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CounterCurrents.Org (India) : Who Benefits From Nuclear Power Plants In India ?

jeudi 2 août 2012

Who Benefits From Nuclear Power Plants In India ?
By Buddhi Kota Subbarao. Ph.D., 02 August, 2012

The rest of the world is moving towards renewable energy and away from nuclear power. But India is pouring most of its energy budget into establishing more and more nuclear power plants. It raises two compelling questions. Why is the present Union Government of India committing an enormous portion of its energy budget to imported nuclear power plants ? Who benefits from these nuclear power plants ?

The answers to these questions are not difficult to find. The secrecy that surrounds nuclear issues affords the Union Government to deal with vast sums of money in an easy way. Corrupt practices in the nuclear field do not get exposed as easily as in other fields. Big money and political ambitions go hand in hand. This is one part of the answer. The other part is the way the Indian nuclear establishment functions.

Indian nuclear establishment has some unique features. Pursuit is more for administrative power and less for knowledge in science and technology. Consequently, pretence to knowledge grew over the years. Accountability is conspicuous by its absence. Mediocre results and at times even nil results are proclaimed as outstanding achievements. The cleverness of the Indian nuclear establishment is from the way it can claim indigenous development and at the same time devise methods to import foreign technology.

On account of the reluctance of the national media, print and electronic, to take up investigative journalism in the nuclear field as effectively as it has been taking up in other fields, the Indian public has been deprived of a fair and full opportunity to know the true face of the Indian nuclear establishment.

As a result, Indian people are not adequately equipped to make a critical analysis of the claims of their nuclear establishment. If the establishment claims all our nuclear power plants are safe, it is believed. If the establishment declares there is no radiation pollution in and around Indian nuclear installations and power plants, it is simply believed, though it is not true in reality. Several instances can be cited which betray the make believe necessity of nuclear electricity and also the make believe nuclear safety in India. [1], [1a], [1b], [1c], [1d], [1e].

Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy Deployment

According to World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012, the growth of nuclear power is on the decline and the renewable energy development is on the rise.

Indian energy planners should take note of the vivid picture on the investment in renewable energy, as presented by the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012,

“Global investment in renewable energy totalled US$260 billion in 2011, up five percent from the previous year and almost five times the 2004 amount. Considering a 50 percent unit price drop over the past year, the performance of solar photovoltaics (PV) with US$137 billion worth of new installations, an increase of 36 percent, is all the more impressive. The total cumulative investment in renewables has risen to over US$1 trillion since 2004, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, this compares to our estimate of nuclear power investment decisions of approximately $120 billion over the same time period. The rise and fall of nuclear investments is essentially due to the evolution of the Chinese program, with 40 percent of current worldwide construction. “ [2]

On the installed capacities of different energy sources, World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012, has recorded,

“ Installed worldwide nuclear capacity decreased in the years 1998, 2006, 2009 and again in 2011, while the annual installed wind power capacity increased by 41 GW ( GW stands for gigawatt or thousand megawatt) in 2011 alone. China constitutes an accelerated version of this global pattern. Installed wind power capacity grew by a factor of 50 in the past five years to reach close to 63 GW, five times more than the installed nuclear capacity and equivalent to the French nuclear fleet. Solar capacity was multiplied by a factor of 47 in those five years to reach 3.8 GW, while nuclear capacity increased by a factor of 1.5 to 12 GW. Since 2000, within the European Union nuclear capacity decreased by 14 GW, while 142 GW of renewable capacity was installed, 18 percent more than natural gas with 116 GW .” [2]

Giving a comparison of the electricity produced by different sources, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012 explains,

