidly the costs decline and efficiencies increase. It, in a way, leads to creation of national energy innovation system that involves prominent research and academic institutions as well as industry. “