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Cover Story | July 2017

If current technology is effective, stable & safe, that is best for future too

Kaustubh Shukla, Chief Operating Officer of the Industrial Products Group, Godrej & Boyce.

What is the current nuclear power scenario in India? What are the options available for boosting nuclear power?
I would say we have only a modest share of nuclear power in the overall power. What is important is that we have indigenous technology, a self-contained ecosystem, all knowhow from siting to operating a nuclear power plant (NPP), and above all, a great safety record. These are the capabilities that will be needed as we now accelerate the new build programme.

It is also heartening to learn that post easing of supply of fuel, all plants are working close to their capacities and some even exceeding them.
This indicates a very stable nuclear power generation capability.

What are the best available technologies for India at this juncture?
I am not a nuclear scientist / technologist, and hence, cannot offer an academic answer to this question. As an engineer, I think that if the current technology has proven to be effective, stable and safe, and has delivered results as expected, that is the best technology to deploy going forward.

Having said that, I am sure that nuclear scientists are busy working, developing, evolving and even adopting newer Technologies that are better, safer and more efficient, and those will be used sometime in future.

Extensive experimentation and trials have to be undertaken before adopting new designs, and such new technologies will be deployed once they are successfully proven in prototypes and meet the stringent scrutiny of the regulator.

The nuclear disaster at Fukushima seems to have changed the global perception on nuclear power. How do you see its potential as a future source of cheap and clean power for the masses?
It is a fact that the 'sentiments'were seen as having turned away from nuclear. And different countries adopted different choices based on the maturity and feasibility of different sources - thermal, hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass etc.

As I see, technology trends will keep altering the mix of technologies as we go along. With the current nuclear power capacity and the projected need for steady base load demand for electricity, the projected capacity building of nuclear appears rational and even modest.

What is your company's involvement in the Nuclear power sector and its importance? Are you associated with any company in the nuclear suppliers group?
We have been serving the requirement of equipment for nuclear power from NPCIL, whenever an opportunity presented itself. As you know, in the past, the demand has been very small and sporadic. So, we are not a pure play nuclear equipment maker. In fact, no one in India is, or can be, given the small and sporadic requirement. Godrej has the capability and has demonstrated it time and again, by executing such projects to the delight of the customers, meeting and surpassing quality and delivery benchmarks.

Once India becomes a member of the NSG - and if there is an opportunity to serve others under the NSG regime - we will explore such opportunities.

In the current situation, we remain focused on serving the expected domestic demand, once the new build programme is kick-started.

At a time when cheaper and cleaner options of power are emerging in the form of solar and wind, how competitive is nuclear power in the light of overall parameters, even considering its disastrous consequences, if any?
All types of sources have a role to play in meeting the overall power requirement. Given India's vastness and variety in the topography, we will need local as well as pan-national strategies.

The declining prices of solar and wind may prompt us to focus more on them รป however, it is a fact that these sources are not steady. Wind generation changes over the year, and even during the day. Ditto for solar. So, when such sources fade, we need base power to kick in. It can be gas, thermal or nuclear.

What are the challenges usually faced in setting up NPP and how India is rated in resolving/handling such issues?
Challenges for setting up NPP can be best answered by NPCIL as they build NPPs. We can speak of the challenges of manufacturing equipment. Challenge is in terms of continuity and magnitude of business. It is evident that manufacturing for nuclear equipment has to be very advanced. Precise, regimented, carried out by controlled processes, on calibrated equipment, by qualified people. Such a manufacturing setup comes with associated costs. And there are only two outcomes - either you have the capability to produce, or do not have it. There can be no 'trying' to produce.

From an engineer's perspective, it is extremely challenging -and hence, extremely satisfying. However, there has to be financial viability. So, the principal challenge is to retain the capability of being a nuclear equipment maker, on the face of infirm demand. Hopefully, all of this is set to change now, as NPCIL embarks on an ambitious new build programme.

What is the environmental impact of NPPs?
All development activities - urbanization, dams, roads, ports, transportation - have an environmental impact. Responsible corporate are sensitive to such impacts, and have adopted goals for 'People and Planet', besides 'Profits'. NPCIL has been one such sensitive and responsible corporate.

NPCIL website outlines the extensive work undertaken to preserve and nurture the vegetation, flora and fauna at their sites. One has to balance between the need and effect. So, generating nuclear power in a sensible manner - protecting environment - would be as good as any other developmental projects.

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