If India is looking at development by increasing power consumption, it is essential that it opts for cheaper forms of energy, stated nuclear expert M V Ramana, at a webinar ‘The future of nuclear energy’. He stressed that in such a case nuclear is not the right choice. Ramana is Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia.
Speaking at the third session of a series ‘The future of energy’ organised by NMIMS-FPJ in association with Tata Power, Ramana said, “If you were looking at (economic) development by providing power to hundreds of villages that do not have power, then nuclear energy is a very bad choice. For development, you need cheap energy but you have (nuclear energy which is) an expensive form of energy.”
He revealed today it costs somewhere between USD 10-15 billion to build a nuclear power plant. However, the power produced by this plant is at the cost of USD 100 per MW hour. This is three times higher the cost of solar and wind energy, he added. “Solar and wind energy today are selling at USD 30-35 per megawatt hour (MWh).” After including storage costs and other costs, solar and wind energy continues to be cheaper and will cost over USD 50 per MWh.
Basically, what nuclear energy does is boil water and use the steam to drive turbines. But it is a very expensive way to boil water. And the risks involved are considerable too. And since solar and wind energy has become cheaper than nuclear energy, they have also overtaken nuclear in terms of power generation.
“Compared to nuclear energy, solar and wind energy have contributed much more in the last few years.” Solar overtook nuclear energy last year in terms of the electricity contributed to the grid. Meanwhile, wind energy overtook nuclear energy in 2012. Ramana highlighted that even though nuclear energy has been there since the 1940s, the newer technologies in solar and wind grew faster than technology in nuclear.
The contribution of nuclear energy globally is 10 per cent compared to other forms of energy. However, it was 17.5 per cent in 1996 but has declined since then as other forms of energy grew faster than nuclear energy. Meanwhile, in India, the electricity generated by nuclear power has consistently stayed between 2-4 per cent for the last 20-25 years. “As per the last figures, nuclear power contributed about 3.2 per cent of India’s power needs.”
He went on to add while nuclear plants are complicated, the fast breeder reactor is a lot more complex. Countries like the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, others had fast breeder reactors programmes, which they gave up. “For historical and sociological reasons, India has said it is a very important part of our programme and pours in a lot of resources into that. Even if you are supporting nuclear energy, this is not the technology that you should be focussing on,” he advised.