1st March, 2014
Third NLA Annual Meet
Nuclear Energy & Indian Society: Public Engagement, Risk Assessment and Legal Frameworks
Dr. Ram Mohan- President of the Nuclear Law Association,
Mrs. Els Reynaers Kini- General Secretary,
ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here this morning at the Third Annual Meeting of the Nuclear Law Association devoted to “Nuclear Energy and Indian Society: Public Engagement, Risk Assessment and Legal Frameworks”. The programme is very relevant and I compliment you in drawing up such an excellent list of participants.
2. To begin with, let us try to see the nuclear energy issue in the broader perspective of India’s energy policy. As you know, the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) was the first comprehensive document linking energy policy with sustainable development; covering all sources of energy, their use and supply, access and availability, affordability and pricing; environmental concerns; and energy security. This document was first released in August 2006 as a draft and formally approved by the Cabinet in end-2008. Some aspects, pertaining to figures and projections may be refined in coming years but broadly speaking, the analytical basis of the IPE retains its validity.
3. With a population of 1.2 billion, the tenth largest economy in terms of GDP, and the third largest in PPP terms, India today is the fourth largest primary energy consumer, after China, U.S. and Russia. Yet, in per capita terms, India’s consumption is 585 kilogram of oil equivalent (KGOE); the global average is 1800, China stands at 1700 while the US leaders with 7000+. Incidentally, I may add that Japan comes in at approximately 4000 KGOE which only goes to show that there is considerable elasticity even at the level of highly developed economies.
4. Though our economy has grown annually at an average rate of 7 per cent since 2000, approximately 35 per cent of the national population is still considered to be below poverty level. Nearly a quarter of the population lacks access to electricity and energy poverty has been identified as a hindrance to economic development. In India’s current energy mix, nuclear energy accounts for approximately 1 per cent; in terms of power generation, with an installed capacity of 4.8 GW, it accounts for slightly over 2 per cent of the total installed capacity, estimated at 225 GW covering thermal, hydel and renewables.
5. The IEP estimates that India’s primary energy supply will need to increase by 4 to 5 times and electricity generation capacity by 6 to 7 times – in order to deliver a sustained growth rate of 9 per cent up to 2035. What does this imply in terms of figures? It means that in the most optimistic scenario, nuclear power generation could go up to 80 GW, out of a total of 1,200 GW, i.e., less than 7 per cent. Incidentally, the IEP projection is based on the assumption that by 2011 our nuclear generating capacity would have been 11 GW, twice of what it is today! In other words, nuclear power will continue to account for only a small fraction of India’s energy mix.
6. However, energy security is also a key element of the IEP and defined as follows:
“We are energy secure when we can supply lifeline energy to all our citizens irrespective of their ability to pay for it as well as meet their effective demand for safe and convenient energy to satisfy their various needs at competitive prices, at all times and with a prescribed confidence level considering shocks and disruptions that can be reasonably expected.”
Further, even with this growth rate, India’s per capita electricity consumption currently at approximately 600 KWH will only rise to approximately 2,600 KWH which incidentally is China’s today per-capita consumption whereas the OECD average today is more than 8000 KWH per capita. Given that the fuel mix for power generation in 2035 would remain fairly similar to what it is today, with fossil fuels being the dominant resource – it implies, in turn, a growing import dependency. Therefore, even though nuclear energy will remain a small part of the overall energy mix, it is a critical part in addressing our energy challenges, mitigating carbon emissions and enhancing energy security in terms of reducing dependence on foreign energy sources.
