Why are we chasing the nuclear power mirage?

With more and more nations taking to nuclear energy and accepting it as a cleaner and efficient source of energy, arguments against the use of nuclear power are building up at a greater pace.
The total nuclear power capacity in India is 1840 MWe against 346000 MWe in the world.
The Japan earthquake and tsunami has jolted the whole world and compelled everyone to re-think about the use of nuclear power. While Germany has planned to shut down a third of its nuclear reactors manufactured prior 1980, India is still reviewing its safety measures in this regard.

If we consider the economics of installation of nuclear power plants, the cost of nuclear power depends on the cost of electricity generated by the nuclear power plant compared to the cost of generation of electricity from coal from a thermal power plant.

Because the coal deposits are concentrated in Eastern India, setting up a thermal power plant in Western India would demand transportation of coal for long distances. In such cases nuclear power becomes favourable.

“The method for comparison such as single station cost and system cost also influence the feasibility of the coal vs. nuclear power plant. The comparison between coal and nuclear options on the basis of station cost method may give misleading results because single station method fails to take an analytical account of system interactions. This could result in the plant being pushed lower down in the operational merit order as it ages and as new; more advanced plants with lower marginal operating cost join the system,” says Prof. Alagah.

Like Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, says that in India nuclear power plants have been built at locations with the potential for earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or lower in the Richter scale, while in Japan and in the US, plants have been built where earthquakes of 4.0 or 5.0 in the Richter scale are possible.

But what happened in Japan shows how it was miscalculated and destroyed everything million times than what was predicted (magnitude of 9.0 compared to 5.0 on Richter scale).
Even scientists and engineers who have designed and worked at nuclear power plants warn about nuclear accidents because of uncontrollable nuclear fission chain reactions which result in the loss of coolant. Once the coolant is lost, the core starts melting which leads to disastrous consequences.

All the nuclear power plants in India are either on the coast or linked to rivers or water bodies. The 2004 tsunami brought into focus the vulnerability of nuclear power plants situated along the coast.

LV Krishnan, a veteran of the Department of Atomic Energy, who retired from the Kalpakkam plants, said that a tsunami was not taken into consideration when designing the plant. The official line has remained that the tsunami did not cause any radiation leak. It is very possible that our nuclear scientists have not taken the impact of climate change into consideration while designing their nuclear power plants. (Source)

According to the Prof. Yoginder K. Alagah who works for the ministry of power in India, “nuclear power is a genuine economic option in terms of Long Range Marginal Cost (LRMC) advantages for power supply at locations far remote from coal reserves, particularly if hydel sources are not available in these areas.”
The ones who argue for nuclear power say that it is necessary to develop nuclear power because:
·         There is a need to develop alternative energy systems
·         Utilizing Uranium resources and large amounts of Thorium deposits can sustain about 300,000 MWe of electricity generation capacity for about 300 years
·         Nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gases
·         Fossil fuels are a finite source of energy while nuclear energy, produced with the correct technology could become a renewable energy source

For example: The energy produced by 1 gram of uranium is equivalent to that produced by 3 tonnes of coal. As fission is not an oxidation process, there is no smoke or carbon waste (Source)

While the ones who support nuclear energy say it is a cleaner source of energy, but there are arguments against it too.

Disposal of nuclear waste remains a growing concern. Because nuclear waste is not bio-degradable, it causes many health hazards to anyone who comes into contact with the waste. . An average nuclear reactor produces 20-30 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel each year, which remains radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

Nuclear power plants withdraw large amounts of water from nearby lakes, rivers, and oceans. In doing so, aquatic life is adversely affected. For instance: A 2005 study of impacts from 11 coastal power plants in Southern California estimated that the San Onofre nuclear plant impinged nearly 3.5 million fish in 2003 alone. (Source)

Nuclear waste can cause skin cancer and also alter the DNA in a person which can have a long-term impact on the descendants of that person.

Nuclear power plants raise the temperatures of a region resulting in the damage to the flora and fauna. For example: nuclear plants being shut down in Europe was because the outflow from the nuclear plants would have raised temperatures in the surrounding water.

Nuclear power generation routinely exposes occupational workers and the public to radiation and harmful isotopes for whose effects, including cancer and genetic damage, there’s no remedy. Radiation is unsafe in all doses.

The debate around Jaitapur nuclear plant is that it is located in a seismically active zone and is based on untested reactor design. Areva’s (French company) reactors haven’t been cleared by any nuclear regulatory authority and we (India) have planned to install six reactors.

Also, it will become the world’s largest nuclear power station generating 9,900 MW, or more than double India’s current nuclear capacity. Given its size, the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) will generate seven times more toxic iodine-129 than normal reactors, posing many problems. (Source)

Another problem with the Jaitapur plant is that the high temperature of the coolant water discharged into the sea will destroy mangroves, corals and numerous marine species, reducing oxygen availability.

While governments see compensation for land as the only issue that has to be addressed while permitting installation of nuclear power plants, it also has to consider the hazards related to it.

In China, a 10 metre high concrete protection is built for reactor at Hainan while India’s Koodankulam nuclear reactor has a 7.5 metre-high concrete protection against tsunami or flooding. Such measures should be taken into account.
While EPR’s are said to be missile-resistant and can prevent hydrogen accumulation, explosion of Fukushima reactor has invalidated its claim. Therefore, the alternatives to nuclear power are seen as wind energy and hydel power. So, we should stop chasing the nuclear power mirage and concentrate on alternative sources for power generation to avoid another Chernobyl-like disaster in India.

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One thought on “Why are we chasing the nuclear power mirage?

  1. cool article you have shared my friend but i want to that what safety measures should we take to protect neighbours around the nuclear plant from nuclear raditions.pls share your view on this link-http://sawaal.ibibo.com/news-and-current-affairs/what-measures-you-think-should-be-taken-around-nplant-india-1688512.html

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