Table of Contents
from Chapter 6: Conclusions
The Indian nuclear power programme, both the earliest in the Third World and also one of the most, comprehensive, provides an important and instructive subject for a wide-ranging and detailed study.
This book, particularly timely when the prospects and problems for Third World nuclear power are commanding increasing attention, examines the origins and rationale of the Indian programme in the context of energy resources and consumption.
It traces the progress of its historical development and leads up to an evaluation of the current performance, in both technical and economic terms of both individual reactors and the programme as a whole.
In addition, the book reveals high radiation exposure to workers at Tarapur, and discusses India's nuclear explosion of 1974 and the possibilities for novel developments in nuclear power and other energy sources, such as coal, biogas, hydro and solar power.
The author then sets the Indian programme into the world picture by comparing developments in India with those of the Third World (including developments in China and South Africa) and discusses the overall prospects for the Third World. The author's survey of nuclear power world-wide is a succinct but extremely informative account.
The author concludes that the performance of the Indian nuclear programme has not demonstrated any clear merits for nuclear power in that country up to the year 2000. The technical performance and the economics of the individual reactors, and the high cost of nuclear research and development, all add up to make the wisdom of embarking on a nuclear programme appear very doubtful. The case in favour of going nuclear appears to be extremely marginal for most other Third World countries also. Meanwhile, most Third World countries would be better advised to diversify both their R and D and their energy sources as much as possible.
It is not necessary to have any background in nuclear energy to understand this work, since the fundamentals of nuclear technology are clearly explained. The book will appeal to readers with general interests in energy; in science, technology and Third World developments; and in nuclear proliferation in the Third World.
The author brings to his study a scientific background and an interest in both technological development in the Third World and energy policy in general. He researched into technology and development (particularly hydroelectric energy and the role of the aluminium industry in Ghana's development) at Edinburgh University and subsequently researched this book while a Senior Research Assistant at Imperial College, London. David Hart was appointed Lecturer in Energy in the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, in 1980.
From the Author's Introduction:
The issue of nuclear power in the Third World is one that conflates three separate, and individually vital, topics.
Thus, nuclear power in the Third World is of crucial interest to many people, in the First and Second Worlds as well as in the Third.
- First, that of energy supplies for the world's future -- whether these will consist of fossil fuels, nuclear power, renewable energy sources, or some other.
- Second, that of how the Third World is to develop -- whether through establishing the techniques and institutions of the rich world and nurturing them in their own climes, or through fostering their own individual approaches which, it is hoped, would better satisfy their needs.
- Third, that of nuclear disarmament and weapons proliferation, a topic which is currently of greatly renewed interest for a number of disparate reasons (one of which is India's nuclear explosion of 1974).
All three of these topics are touched upon in this work, but particular emphasis is given to the problem of energy. Is energy, as many people believe, in short supply worldwide? There are several indications that this is not so. On average about two-thirds of all the oil in every reservoir is left in the ground, because it is generally reckoned uneconomic to pump it out rather than just let it come up under its own pressure. About 40 percent of all the natural gas found in conjunction with oil is flared -- this percentage being generally higher in the Third World. . . .
So it would appear that there is not a shortage of energy per se, but a shortage of cheap and readily available energy. The term 'energy crisis' is something of a misnomer; rather, what we have passed through, and are still passing through, is a radical change in the political economy of energy. . . .
This study of nuclear power in the Third World has lain particular emphasis on India's programme.
There are two good reasons for this:
first, India has one of the largest nuclear power programmes in the Third World and places a good deal of emphasis on self-reliance;
second, India was the first Third World country to operate a commercial nuclear power station.
Through a detailed analysis of the Indian programme, it has been possible to point out some of the problems and prospects for the rest of the Third World. This in turn could have strong relevance for the nuclear industries of the rich countries, for at present the lack of demand for nuclear power in the developed countries has meant that their nuclear industries have been forced to seek sales abroad in order to stay in business.
The presentation of topics is as follows.
Chapter 1 gives an introduction to the technology of nuclear power and outlines some of its background history.
Chapter 2 surveys India's production and consumption of energy and electricity.
Chapter 3 reviews the history of India's nuclear programme (with an appendix on the nuclear explosion of 1974) and describes what state that programme has currently reached.
Chapter 4 is a detailed assessment of the performance of nuclear power in India.
