Saturday, September 24, 2011

Koodankulum - nuclear power plant

The debate on nuclear power and koodankulam needs to be viewed from several angles.

1. Nuclear Fission power generation is decreasing in countries that started using them first.
The use of nuclear power has been decreasing in relative terms with respect to other forms of energy generation, due to economics of power plant construction and operational costs. By various mechanisms nuclear power is heavily subsidised.  The US produces more than 1,00,000 MW of nuclear power from more than 100 power plants but it is only around 20% of their power usage. France produces around 60,000 MW but it is around 75% of the country's usage. India produces less than 10,000MW and is only about 2% of the country's electricity usage.
In the US there have been no new reactors built for more than 30 years. The plants have been modified or given life extensions. The Indo-US nuclear deal which opens up the Indian power sector for the US Nuclear Industry has to be viewed in this background.
The number of power plants peaked worldover in the 1970s and declined with a slight resurgence recently. 26 years after Chernobyl, the fukushima incident has raised issues in many countries. The only countries of the world without nuclear powerplants (built or being built) are Australia and Central African countries.

In environmental terms, on a daily basis the nuclear fission power plants are less damaging than thermal coal power plants. Water discharge into
the sea by the power plants cause less damage than discharge of sewage and chemical plants.

2. Renewable energy - wind, solar, sea - use for power generation are not as efficient as nuclear energy.  The regionality, seasonality and time-dependency makes it necessary to have power storage options, like batteries. Disposal of used solar cells, batteries etc make the technology not so 'green' as advertised. The use of  renewable sources for energy generation is growing but not sufficiently rapidly due to science and technology limitations. Increased research is needed to overcome the problem of efficiency of conversion. Biological systems do the conversion of solar or wind power into chemical energy very efficiently.

3. Coal (and older oil) based power plants are economically feasible. The technology is well developed and accessible to all countries. But, the resources are limited and there is lot of political and economic control that prevents their being available at low cost. The coal power plants damage the environment severely on a day to day basis.

4. Hydel power projects are possible only where there is sufficient water flow. Moreover, the dams that are required often result in submergence of large areas of land.

5. Nuclear fusion power that drives our Sun and other stars is clean, efficient technology. Biological energy generation systems that have evolved are clean and efficient. But we are nowhere near harnessing these technologies. We need more research and understanding of the mechanisms.

6. So where do we go for power now?
We need to use the available power generation technologies wisely. Given our current science and technology, any project be it house building or roads or chemical / power / anyother industries leads to alteration of environment and livelihood effects. The answer is not to say 'no' to use of available technology but to find out how best we can minimise the damages, develop an open and transparent human friendly system of sharing resources, environment, livelihood capacities.  We need power plants that use the safest and cleanest technologies available currently. Ultimately we need to change our development perspectives, so that as a nation and as a world our power dependency is not inequal and skewed.

I know these are general views but it is necessary that we revisit our world views whenever we get stuck in our local issues.

I hope this helps us to view the koodankulum issue with a better perspective.


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