Writes to Manmohan on Ministry's concern over safety of nuclear power
India's nuclear power growth must come from home-made heavy water reactors rather than foreign reactors using a variety of technologies in order to avoid Fukushima-style meltdowns, according to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week, Mr. Ramesh communicated the concerns of his Ministry regarding the safety of nuclear power as well as the public perception of that safety.
He argues that Indian regulators have expertise in Indian-made reactors and recommends that it is best to stick to what they know best.
In the wake of the tsunami that ravaged the Japanese coast and forced several Japanese nuclear power plants into crisis mode last month, fresh questions are being raised about the safety and environmental clearance issued to the French-built reactors to be set up at Jaitapur on the Konkan coast.
“In the post-Japan scenario, it is clear that regulation is key to our credibility and enhancing public confidence and trust in the nuclear programme,” Mr. Ramesh told The Hindu.
In his letter to the Prime Minister, he pointed out that India seems to be getting into a situation of enormous technological diversity in its nuclear plants. Apart from home-grown heavy water reactors, fast-breeder reactors and advanced thorium-based reactors, the country plans to import light water reactors of French, Russian, and, ultimately, American design.
The most important lesson to be learnt from Japan is the need for regulatory discipline and protocol in a nuclear programme, says Mr. Ramesh. However, it is very difficult to build regulatory capability with this kind of technological diversity.
Mr. Ramesh recommends that India must standardise its reactors, opting for the current 700 MW heavy water reactor and upgrading it to a 1,000 MW capacity, as this is the type of reactor that Indian regulators have expertise in. With India's own uranium reserves doubling in the last five years, this would also be the most viable option.
One of the criticisms of the Jaitapur project has been that the French reactors use an untested design and will deliver power at an unviable cost.
Mr. Ramesh suggests that at multiple reactor sites such as Jaitapur — where six reactors will produce a total of 10,000 MW — each reactor must be given its own stand-alone support system rather than the current shared system.
This gains importance as India has limited sites which have the requisite land and water availability for a nuclear plant, even as the country aims to multiply current nuclear power capacity by ten times in the next 20 years.
He points out that setting up stand-alone support systems to ensure safety would be the job of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), not the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Mr. Ramesh urged the Prime Minister to make the AERB a completely independent and statutory authority under a separate Act of Parliament. It currently comes under the authority of the Atomic Energy Department, leading to criticism that it is not a truly independent regulator.