Nearly seven years ago, in a news story published in The Nav Hind Times, Dr M V. Ramana, an acerbic critic of India’s nuclear programme listed what he felt as the ill-effects of nuclear technology (N.T, October 14).
He said that nuclear power is costly; that reactors could lead to catastrophic accidents; the reactors produce radioactive waste and they are linked to nuclear weapons. These statements reflect many myths and a few realities.
Vaghan Scully of Standard and Poor’s Equity Research states that the cost of building nuclear power plants and that for coal- fired plants in USA will be of the same order at $ 2200 per kilowatt and $ 2135 per kilowatt respectively, if the coal plant uses advanced technology to gasify coal before combustion and stores the carbon dioxide generated underground.
Anti nuclear activists ignore the impact of copious amounts of carbon dioxide, a well known green house gas from fossil fuel stations. They are indulgent towards coal-fired power station because opposition to nuclear power is an article of faith for them. The radiation dose to population from coal stations are hundred times more than that from nuclear power stations. This is because coal contains uranium, thorium etc. The dose in the case of coal stations or nuclear power stations is too small to be of any health consequence
Apart from uranium and thorium coal contains ten other elements such as mercury and arsenic. In spite of these adverse impacts coal –fired stations will continue to serve us for the next several decades as our annual power deficit is about 12 -13 %
When he expressed his views, the tariffs for nuclear power in India were not unduly high. It was 93 paise per unit for Unit 1 &2 of Tarapur Atomic Power Station (the cheapest non hydel power in India); Rs 2.79 for Units 2, 3 & 4 of Rajastahn Atomic Power Station and Units 1&2 of Kaiga; Rs 2.65 for Tarapur 3&4; Rs 2.04 for Units 1&2 of Kakrapar; Rs 1.91 for Units 1&2 of Narora and Rs 1.81 for Units 1&2 of Madras Atomic Power Station.
Nuclear power is cheaper than power from four power stations using liquid fuel (Rs 7.18 to 7.94 per unit) and the five stations using RLNG-re-gasified liquid natural gas- (Rs 4.14 to 4.75) and two non-pit head generating stationS ( Rs 3.07 and Rs 3.36) and a gas based station (Rs 3.57)
Two reactor accidents (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl) particularly the one at the Three Mile Island in 1979 did not cause death or injury to anyone. Chernobyl was a flawed reactor and was operated by over-zealous operators. Design flaws combined with unpardonable operator errors and sloppy procedures caused the accident.
These accidents led to unprecedented safety reviews of nuclear power plants worldwide; the safety performance of reactors improved.
In spite of public concern about nuclear accidents fanned by anti nuclear propaganda, 439 nuclear power reactors in 30 countries currently produce 16% of world’s electricity. France produces 78.4 % of its electricity from nuclear reactors and export large amounts of power to some European nations enabling them to take anti-nuclear postures. Japan which suffered from atomic bombing produces 30 % power from nuclear reactors.
No country abandoned nuclear power because of nuclear accidents. Fifty out of the 104 reactors operating in USA were connected to the grid after 1979, the year in which the accident occurred at the Three Mile Island, 19 of them after 1986, the year in which Chernobyl accident took place. All Canadian rectors came on line after 1979. Similarly French electric companies connected 53 out of the 58 reactors to the grid after 1979.
Since it is an unforgiving technology, we must regulate it stringently. We must choose only reactors of proven technology. We must build them at the right site, following sound quality assurance procedures. We must provide diverse and redundant reactor control and protection systems of high reliability. Other steps include defence in depth philosophy; proven operating procedures by qualified and trained staff; continuous safety review and operating experience; well-rehearsed emergency preparedness plans among others.
We mine uranium ore and process it. We fabricate fuel elements, design, construct and operate reactors. We developed nuclear waste management technology. We are one among the few countries which reprocess spent fuel. Nuclear power is safe, cost effective and environment friendly.