7. The nuclear issue often attracts more than its due share of controversy which brings me to the second part of my talk. In order to understand the challenges that India’s nuclear energy programme has faced, we need to have a historical perspective. Broadly, I would divide India’s nuclear story into four phases – phase 1 (1947 to 1974), phase 2 (1974-1998), phase 3 (1998-2008), and phase 4 (post-2008). During the first phase, the Atomic Energy Commission was set up in 1948, the Department of Atomic Energy established in 1954, the Atomic Energy Act passed in 1962, the first research reactors – Apsara , Cirus and Purnima set up and the Tarapur power station went online. It was the period of ‘Atoms for Peace’ when international cooperation was actively promoted. Indian nuclear science benefited from this open environment even though we had decided to stay out of the NPT in 1968. Phase 2 marked by the 1974 PNE changed things dramatically. Proliferation was seen as a threat, Nuclear Suppliers Group was set up and India was isolated from global nuclear industry and technology. Indian nuclear scientists embraced ‘self-reliance’, leading to inevitable delays. The second nuclear power plant in Rajasthan was delayed by eight years (from 1973 to 1981), the Fast Breeder Test Reactor by nine years (from 1976 to 1985) and the Kalpakkam and Narora Power Plants also faced similar delays. During the 1990s, there were other developments – further tightening of export controls on dual use technologies, the indefinite extension of the NPT, Pakistan’s nuclear weaponisation and missile proliferation in our neighbourhood. This was the period when India sought to safeguard its ‘nuclear option’ and the programme, including the civilian side, attracted secrecy. The third phase began with our nuclear tests in mid-1998 when India declared itself a nuclear weapon state. Initially, the international reaction was strong in terms of UN Security Council sanctions. However, with sustained diplomatic efforts and changes in the international environment, we were able to come out of the isolation. The US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement of 2008, also called the 123 Agreement, marks the beginning of phase 4. Since then, a number of bilateral cooperation agreements have been signed, including with France and Russia. India has also adopted its Nuclear Liability Act, though this is a subject on which the suppliers’ community has posed some questions.
8. This short account would perhaps indicate both why the Indian nuclear programme remained shrouded in secrecy and the nuclear power programme often suffered delays and cost overruns. It is only in the fourth phase post 2008 that the situation started changing after we began to move in the direction of separating the civilian part of the nuclear sector from the weapons and security-related side with more facilities being brought under IAEA safeguards. Understandably, the weapons programme will always remain classified whereas the civilian programme will attract growing scrutiny and accountability in order to enjoy public support. This is the major change that has taken place but it is still work-in-progress.
9. It is in this context that your meeting today assumes significance. As I mentioned, present nuclear power capacity is 4.8 GW, consisting of 20 reactors all of which are primarily indigenous PHWRs except for the two initial LWRs at Tarapur. Seven more reactors, including a prototype fast breeder reactor, are expected to more than double the capacity by 2017. The Twelfth Five Year Plan foresees a major expansion in the nuclear power generation with more than 10 indigenous PHWR reactors and as many as 10 LWR reactors with international collaborations with France, Russia and US. This would be a major transition because it would also involve the technology demonstration marking the second stage of India’s nuclear programme. The nuclear civilian cooperation agreements signed in recent years have enabled us to improve generation at the existing nuclear plants thanks largely to enhanced fuel supply. It is expected that by the end of stage 2, India would have an installed capacity of nearly 30 GW, ready to undertake the transition to stage 3, which is the thorium generated U-233 cycle, self-sustaining in view of our extensive thorium reserves.
10. Naturally, this is a highly ambitious programme and bound to be questioned, both with regard to technical and economic feasibility. It explores new technologies because no other country has the same stakes in working on the thorium cycle as we have. At the same time, post-Fukushima anti-nuclear sentiment has grown, including in India, although there are some reports that the Japanese government is now softening its opposition to nuclear power. Therefore, while transparency and accountability on the part of the nuclear establishment is essential in order to develop public support and confidence, it is equally important that we refrain from falling into either the ‘anti-nuclear trap’ or the traditional criticisms of the last 30 years when even the civilian aspect of the programme was classified. Today, while there is a strong case to be made out for nuclear power both in terms of energy security and mitigating carbon emissions, concerns over safety aspects as well as cost effectiveness will have to be satisfactorily addressed. Therefore, public engagement and risk assessment become important. Our citizens must have confidence in the regulatory processes. AERB has already been strengthened and further strengthening of regulatory mechanisms is foreseen under the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Act.
11. A word about the liability issues and then I will close. I think we all understand how nuclear liability laws have evolved and why liability was channelled exclusively to the operator. In the 50s, only the US had a nuclear industry and the US private sector needed this protection in order to establish itself at a global level. Today, the situation is different and there is a growing feeling that this exclusive channelling is no longer helpful. The Indian law, in this regard may not be consistent with existing practice but it is certainly much more in consonance with the spirit of the times. The idea of some measure of supplier liability is an idea that can no longer be bypassed. However, what we need to ensure is that it does not become ‘infinite’ or ‘open ended’. What is, therefore, needed is a genuine effort to address the concerns of the suppliers’ community so that their liability is not ambiguous and open ended but can be quantified in a manner that does not raise costs to prohibitive levels. Such an approach would actually advance international nuclear liability law.
12. I am glad that the Nuclear Law Association of India is seeking to examine this issue in its different dimensions and I hope that your deliberations will help in providing greater clarity to these issues.