Sunday, October 20, 2013

NUCLEAR POWER AT WHAT COST?????

With the never ending quest for more and more comforts for man, the energy requirements of our globe are growing up rather fast. The advances in science and technology have on one hand given us access to comforts and luxuries of life. At the same time it has given mankind the much needed insight into the various cycles of nature that maintain the balance so very essential for the very existence of life.
Rapid industrialization and inventions of motorized means of transport have revolutionized our lives. All this more or less through intensive use of fossil fuels has increased the pollution levels many many folds. The increased respiratory disorders among the populace, the greatly worrisome associated phenomenon of global warming and the limited fossil fuel resources of the globe has set the mankind thinking on the future course of action.
In this context, two new terms for energy resources have emerged. Firstly renewable/ infinite sources of energy such as sun,wind, ocean, hydro, bio fuels, biomass etc. and secondly clean sources of energy such as solar, wind, ocean, nuclear etc.. It does not require any rocket science to understand and conclude that future energy security of all nations must be based on the following considerations.

  • The first and foremost requirement of a viable energy security solution is that it should be a clean source  capable of producing energy in a clean manner without any contribution to the biggest worry of  global warming. Surprisingly the much touted clean nuclear power results in up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered.
  • The source must be eternal and have the capacity to last for thousands of years so that the researches and technology development efforts can lead to an eternally valid solution like the invention of wheel. 
  • All processes involved in utilizing an energy source for producing energy right from mineral stage to fuel extraction, power plant wastes and spent fuel disposal should be absolutely safe for humanity. In addition there should be zero chance of catastrophic accidents. In fact  Nuclear fuels are a curse on humanity from the stage of ore to fuel elements to waste.
  • Lastly, the power production costs should be competitive with power from other sources. Nuclear power has always been touted as mankind’s finest invention to produce power at cheap prices without significantly harming the environment. However, a closer analysis reveals that it continues to remain one of the most expensive enterprises in the world, requiring constant subsidies and governmental support to ensure its continuous survival. Besides the manipulations regarding  ignoring costs of decommissioning, dismantling  and  nuclear waste disposal which are very very high, all governments and companies selling this technology are absolutely silent on the aspect of huge liabilities arising out of a catastrophic accident. A worst-case scenario study in 1997 by the Brookhaven National Laboratory estimated that a major accident could cost $566 billion in damages and cause 143,000 possible deaths. Another such study, by Sandia National Laboratories in 1982, calculated the possible costs at $314 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that would put both estimates close to the trillion dollar range today.
  • The typical gestation period for a 1 GW nuclear plant is anything between 10-15 years many times involving further cost escalations and time over runs whereas a solar power plant of the same magnitude  could be functional in 1 year time. Imagine the value addition to the national GDP that will come through this 1 GW of power available for additional 9-14 years. This certainly is a win win situation for any nation.
In spite of all these facts about nuclear power regarding the cost of power, how clean is its implementation and the magnitude of catastrophe that can befall a nation in case of a major accident, it is not understood why people are enameled for nuclear power option when better sound options are available. Indian policy makers seem to be guided 
  • Either by their whims and fancies 
  • Or they are overawed by this complicated and sophisticated accident/catastrophe prone yet lucrative technology of taming atomic fission phenomenon.
  • Or perhaps in their opinion solar technology cannot deliver because of its shear simplicity.In fact solar is simple and must be kept simple to retain its edge and that is the beauty.