As the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal is becoming more of a reality, there is
increasing signs that the Federal Government may be considering private nuclear
power operators as a viable alternative to
double nuclear power capacities by 2030. While this may not be policy, prominent government functionaries are spelling out this policy in different forums.
Responding to the Planning Commission’s approach paper for the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, Prime Minister’s Chief Scientific Advisor C N R Rao says that private sector participation in nuclear power generation is a necessity for sustained nuclear power generation. In a radio interview, Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen said India was looking for US investment in civilian nuclear energy program along with the civilian nuclear deal.
Without the civilian nuclear deal, India ’s power generation using nuclear power would cap at 10,000 megawatts (MW) for the next 30 years till the thorium fast breeder reactors programs are expected to be functional and operational.
Several retired nuclear scientists met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh worried that the nuclear deal may affect domestic nuclear reactors and programs. While Singh was able to convince them that India will not allow the deal to cap or roll back domestic efforts, some scientists drew his attention to statements from Indian officials asking for ash coal processing technology when such technologies have already been evaluated and rejected by the scientific community. Scientists also raised lack of progress on the 6.2 MW Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) experimental coal gasification plant.
Scientists are worried that in its enthusiasm to make the nuclear deal work, the Government may abandon strategic programs such as the FBR and coal gasification for lack of funds. They would rather the Government continue with these programs than invest in new nuclear reactors. While the scientists are well justified in warning the government against abandoning strategic projects, it is incorrect to say that the nation can wait for the arrival of these technologies which are at best experimental without any promise about their commercial viability. There is no need for the country to choose one over the other and perhaps this is why the government is planning to invite private participation which is very good idea provided there are enough clauses to protect the health and safety of the people and punitive or compensatory measures for non-compliance.
India and several other countries are working on several futuristic projects based on energy.