“ The quantity of electricity produced by nuclear power plants globally has been increased only slightly over the past decade and as a result its contribution to the global energy mix is decreasing as other sources accelerate production. In 2011 wind turbines produced 330 TWh (TW stands for terawatt or thousand gigawatt) more electricity than it did at the turn of the century, which is a four times greater increase than was achieved by the nuclear sector over the same period. The growth in solar PV generated power has been impressive in the last decade and especially in the past few years, with a tenfold increase in the past five years. In Germany, for the first time, power production from renewables at 122 TWh (gross), only second to the contribution of lignite 153 TWh, exceeded coal’s 114.5 TWh, nuclear power’s 102 TWh and natural gas’ 84 TWh. The German renewable electricity generation thus corresponded to 29 percent of French nuclear production. One should recall that France generates almost half of the European Union’s nuclear electricity. In China, just five years ago, nuclear plants were producing ten times as much electricity as wind, by 2011 the difference had shrunk to less than 30 percent .” [2]

German solar power producers have set a new world record in solar energy production by pumping 14.7 TWh of electricity into the power grid during the first 6 months of 2012. That’s 4.5% of the total power production during that period. Considering that solar power isn’t base-load power , those TWh’s came in the form of valuable peak-load power covering 10-50% of peak demand every day. This record also represents a 50% increase over solar power production during the same period in 2011, something that becomes strikingly obvious considering that photovoltaic power produced a total of 19 TWh’s during the 12 months of 2011. [3]

While the approximately 1.2 million “solar power plants” owned by households and businesses in Germany are producing clean energy from sunshine in record numbers, new solar systems are also being installed throughout the country. Between January and April, 2012 another 73,756 solar power systems with a combined capacity of 2,328 MW were installed, according to numbers published by the Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency). This should put the cumulative installed solar power capacity in Germany at approximately 28 GW as we enter the second half of 2012 (that’s more than China’s 2015 target of 21 GW ). [3]

Thus it is clear, the worldwide trend is to place more emphasis on renewable energy and reduce reliance on nuclear power. But India under the present Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh with his obsession to make the Indo-US nuclear deal a grand success, is committing a colossal part of India’s energy budget to nuclear electricity. That raises the question ‘who benefits from the imported nuclear power plants in India ?’

If the people of India are the real beneficiaries of these imported nuclear reactors then where is the need for harassment and registration of criminal cases against the people expressing peacefully and in a democratic way their fears of likely dangers to their lives and livelihood from the two Russian VVER type reactors 1000 MWe each at Koodankulam in the east coast with estimated cost over Rs.15,000 crores and against the people at Jaitapur in the west coast expressing peacefully their fears of loss and destruction likely to be caused from the proposed six 1650 MWe each European Pressurised Reactors (EPR), designed and manufactured by French nuclear company Areva the cost of which is estimated to be over Rs. 2,00,000 crores. Would it not be a more prudent approach to commit all such huge sums of money to renewable energies like hydro, solar, wind, geothermal and energy-saving schemes, instead of investing in nuclear electricity where the dangers to all forms of life on earth are real and inescapable ?

The arbitrariness apparent on the face of the record in the method and the manner of arresting and instituting criminal cases against people opposing nuclear electricity in India makes it clear that it was primarily to prevent any kind of legitimate protest or difference of opinion against the nuclear power plants.

The March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown in Japan and worldwide spread of radiation has shattered public confidence in atomic energy in every country including India.

The experience from Chernobyl nuclear accident in April 1986 in former USSR and from the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011 in Japan has crystallised the nuclear business axiom that a nuclear accident anywhere is an accident everywhere.

To lull the fears arising from Fukushima nuclear crisis, Dr. M.R. Srinivasan, Member & Former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) of India, raised and answered the question, “Is there an alternative to Kudankulam ?” [4].

Srinivasan’s conclusion is, there is no alternative but to go ahead with the commissioning of the two Russian VVER type 1000 MWe nuclear reactors at Koodankulam in the Southern State of Tamilnadu and also to go ahead with all other proposed such imported nuclear power plants.

Dr.Srinivasan considers, one by one, the available alternatives- natural gas from Krishna-Godavari basin and the Kaveri basin ; wind power ; solar energy ; hydro power and coal. Analysing the economics of each one them, he concludes that none of them can meet India’s energy requirement as adequately as nuclear power.

While one can appreciate Dr.Srinivasan’s effort to muster facts and figures in support of nuclear electricity, one cannot ignore the crucial errors in his facts and reasoning.

