Power Situation May Turn Critical
URGENT ENERGY SECURITY PLAN NEEDED
By Shivaji Sarkar
New Delhi, March 24, 2011
The tsunami has brought nuclear catastrophe to Japan but it
is likely to take India several decades back in its energy
security plan. Thus, it calls for a new power policy with
stress on de-centralised renewable energy.
Importantly, nuclear energy has never been either a safe or
economic option. The Fukushima tragedy has effectively proved
it. Clearly, as the nuclear energy policy has to go for a
review, limited availability of coal could trip mega power
plans. An acute shortage of domestic coal is threatening to
destabilise new power generation projects in which developers
have already invested about Rs 75,000 crore.
The country has not shown much interest in creating clusters
of renewable energy projects except for cosmetic purposes. It
has reduced allocation for renewable energy research by Rs 42
crore from Rs 119 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 77 crore in 2011-12.
The allocations on this head have been measly always.
The Labour Government in the UK has recently faced severe
criticism for jettisoning alternative energy programmes and
trying to promote large nuclear programmes largely on the
coasts. The Government has been accused of collusion with
large firms to promote nuclear energy at the cost of public
safety. It has been blamed of sabotaging offshore alternative
Though the Government in India has not done anything like
that, yet its unwillingness to promote renewable energy
sources on the plea that whether solar photo-voltaic or wind
are not viable economic options raises questions about the
intentions of the Government.
The thermal and nuclear power lobbies are strong enough to
pressurise the Government to formulate policies in their
favour. Plan after plan, the country has missed targets for
creation of installed capacity. The Eleventh Plan would not be
an exception and even it would be far from the target in the
Twelfth Plan. By 2012, the Government has set a target of
capacity addition of 78,000 MW. The addition would be less
than half of it.
The country’s policy of reliance on large capital-intensive
power projects is questionable. Many power projects are unable
to meet their plant load factor (PLF). The overall PLF of
thermal power stations during April-December 2010 at 71 per
cent was less than what was achieved in 2009 at 76 per cent. A
major reason has been the constriction on coal supply.
The new capacity of 15,000 mw is likely to be stranded for
want of coal. Coal India Ltd (CIL) promised to supply 92
million tonnes of (mt) of fuel to these projects. Most of
these were expected to be operational over the next one year.
The CIL now says it can deliver only 13 mt. The available coal
which needs to be blended with imported coal could produce
barely 3000 mw of power.
The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has told the power
developer that it could not help them out. Even the import of
coal would not be of much help. Domestic coal production could
not increase as the Environment Ministry has not cleared 15
mining projects that could produce 210 mt.
The amendment to India’s nuclear law to facilitate US
companies do business here is in their interest only. Being
out of business in their home country, the Indo-US nuclear
deal provided them a life-saving device. If New Delhi allows
them to go ahead with light water reactors (LWR) of the
Fukushima kind, it should remain prepared for the repeat,
possibly a worse one, of the Bhopal-type tragedy caused by the
US company, Union Carbide.
A major objection to such reactors has been their high
requirement of water. It has been one of the reasons for
erecting nuclear plants near the sea. But the risks that
sea-side reactors like Fukushima face from natural disasters
are well-known. Indeed, this became evident six years ago,
when the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 inundated
India's second-largest nuclear complex, shutting down the
Madras power station (MAPS). Even plants in Britain are
situated just a few metres above sea level.
The nuclear plants are also not eco-friendly as they are
touted to be. The huge quantities of water that LWRs consume
for their operations become hot-water outflows, which are
pumped back into rivers, lakes, and oceans raising water
temperature telling heavily on aqua life.
Besides, the fuel, uranium, is in short supply from domestic
sources. And international prices are high. Thus, its
operation cost is higher and not low as the nuclear industry
propagates. Another perpetual cost is managing the waste for
at least 5,000 years. A difficult proposition that Fukushima
blasts has exposed. Much of the Fukushima radiation is from
the exposed waste dumps.
Indian nuclear operations so far are limited, whether in
research or power projects. Further, these are operated by
Government agencies, which adhere to high safety norms. The
foreign companies compromise on these aspects for raking in
In the present Budget, there has been moderate rise in
allocation to Rs 7602 crore from Rs 6534 crore. But the raise
is mostly for research purposes. No proposal for generation
has been made. It has to come, as per Government plans, from
foreign investors along with all its risks.
As of now a thaw is certain. The thrust in the course of time
has to be new energy sources. The claim that renewable
alternatives are an illusion is at variance with facts.
Germany has installed more wind power capacity than the entire
current UK nuclear capacity and is adding to it at a rate
equivalent to more than one new reactor a year. In 2009 alone
Germany installed solar photo-voltaic systems with capacity
equivalent to approximately four nuclear reactors, and it
looks like the 2010 figures will be much higher.
India needs to learn from proper quarters and need not succumb
to US pressures to formulate its power policy. The lack of
thrust is preventing the alternative energy sector from
thriving. Large companies and distributing agencies would of
course not like the new energy concept as each housing cluster
could create their own system and ultimately democratize the
This could also give rise to local level small service
industries. This would again be an anathema for large monopoly
houses. Limitation of natural resources, be it coal or uranium
has to force mankind to look for dependable non-toxic energy
options. The cartels may delay the process as they are doing
in UK but they cannot prevent it.
In sum, India may remain a laggard again as it has been in
many developments, if it does not learn from the experiences
of countries like Germany. ---- INFA
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)