Nuclear power is the largest source of electricity in France; in India, it is the smallest. France derives more than 72% of its total energy needs from nuclear sources—in 2022, nuclear energy contributed less than 3% to India’s total power generation.
As of 2021, India has 22 nuclear reactors in 8 nuclear power plants. The total installed capacity is 7,380 MW. There are 10 more reactors under construction—once these reactors are completed, the combined generation capacity will go above 8,000 MW. France has 56 operable reactors totalling 61,370 MWe.
The size of India’s nuclear reactors is small. They generate much less power than the large reactors installed in advanced countries. Out of India’s 22 nuclear power reactors, 18 have a capacity of less than 300 MWe. In comparison, the ten largest nuclear projects in China encompass 43 nuclear reactors with capacity of 45,600 MWe.
India has been unable to achieve the target that it had set for itself in 2004, when the government had envisioned that a nuclear power capacity of 20,000 MW would be achieved by 2020. In 2007, the Government led by the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, stated that this target could be doubled because of the international cooperation that was bound to be achieved with the signing of the 123 nuclear agreement with the USA.
The agreement was signed in 2008, and in 2009, NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) declared that it aimed for a capacity of 60,000 MW by 2032. Much of this capacity was supposed to be powered by imported uranium.
After 2010, it became clear that the Government of India’s projections for the growth of nuclear power in the country were too ambitious and unachievable. There are not only geopolitical factors but also environmental, political and social concerns which stymie the growth of the nuclear power industry in India.
In the draft energy policy of 2017, the Government of India came up with a more modest and realistic outlook for the nuclear power sector. The policy envisaged 12,000 MW nuclear power capacity in 2022 and 34,000 MW in 2040. The government told the Parliament on March 16, 2022 that the country would triple its present installed nuclear power generation capacity in the next 10 years.
In a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, Dr. Jitendra Singh, Union Minister of State, said, “The present installed nuclear power capacity of 6780 MW will increase to 22480 MW by 2031 on progressive completion of projects under construction and accorded sanction.”
Terming nuclear energy as a “clean and environmentally-friendly source of base load power that is available 24×7,” Dr. Jitendra Singh noted that nuclear power can provide long-term energy security to India in a sustainable manner.
The argument in favor of nuclear power is that it is a low-carbon source of energy. The second important argument is that it requires much less land to develop a nuclear power plant. The Government of India is pushing solar power in a much bigger way than nuclear power. But according to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), the land footprint of nuclear power is about 20 times less than solar power.
Surprisingly, solar power’s carbon footprint is also higher than that of nuclear power. The average greenhouse gas emissions from solar is 50 grams/kWh compared to 14 g/kWh for nuclear power. It has been estimated that in the past 50 years, the use of nuclear power has resulted in the reduction of CO2 emissions by about 60 gigatonnes, which is equivalent to emissions of two years.
The global CO2 emissions from power generation would be twenty times more than what it is today if nuclear power was not being used. “Nuclear power accounts for about 10% of electricity generation globally, rising to almost 20% in advanced economies. It has historically been one of the largest global contributors of carbon-free electricity,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent release.
To leapfrog in the area of nuclear power, India will need foreign investments and advanced nuclear technology. Foreign companies including Westinghouse Electric, GE-Hitachi, Electricite de France and Rosatom are keen to invest in nuclear projects in India and participate as technology partners, suppliers, contractors and service providers, but India does not allow foreign investments in the nuclear sector.
This is according to the information released by the Department of Atomic Energy, which works directly under the Prime Minister.
It has been reported in the media that India is considering overturning a ban on foreign investment in its nuclear power industry and allowing greater participation by domestic private firms. To achieve this goal, the Niti Aayog has recommended changes to the Atomic Energy Act 1962. Radical reform of government policy is needed to grow the nuclear power sector in the country.