Economics of nuclear electricity

Conspicuously absent from Dr.Srinivasan’s economic analysis, tout­ing nuclear power’s potential as a solution to global warming, is any mention of the enormous costs of the entire nuclear fuel cycle, spent fuel permanent storage costs and the colossal decommissioning costs, let alone the costs to meet with the accidents of the Fukushima type in Japan.

The political support to the nuclear power plants in India rests largely, on an uncritical acceptance of the economic claims of the senior scientists, serving as well as retired, from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and also, on an incomplete understanding of the various inherent unaccounted costs that made—and continue to make—the existing nuclear power fleet possible.

Such blind acceptance of the proclaimed merits of nuclear power is a major hurdle in moving towards more cost-effective efforts to combat climate change. A fair comparison of the available options for reducing heat-trapping carbon emissions while generating electricity requires con­sideration not only of the costs of building nuclear plants and their associated infrastructure but also of the public subsidies given to the industry in various forms.

According to Dr.Srinivasan, “Krishna-Godavari gas will not be available for power generation in South India. Gas available in the Kaveri basin is very limited in quantity and is now supporting a small generation capacity. The only gas in South India can be liquefied natural gas (LNG), which can be imported from the Middle East, Australia, Indonesia or Malaysia. ,”.

Going by such a view of his, Srinivasan makes price comparison and concludes, “ At $ 8 to 9 per million BTU, gas based power will be Rs. 6 or more per kWh – more than twice the cost of power from Kudankulam, estimated to be well below Rs. 3/- per kWh. ”.

This analysis and conclusion of Dr.Srinivasan in May 2012, ruling out natural gas as a viable alternative, is a gross misrepresentation and the analysis is outdated.

The analysis of Srinivasan on the viability of natural gas is erroneous and outdated because it is in conflict with the latest assessment of Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric , one of the world’s largest suppliers of atomic equipment.

Truth about the cost of nuclear power has recently come out from the horse’s mouth. Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric , one of the world’s largest suppliers of atomic equipment told the Financial Times in an interview in London during the last week of July 2012 that the nuclear power is so expensive compared with other forms of energy that it has become “really hard” to justify.

“It’s really a gas and wind world today,” said Jeff Immelt,

“It’s just hard to justify nuclear, really hard. Gas is so cheap and at some point, really, economics rule,” Mr Immelt told the Financial Times.

“So I think some combination of gas, and either wind or solar … that’s where we see most countries around the world going.” said Immelt [5]

While the CEO of GE, Jeff Immelt, said in July 2012 that the nuclear is “really hard to justify”, the CMD of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd., (NPCIL), Kailash Chandra Purohit had said publicly in an interview in June 2012 that the reactors of GE & Hitachi would constitute the nuclear power park (10000 MWe) at Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh.

In the same interview, CMD of NPCIL, K C Purohit confirms “during the 12th Plan (2012-17) , nuclear projects of 16,100 Mw will be launched, comprising 5,600 Mw through eight units of pressurised heavy water reactors of 700 Mw, and 10,500 Mw through eight units of light water reactors of 1,000 Mw or more. A capacity of 4,800 Mw will be added by NPC by the end of 2017. In addition, the first prototype 500 Mw reactor will also be operational by Bhavini, another public sector unit under the department of atomic energy. This will raise the nuclear power capacity in operation to 10,080 Mw from the present 4,780 Mw.” [5a].

Purohit goes on to state in the interview in June 2012 , “Besides, we are engaged in techno-commercial discussions with Areva for the Jaitapur project in Maharashtra, with GE & Hitachi for Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh, and with Westinghouse for Mithi Virdhi, Gujarat. We have given a relief and rehabilitation package for the Jaitapur project to the Maharashtra government, which is expected to make the necessary announcement.’ [5a]

In the analysis of Dr.M.R.Srinivasan, member & former chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) on the viability of natural gas, there is a sub-story. Having touched on the natural gas production potential of Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin , Dr.Srinivasan, advertently or inadvertently, stirred a simmering public debate on the management of KG (Krishna Godavari) basin by the Reliance Industries Limited (RIL). It is a strange coincidence that Dr.Srinivasan based his argument on an issue which has become contentious due to some recent revelations on the disturbing picture arising from the sifting of the numbers concerning the developed reserves of the KG basin being managed by RIL.

