Environment Pollution & Climate Change Sustainable Energy

Do we need Nuclear Energy to combat Climate Change ?

ATOM – This infinitesimally small entity can have a decisive role to play in ensuring sustainability in the form of Nuclear energy.  Yes,  Renewable energy is going to take up the Lion’s share but first we must concede to the fact that the world can’t run on 100% renewable energy unless Elon Musk decides to supply POWERWALL for free to all households. There is still no proper storage device for electricity (read BATTERY) to store all the power produced by renewable energy. We need more base load supplying power plants like Nuclear power to act as a solid foundation energy source on which renewable energy can be built on to meet the ever spiralling energy demand. In the previous article on wind energy, we observed that the TNEB despite having the potential for nearly 7 MW of wind energy has planned to double its thermal power capacity citing that wind energy can’t produce the base load power. This is exactly where nuclear power can step in as it is indeed one of the most cleanest sources of electricity.

Working of nuclear power plants (NPP)

Nuclear power plants are just modifications of thermal power plants. They both have the same principle of operation – to produce steam and run the turbine. There are two types of nuclear plants – Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) and Pressurised Boiling Water Reactor (PWBR). While BWR is mostly the same as thermal power plants, PWBR is a bit different. In BWR, the water is heated by the thermal energy radiating from the fission of Uranium atoms. The steam runs the turbine and is condensed again to complete the cycle. In PWBR, pressurized water is employed. As it is pressurized, the water doesn’t convert to steam on receiving the heat. The heat gained by the pressurized water is transferred to the working fluid (water) through heat exchanger. This working fluid/water turns to steam and runs the turbine for power production.


Inevitability of Nuclear Power

Peeking into technical aspects, Capacity factor is the edge nuclear reactors possess over other means. It is the ratio of actual energy output during a time period to max possible energy output during the same period. Nuclear energy has the highest capacity factor of all. In fact, renewables perform poorly because the sun doesn’t shine during night or there is no wind for major period during a year.  A 500 MW reactor with a capacity factor of 0.80 can produce up to 3.5 billion units in a year whereas a 500 MW solar plant can produce just 1.27 billion units (C.F= 0.29) in the same period.

Plus the lifetime of a NPP is much higher – it can be re-fabricated to last for 60 years while the life for renewables won’t be greater than 30 years. The Chinese have realized nuclear’s potential and are welcoming it.

Development of Nuclear Infrastructure in India

Nuclear energy contributes less than 5% for power in India. The present total capacity is around 7 GW while the total installed capacity of India is nearly 340 GW. On the brighter side, Nuclear power can see an upside curve, thanks to global warming. With addition of 10 NPPs with a total capacity of 7000 MW, India has set huge standards. The best announcement is that these Reactors will be developed indigenously which would result in job creation and cost reduction due to its vast human resources. The fast breeder reactor – Kamini stands as a testament to the knowledge and infrastructure we possess. With 25% of World’s Thorium reserve concentrated in South India, We can fulfill all energy needs through Nuclear itself.

Speaking of Indian NPP’s, the Koodankulam NPP is indeed one of the safest power plant in the world. The security measures are of state-of-art technology. All safety measures are carried out by passive devices (which doesn’t need power to run). The exact reason for the Fukushima disaster was that all the emergency measures were active devices which relied on generator for power, which were flooded by the tsunami. Speaking of Fukushima plant, literally no one knows about the Onagawa NPP in Japan. This plant was located in the same area and was just 123 kms away from the epicentre – 60km closer than Fukushima Daiichi, but Onagawa plant stood still against the natural disaster.

Speaking of Fukushima plant, literally no one knows about the Onagawa NPP in Japan. This plant was located in the same area and was just 123 kms away from the epicentre – 60km closer than Fukushima Daiichi, but Onagawa plant stood still against the natural disaster.

If India can succeed in rocket science, then mastering Nuclear Technology isn’t going to be a tough or tedious task.

Economic Aspects of Nuclear & Other Technologies

Perhaps it is the only drawback in NPP’s as the per unit cost of electricity is considerably higher than that of the renewables. In recent times, the costs of solar and wind power are plummeting down, thanks to aggressive bidding. Prices have constantly fallen below Rs.3/unit. While this is welcoming for environment, we also have to be wary of it. Very low tariffs can render renewable energy projects unviable. Solar tariffs are expected to go up with cap on Chinese imports.

Even though nuclear experts worry about the high tariff, we have to depend on nuclear energy to provide solidarity to the renewable sector. With further research in Fast Breeder Technology, fertile materials can be turned into fissile fuels further reducing dependence on imports. Plus, there is a possibility of today’s nuclear waste that can be used as tomorrow’s nuclear fuel.

Public Awareness

Any project would be a failure without public’s approval. There is always a fear for Nuclear Energy due to past mishaps like The Three Mile Island & Chernobyl Incidents. The moment Nuclear power is discussed, Public are up in arms. People talk about climate change and its effects but never accept Nuclear energy as a source of sustainable Power Production. Thus, it is time that we acknowledge the advantage of Nuclear energy unless and  until we come up with huge improvements in battery technology.

(This article was originally published as a part of series ‘SUSTAINABLE ENERGY- FOR INDIA’S ENERGY SECURITY’ in ‘The Agraria’ e-Magazine. You can Subscribe it here)

Sathes Kumar
Sathes Kumar is a graduate of B.Tech. Energy and Environmental Engineering. He is currently working as a Research Analyst (Climate Change & Sustainability) in All India Institute of Local Self Government - New Delhi. His interests include sustainability and green buildings and is also into anything which is interesting and thought provoking