Chapter 5 assesses the prospects for fast breeder reactors and for the use of thorium within India, and also gives a rapid summary of some of the alternative sources of energy open to India.
Chapter 6 draws together some general considerations from the whole work and surveys the latest situation with regard to nuclear power in a number of key Third World countries, including all those which currently have nuclear power, and most of those which are likely to acquire it within the next few years.
This final chapter will summarise the findings on India, and extend it into an analysis of nuclear power in the Third World to cover the prospects for the future.
From Chapter 6: Conclusions:
The performance of the completed [Indian] reactors is not very good. Their actual output as compared to their possible maximum output is about the same as for coal-fired and hydroelectric power stations in India (around 45%). The high capital costs of nuclear reactors dictate that they must be run at something like 70 percent or more of maximum output in order to be economic.
Thus the failure to achieve a better output than other power stations in India indicates one reason why nuclear reactors have not, in actuality, been economic producers of electricity.
India's Nuclear Facilities
HWP = heavy water plant
APS = atomic power station
BARC = Bhabba Atomic Research Centre
TIFR = Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
FBTR = fast breeder test reactor
NFC = nuclear fuel complex
In two other respects, operating experience with nuclear reactors has been unsatisfactory in India. At the Rajasthan [Canadian CANDU] reactor, heavy water losses have been a continuing financial drain, and at [the US LWR] Tarapur, radiation exposures to workers at the plant have been far too high in comparison to internationally accepted practice. The consequences of the latter situation will only show up in about twenty years' time.
Despite a major effort in uranium exploration (absorbing enough finances to have built one of the Tarapur reactors), India has still not located, after thirty years, any reserves of good quality uranium. The estimated total quantity of uranium available (assured and probable) amounts to the energy equivalent of less than 1 percent of India's coal reserves. A really sizeable nuclear power programme could not be fuelled by the limited quantity of assured reserves.
India has strived for self-reliance in nuclear power and has made a massive financial investment in nuclear fuel facilities as well as reactors. Twenty to twenty-five per cent of the country's research and development spending has gone on nuclear research. Nevertheless, nuclear power is not yet a major energy source in India, and self-reliance has not yet been achieved.
Without an enrichment plant India is still dependent on the USA for fuel supplies for the Tarapur reactor. And until the technical problems with the novel heavy water plants are solved, heavy water too will have to be imported. It is likely that India can become self-reliant in the end -- the knowledge and capability are there -- but at what economic cost? ....
It has been shown that a detailed economic analysis of India's power reactors (on pages 76-81) indicates that nuclear electricity generation has no advantage over hydro or coal-fired generation. Indeed the latter two are considerably cheaper unless the electricity must be transmitted 800 km or more.
Taking into account all the reasons enumerated here, and some more reasons explained in the body of the text, it appears that nuclear power will not be a significant source of electricity in India for at least the next twenty years. Who knows what will happen in the energy scene over the next twenty years? ... Would it perhaps be most sensible for India to diversify her R & D, rather than concentrating on one energy source for such a very long period of time?
It has been clear that one motivation behind India's nuclear power programme has been the desire to stay abreast of modern developments in science and technology. Yet this might more surely have been achieved by spreading funding across a number of different scientific areas and disciplines. Granted that nuclear energy has quite a number of different aspects -- it requires work to be done in several fields of expertise and has multiple uses (electricity production, isotopes, weapons) -- nevertheless there are very many areas of science and technology that are not in any way connected with nuclear energy and which could benefit from extra research and development....
Since nuclear power has not yet become a major energy source in India, it is not hard to find alternatives to the present nuclear capacity. Two or three coal-fired or hydroelectric power stations could have substituted quite easily....
Solar energy certainly has great potential in India. For about 75 percent of the year sunshine throughout the day is assured for most of the country. During the monsoon, cloud cover makes direct sunlight an unreliable source but the diffuse sunlight available may well be sufficiently powerful to be worth using.
An indirect means of obtaining solar energy which is already used on a significant scale is that of biogas production. Robin Roy (1980) estimates that there were 80 000 biogas plants at work in India in 1979, most of them of a small size, but sufficient to supply the needs of a family.
However, the Chinese have used biogas on a far more extensive scale. Roy estimates that there were 7.2 million biogas plants in China in 1979. The Chinese plants use pig manure whereas the Indian plants use cow dung. (Pigs being ubiquitous in China, and cows ubiquitous in India.)