Proven reserves of natural gas in KG basin on the east coast of India have mysteriously declined.

“The broader picture is more dismal. The total developed reserves of the D6 block have seen substantial erosion in reserves potential - from 4.2 trillion cubic feet (tcf) at the beginning of 2011-12 to 1.5 tcf at the closing of the year.” [4a]

“Reliance Industries’ flagging KG-D6 gas block holds 80 per cent less reserves than previously estimated, the firm’s junior partner Niko Resources of Canada said.
Proved plus probable reserves at Krishna Godavari basin D6 block has decreased to 1.93 Trillion cubic feet from about 9.65 Tcf previous estimate, Niko said in a statement.” [4b]

All these disturbing facts about the alterations in the proven reserves of natural gas in KG basin on the east coast of India are reminiscent of the similar disturbing facts noticed by the Controller and Auditor General of India in the nineties when the proven reserves of over thirty million metric tons of oil in Panna-Mukta oil fields on the west coast were shown to be only about fourteen million metric tons of oil while, as a result of privatization policy, a Reliance - Enron consortium gained a 25-year lease of the oil field in February 1994.

How the proven reserves of oil in Panna-Mukta fields discovered by the Indian state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), who initially even operated the fields could witness a fall from around thirty million metric tons to around fourteen million metric tons suddenly when the oil fields went into the private hands of Reliance - Enron consortium was not resolved satisfactorily and the whole process remained as unconscionable in the mind of the public. Consequently, Indian Nation suffered a huge loss from the privatisation of oil fields. Therefore, there is a need in the national interest for a CBI inquiry into the alteration of the proven reserves of natural gas in Krishna-Godavari basin.

Moreover, among low-carbon energy sources, the nuclear power brings with it burdensome economic, waste disposal, safety, and security risks. This unique detrimental feature of the nuclear power has been highlighted in a detailed study in the United States by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) where it is concluded in their report, “Shifting these risks and their associated costs onto the public is the major goal of the new subsidies sought by the industry (just as it was in the past), and by not incorporating these costs into its estimates, the industry presents a skewed economic picture of nuclear power’s value compared with other low-carbon power sources.” A definite finding of this study is “Nuclear Power - Still Not Viable without Subsidies.” [6].

In India, Dr.Srinivasan has no hesitation to rely on such a “skewed economic picture of nuclear power”, to arrive at his untenable conclusions. If one can avoid such a “skewed economic picture of nuclear power”, in India, one is bound to pronounce, “Yes ! There are Alternatives” to the proposed nuclear power parks at Koodankulam, Jaitapur, Kovvada, Mithi Virdhi, Haripur and other places in India.

In the United States, the nuclear industry and its allies are now pressuring all levels of US government for large new subsidies to support the construction and operation of a new generation of reactors and fuel-cycle facili­ties.

While it may be necessary in the United States for the private nuclear business houses to make strenuous efforts to realise large subsidies, in India it is easy for the government controlled Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) to obtain all the necessary funds for the asking of it since the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) of the Central Government is under the direct control of the Prime Minister who is the Executive head of the central government.

But it will be an eye opener for the Indians to know the contents of the report of Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) where the UCS report catalogued in one place and for the first time the full range of subsidies that benefit the nuclear power sector in the United States. The findings are strik­ing : “since its inception more than 50 years ago, the nuclear power industry has benefited—and con­tinues to benefit—from a vast array of preferential government subsidies. Indeed, as Figure ES-1 (p. 2 of the report) shows, subsidies to the nuclear fuel cycle have often exceeded the value of the power produced. This means that buying power on the open market and giving it away for free would have been less costly than subsidizing the construction and opera­tion of nuclear power plants. Subsidies to new reactors are on a similar path.” [6].

