The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: Before India expands its nuclear programme, problems at current plants must be fixed

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story: Nuclear woes

India on Wednesday embarked on the biggest expansion of its nuclear power footprint yet. The Union Cabinet cleared 10 new nuclear power plants, each with a capacity of 700 MW (mega watts of electricity). This will more than double India’s current nuclear power capacity of 6,780 MW.

The impulse for the expansion is obvious. In January, the draft national electricity plan of the Central Electricity Authority estimated that India’s peak power demand will increase to 690 GW (giga watts of electricity) by 2035 from the current 153 GW.

Nuclear power is widely regarded as a cleaner source of energy than fossil fuels like coal. Unlike renewable energy sources such as solar power which needs large tracts of land, nuclear plants work on a smaller area to produce larger amounts of power. They have been marketed as the cheapest alternative to coal-based generation plants.

However, the story of nuclear plants in India has been fraught with delays, opacity and large-scale local dissatisfaction. Nothing exemplifies this better than the Kudankulam facility in Tamil Nadu. The project was announced in 2002 and was supposed to produce electricity by 2007. Instead, the reactor began functioning only in 2012, five years behind its original schedule.

Not just this, the Kudankulam plant perhaps remains the most inefficient of India’s nuclear plants. As per official data, in 2014, the plant functioned for only half the potential hours it could have clocked up. Between April 2015 and January 2016, the plant worked at only 20% of its capacity. The performance of some other facilities has been equally poor.

In addition, India’s nuclear plants do not function transparently. Most technical information relating to the plants are beyond public scrutiny owing to security concerns. In 2016, for example, a leak was reported in the Kakrapar plant in Gujarat, but the extent of the leak still remains a mystery.

Finally, as witnessed in Kudankulam in 2011 , communities in many parts of India have rejected proposals to have nuclear plants constructed in their backyard. These protesters have been dealt with force and state action, with some even made to face sedition cases.

Without addressing the concerns about the safety and efficiency of India’s existing nuclear plants, the government’s large-scale nuclear expansion will only invite further distrust.

The Big Scroll

  • Nityanand Jayaraman writes on why India wants to import US reactors that even people in the US are not keen to use. 
  • Kumar Sundaram on the mystery surrounding the Kakrapar nuclear plant leaks in 2016. 

Punditry

  1. Nilanjan Ghosh in the Businessline says the lack of scientific data has hindered the Teesta water sharing accord between India and Bangladesh. 
  2. In the Indian Express, Khalid Anis Ansari explainswhy blanket reservations for Muslims in Telengana without considering the class differences within the community could be disastrous. 
  3. In The Hindu, Meera Srinivasan traces the history and political isolation of plantation Tamils in Sri Lanka – Indian migrants who crossed the water to work on tea plantations during British rule. 

Giggles

Don’t miss

Arunabh Saikia reports on how a rumour about spread of impotency through a vaccine caused panic in Assam.

“‘It turns out that the “news” Nooressa Begum watched was a video clip circulated via WhatsApp. ‘I received this video about an RSS injection on a WhatsApp group,’ said Samsul Haq, a resident of Hatigaon who works as a driver with an online cab service, referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Haq claimed that everyone he knew had received the same video. ‘My neighbour’s two girls have stopped going to school because the parents are scared,’ he added.”

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India’s vulnerability to natural disasters

The UN report lists India as third among the countries hit by the highest number of weather related disasters in the past decade. The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in its Annual Disaster Review for 2014 also listed India among the five countries most frequently hit by natural disasters.

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Ensuring power supply during natural contingencies

When typhoon Rammasun hit Guangdong in China, more than 70,000 concrete and metal poles collapsed. Earlier, in the aftermath of the massive Chuetsu earthquake in Japan in 2004, about 3,400 utility poles supporting communication cables were broken or toppled.

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There have been other instances of concrete and metal poles being completely destroyed by natural forces. In tornadoes that ripped through Florida in the late 90s for example, even 100-foot spun concrete transmission poles tested to withstand 250 mph winds, toppled. Ice storms such as the 1998 North American Ice Storm caused over a 1,000 steel towers to collapse under the accumulated weight of the ice. Some of these incidents led to the continued use of wood as a preferred material for utility poles. But environmental concerns emerged due to the use of certain chemicals for treatment of the wooden poles. Additionally, wooden poles are also vulnerable to natural disasters - in the earlier mentioned ice storm, over 30,000 wooden poles were found to have collapsed in addition to the steel ones. In the last few years, research has been conducted into the use of various other materials for utility poles even as wood, steel and concrete remained popular choices. But while all of them have their advantages, they also come with distinct disadvantages.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.