Nuclear Power is good or bad? This is a difficult question, and can have no simple answer. But then, most things in our life are a mixture of good and bad, and depending on the point of view, the answer tends to tilt either way. If we were to expand the question, or make it more pointed and specific, like: is nuclear power good or bad for a developing country where many people still light candles, a country which is under pressure to discourage coal-based thermal power, and in some ways, is being goaded by the international community to choose between development and climate; and a country that has reasonably learnt the art and science of nuclear power through years of hard work, and on top of all this, bears an impeccable safety record in spite of having seven nuclear plants in operation; then perhaps the answer will veer towards good. Would you not agree?
Since the beginning of atomic power, there have been varying degrees of safety incidents and accidents, which have caused significant loss of human lives and radioactive exposure to many more living beings, and even disposal of nuclear waste is a very tricky subject. From a strategic perspective, given that the firewall between nuclear power and nuclear weapons can be porous in some countries, technology for nuclear power has been closely guarded by the so-called nuclear ´haves´, such that the technology is not available to the nuclear ´have nots´.
With all this, pacifists and environmentalists have been able to mobilise people against expansion of nuclear power. The communities around nuclear sites, existing and proposed, have been understandably, more strident in their opposition than others. In India, such movements and mobilisations have been witnessed in Kundankulam and Jaitapur recently. Notwithstanding all this, many planners and economists will argue that our country has a very compelling case for investing in nuclear power, considering our current developmental challenges, CO2 commitments and other available options.
Already, nuclear power is the fourth-largest source of electricity in India after thermal, hydroelectric and renewable sources. Besides, India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and expects to have 14,600 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2024. In contrast, globally nuclear power station numbers have fallen from 431 to 394 since the pre-Fukushima years, i.e., 2010. Still, given where we stand, growing nuclear power is the way to go for India as on date, as it happens to be the best low carbon option for base load power generating capacity.
However, by 2050, if not by 2024, all this talk about nuclear energy the way we see it today, may become irrelevant. Because, by then, we could well have commercially proven installations generating power from fusion of Hydrogen or Deuterium nuclei, and if that happens, today´s nuclear power from fission will be a thing of past, along with all its associated risks and negatives. We wish godspeed to the labs and other organisations who are working on developing demonstration units of fusion energy.
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