Experts worry over US stand on N-fuel option

As the second International Conference on ‘Asian Nuclear Prospects’ ended here near Kalpakkam late Wednesday evening, the US nuclear experts argued for keeping options open on nuclear fuel cycles. It was in sharp contrast to “some sort of consensus” emerging among other key players on closing the “entire nuclear fuel cycle”.

Explaining the US stance, Dr Michael Goff of the Idaho National Laboratory of the US Department of Energy, said while their road map drawn up in April last year was to ensure “a very strong role for nuclear energy in the overall energy mix, we do not have to rush to make a decision on our final fuel cycle options”.

The US contention was, as elaborated by US nuclear expert David Hill in the wrap-up session chaired by former Atomic Energy Commission Chief, Dr Anil Kakodkar, based on premises like the belief of the US that in the play of market forces, the spent nuclear fuel from power reactors can be “stored safely and indefinitely”, and that natural uranium resources may not be as limited as supposed.

“So, the US has lot of time to address nuclear fuel cycle issues,” argued Hill, reiterating Dr Goff’s views.Reacting to this from the Indian side, the Bangalore-based scientist and former AEC chief Dr M R Srinivasan said when a “consensus in thinking” among major Asian countries and some European nations seemed to be emerging on a critical issue, the US holding a “different view on closing the nuclear fuel cycle is not good”.

“The US approach troubles me, it disturbs me,” said Dr Srinivasan, adding, not everything could be left to the market forces in this area, without any commitment to sustainable development and climate change issues.

India has always taken the position, as explained by the Union Minister of State for Science and Technology, Prithivraj Chavan, that ‘fast breeder reactors’ are essential for its energy security. Also irradiated fuel should not be disposed as radioactive waste and that closing the fuel cycle “is absolutely essential for ensuring the sustainability of nuclear energy”.

Dr Anil Kakodkar, at the valedictory session, said development in nuclear energy “will take place as per national perspectives and national strategies.” It was “unfortunate” that the growth perceptions of the most developed countries in this regard “are not as large as in emerging Asian countries”.

While there appears to be a “large consensus” to move towards a closed nuclear fuel cycle in some form, Dr Kakodkar said by 2030, the uranium supply crisis “will be with us if climate change threat is real”. But “it is a matter of International politics and that is where the conflict arises”.

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