Pig manure seems to be the more suitable material for biogas production, which might explain why the Chinese programme is much bigger than the Indian. Thus some kind of biochemical breakthrough in methods of handling source material for Indian biogas plants might be necessary to bring the Indian programme up to the size of the Chinese.
When biogas production has ceased, a nitrogen-rich material is left behind. This is suitable for use as a fertiliser. Since the manufacture of artificial fertilisers is an energy-intensive activity, this 'by-product' of biogas production may represent a substantial way of saving energy.
A biogas programme of Chinese dimensions (seven million family-size plants) would produce around 5 million tonnes of nitrogen per year. This may be compared to India's annual consumption of nitrogenous fertilisers of around 2.5 million tonnes in the early 1970s. (About two-thirds of this consumption was imported.)
Comparison with other Third World programmes
There are three major energy-related points to take account of when considering embarking on a nuclear power programme (these are not the only points but they seem the most vital):
(a) Does a paucity of other energy supplies make it logical to develop nuclear power?
(b) Is the existent electrical capacity sufficient (if that capacity is thoroughly interconnected) to cope with a reactor of economic size (that is, [a grid of] about 6000 MWe capacity or greater, for a 600 MWe reactor)? [ MWe = megawatts of electrical capacity ]
(c) Are there proven indigenous uranium reserves of a reasonable quantity (that is, greater than 6000 tonnes at an absolute minimum; 6000 tonnes is only sufficient to fuel two 600 MWe LWRs for a lifetime of around twenty years)?
Table 6.1: Third World Nuclear Power Programme Evaluation
Country Electrical Capacity
> 6000 MWe ?
> 6000 tonnes ?
Argentina yes no yes Brazil yes no yes Chile no no no China yes no yes Cuba no yes no Egypt no marginal no Iran marginal no not known Iraq no no no Israel no yes no Mexico yes no yes Pakistan no no not known Philippines no no no South Africa yes no yes South Korea yes no no Taiwan yes yes no Turkey marginal yes no Country Electrical Capacity
> 6000 MWe ?
> 6000 tonnes ?
Table 6.1 indicates a rough evaluation of where the countries surveyed at the end of this chapter stand with respect to these considerations. Those with a prima facie case for nuclear power are Argentina, Brazil, China, Mexico, South Africa and Taiwan. For none of these, though, are all three considerations positive.
The other countries are marginal cases, except for Chile, Iraq, Pakistan and the Philippines, where nuclear power does not seem at all a logical development. The existence of military regimes in Chile and Pakistan make one suspect that they may be interested in nuclear weapons rather than nuclear power. Indeed, a primary interest in weapons (resulting from India's acquisition of nuclear capability) is almost certain in the case of Pakistan.[The author then provides a brief survey of nuclear power in the third world, with special emphasis on Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey.]
It has been indicated in this work that the economics of nuclear power in the Third World is poor, for vendor and purchaser. If this view becomes generally accepted world-wide, then the sale of nuclear reactors will be limited. There would still be some trade in nuclear reactors, but purchases would be made almost entirely for weapons-related purposes....
If economic considerations are overridden by Third World nations and they go ahead with substantial nuclear power programmes, they are likely to find, in the end, that its contribution to development has been small. Electricity in general, and nuclear power in particular, is not a resource of much interest to the impoverished city dweller or to the rural masses since it is sold at a price far beyond their means and requires all kinds of capital investment on their part to be actually useful (which may appear a marginal expenditure to the rich Westerner but is a major expense to them). On the other hand, a resource such as paraffin has a very wide market and can be used in cheap and simple stoves, etc....
It is difficult (in fact, perhaps impossible) to forecast the future of energy demand in the industrialised countries, even though these are the countries where most researchers are based and on which most research is done. How much more difficult is it then to forecast energy demand in the Third World, and to plan for an appropriate supply?
In particular, is it justified to project future Third World energy requirements on the basis of the rich countries' energy demands at the present time? On the one hand, on the grounds of fairness and justice it might seem essential to allow under-developed countries the freedom to rise to the rich countries' level of energy use. But on the other hand, perhaps our level of energy use is simply wasteful, and further to that, perhaps we could not afford to use energy the way we do if we did not extract resources from the Third World to pay for it. On this latter view, the prospect of the whole world using energy as the developed countries do now is a mirage.
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