Move to set up 10 N plants welcome

The Union Cabinet’s decision to set up 10 new nuclear plants to produce 7,000 MW of nuclear power will give a major boost for the country’s power sector. The sites for the plants, which include Kaiga in Karnataka, had already been decided and the preliminary work had started, but with the fleet mode clearance now given to the plan, work will be fast-tracked. This is in line with the plan to triple the country’s nuclear power capacity by 2025. It is also part of the efforts to meet the fast-rising demand for power which is estimated to quadruple in the next two decades. The government has been focussing on the production of more clean power by increasing the share of non-fossil and renewable sources like solar, wind and nuclear sectors in the energy basket. Nuclear power contributes only a small percentage of the country’s power production now while in most industrialised major countries the share is much more.

India had lagged in the nuclear power sector because of sanctions and exclusion from the international nuclear business. The scenario has changed with the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement of 2005, a subsequent treaty with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), bilateral agreements with other countries and the sorting out of liability issues which had dissuaded foreign companies from setting up plants in the country. With many legal and other issues out of the way, the availability of fuel and even funding may not pose problems now. But the government’s plan is based on indigenous capacities which have developed steadily in the last few decades. The present plan is to set up reactors of 700 MW capacity, to be built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCL). Most of the existing plants are of 220 MW capacity but the NPCL has now acquired the expertise to set up bigger units which are more efficient and economical.

The new plan will be dovetailed into the Make in India programme and will involve an investment of Rs 70,000 crore. It will create thousands of jobs and give an impetus to a number of industries which will have different roles in it. The enhanced production of clean power will help the country to better meet its commitments under the 2015 Paris climate change agreement. Concerns related to safety and environment have been voiced over nuclear plants. They are still being articulated. While elimination of nuclear power may remain as a long-term aim, it will be difficult to do without it in the near future. It should also be noted that modern nuclear plants have systems and processes which are considered to be 100% safe.

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