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The Biggest Hurdle In India’s Nuclear Energy Push

Nuclear energy is, for now, playing a minuscule role in India’s energy story, contributing to about 2 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

But nuclear power generation in India is a story that is set to grow.

India is looking at adding another 5.4 GW to the nuclear power plants in the next decade, adding to the current total output of 6.7 GW.

But new nuclear plants have been opposed by the local populace in almost every part of the country where they have been proposed to be set up.

Now, an in-principle approval given by the Indian government to initiate exploratory mining for more uranium across the two southern provinces of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has locals up in arms.

The location also includes a nature reserve not only rich in flora and fauna, but also with a large tiger population. The technical go-ahead was given a few months back for Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) to begin exploration for uranium, but an earlier protest led to a temporary pause in the process.

Andhra Pradesh is the largest producer of uranium in India. Tummalapalle village, located in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, is considered to have one of the largest uranium reserves in the world.

Next to the mine there is a processing plant that converts the uranium ore into sodium diuranate for use in nuclear power plants. Over the years, local farmers and environmentalists have alleged that it had led to the contamination of soil and groundwater, in addition to the destruction of water bodies. Related: Oil Prices Tank On Global Recession Fears

A rethink by the government to go ahead with the fresh exploration has once again raised the hackles of environmentalists in India, who argue that whatever the procedure used to extract uranium, the wholesale mining for uranium would produce large amounts of radioactive waste that would pollute a major river nearby (as well as the surrounding areas).

They claim even if the waste is treated before disposal, uranium mining can still lead to the contamination of water and soil, eventually harming the flora and fauna of the region.

Officials of the Atomic Minerals Directorate tried to take samples after drilling a bore well for exploration and research, but were prevented by villagers, according to the News Minute.

The villagers have also been joined by opposition parties in the protests.

India’s nuclear plants are controlled by Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), a state-owned corporation. India currently has seven nuclear power plants, but there are plans to add more.

But toward that goal, the government faces an uphill task.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a conference by the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York that India was unable to drastically reduce its dependence on coal for electricity generation. India, incidentally, has the third-highest coal reserves in the world.

The prime minister partially blamed the dependence on coal on being kept out of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Related: What Would Greta Thunberg's Dream World Look Like?

It is only because India is not part of this group that India does not have an assured supply of nuclear fuel, Modi told the audience.

Compared to other countries, India’s coal generation is expected to grow into the late 2030s, according to BloombergNEF.

Of late, India has been scouting around for nuclear fuel suppliers. India and Uzbekistan recently signed a deal for long-term supply of uranium to power its domestic atomic reactors. Kazakhstan and Russia are already supplying the same to India, while there are plans to also purchase the fuel from Australia.

First found in 2000, the uranium reserves in the province of Andhra Pradesh were officially commissioned in 2012 and equipped to cater to 25 percent of the requirement of uranium in India’s nuclear power plants.

The total reserves of uranium oxide in the divided Andhra Pradesh reached about 122,000 tons in 2017.

By AG Metal Miner

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on October 05 2019 said:
    With seven nuclear power plants, nuclear energy contributed only just over 1% to India’s primary energy needs in 2018 compared with 56% for coal, 6% for natural gas and 3% for renewables.

    There is a huge scope in India for generating electricity from natural gas and solar power rather than from nuclear power.

    From now until 2022, India is expected to be one of three countries accounting for two thirds of global renewable energy. (China and the U.S. are the other two). Moreover, there are plans being considered by Russia and India for building a pipeline to transport Russian natural gas supplies to India as an extension of the Power of Siberia gas pipeline which is already delivering 38 bcm/y of Russian natural gas per year to China.

    Therefore, electricity generated from Russian-supplied natural gas and LNG plus solar electricity could be a better option for India than building new nuclear power plants from an economic and environmental considerations.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • James Hopf on October 07 2019 said:
    The article correctly cites public/political opposition as the main barrier. The question being, who incited all that opposition. The fossil fuel industry? Foreign "environmental" groups who are (consciously or not) serving the interests of the fossil fuel industry?

    A telling sign of how absurd and biased things are is the complaints about local nuclear plants or (even) uranium mining. No such protests with solar and wind? Despite the fact that such impacts (mining, etc..) per kW-hr generated are far *larger* for solar and wind then the are for nuclear? In India they even had protests over a nuclear plant's land use, when nuclear uses, by far, the least land, and solar and wind use the most (~100 times that of nuclear).

    And then there is the interrmittent nature of solar and wind, and their dependence on fossil sources like gas when the sun isn't shining and wind isn't blowing. Thus, that non-nuclear alternative risks locking in a huge amount of fossil fuel use over the long term. More air pollution, more CO2. As Dr. Salameh says in his own post, the alternative relies heavily on imported Russian gas. He's telling the truth there, but his assertion that such an alternative, which relies heavily on fossil (gas) is environmentally superior is utterly false.

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