Indian Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh who is considered to be an expert economist should not fail to notice the lessons from the report of Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) where the economics of nuclear electricity are discussed threadbare.

Nuclear electricity is not viable without government subsidy in several forms, known and unknown. A 1954 advertisement from General Electric stated that, “In five years—certainly within ten,” civilian reactors would be “privately financed, built without government subsidy.” That day never arrived and, despite industry claims to the con­trary, remains as elusive as ever. [6]

The nuclear industry in every country is only able to portray itself as a low-cost power supplier because of the government subsidies and write-offs.

India can certainly move away from nuclear and build its base power from renewables including hydro, wind and solar. There is no need to clamour for nuclear electricity only because France has 78% and Japan had 30% pre-Fukushima of its power from nuclear. France and Japan do not have hydro and solar potential comparable to India. At present India has only less than 3% of its electricity from nuclear. This is the right time to phase out nuclear power in India instead of climbing more on nuclear power curve and realising at some later date that it is difficult to reduce the dependency on nuclear as Japan is realising now after its economy got badly hit and with the looming burden of clean- up of radiation contamination and the resettlement of displaced people from the Fukushima Diaiichi nuclear crisis.

There are right reasons to dispense with nuclear energy. Atomic power plants are expensive to build and operate. The cost of the entire fuel cycle, the hidden costs, subsidies, decommissioning costs and the costs to secure the spent fuel should all be considered to know how costly the atomic power plants are. Very high levels of safety are required and it seems almost impossible to avoid human error. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima happened because of human error.

Thus, basically, we can find enough reasons, based on facts and common sense not to use nuclear energy. Fear of radiation need not be the sole reason to shun atomic power plants, though scientific studies have confirmed harmful effects of nuclear radiation.

US Government subsidies have been directed to every part of the nuclear fuel cycle. The most significant forms of support have had four main goals : reducing the cost of capital, labour, and land (i.e., factors of production), masking the true costs of producing nuclear energy (“intermediate inputs”), shifting security and accident risks to the public, and shift­ing long-term operating risks (decommissioning and waste management) to the public. A new category of subsidy, “output-linked support,” is directed at reducing the price of power produced. [6]

Reactor owners in the United States, therefore, have never been economically responsible for the full costs and risks of their operations. Instead, the public faces the prospect of severe losses in the event of any number of potential adverse scenarios, while pri­vate investors reap the rewards if nuclear plants are economically successful. “For all practical purposes, nuclear power’s economic gains are privatized, while its risks are socialized.” [6]. India is now heading to land in such a situation. Thanks ! to the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Buddhi Kota Subbarao is former Indian Navy Captain with Ph.D in nuclear technology from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay . As an advocate of Supreme Court of India, he successfully argued several public interest petitions before Indian Courts. His e-mail address :

© Copyright : Author.

References :

[1] Whether Ordinance On Self-Denial Of Nuclear Power Harmful To India ?

By Buddhi Kota Subbarao. Ph.D

11 June, 2012

(1a) Koodankulam Nuclear Plant : Jayalalitha Is Consciously Missing A Historic Opportunity

(1b) Should The Koodankulam Power Nuclear Plant Be Commissioned Or Abandoned ?

(1c) Need To Revisit The Role Of Nuclear Power For India ’s Energy Security

(1d) Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant Is Destined To Reset The Nuclear Priorities In India

(1e) Indo-US Nuclear Deal- Some Unexplored Angles
[2] The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012 ,

[3] Germany Sets a New Solar Power Record – 14.7 TWh in 6 months

[4] “ M R Srinivasan : Is there an alternative to Kudankulam ?” , May 06, 2012, Business Standard,
[4a] “RIL’s developed reserves in D6 have halved”

[4b] RIL’s KG-D6 has 80 per cent less reserves than estimated : Niko

[5] “Nuclear ‘hard to justify’, says GE chief”

[5a] “We have learnt a lesson from Kudankulam : Kailash Chandra Purohit”

[6] “Nuclear Power - Still Not Viable without Subsidies .”, Union of Concerned Scientists, February 2011 .

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