Nuclear energy is seen as the future of our energy hungry world, when our other conventional resources seem to perish in a few years going with the current rate of consumption. To understand why nuclear energy is being termed as the next big thing in energy production, we need to understand some simple concepts as below.
What is nuclear energy?
In simple terms, nuclear energy is the energy derived from the core or nucleus of an atom. We all know about atoms. They are the smallest unit that builds up any matter in the universe.
We may then question, how do we extract or produce energy from these tiny atoms which serves the purpose of an entire nation?
Nuclear energy from an atom can be derived from two processes:
- Nuclear fusion
- Nuclear fission
Let us understand in brief about the above mentioned processes.
Nuclear fusion is the process which generates energy in the Sun and other stars. Simply put, it involves two small/lighter atoms that collide with each other to form a larger/heavier atom and produce enormous amounts of energy. Please note that this process involves enormous amounts of temperature.
Nuclear fission can be seen as a process opposite to fusion. Fission involves the split of nucleus of an atom splits into two or more parts, producing enormous amounts of energy.
It will be clearer from the image below:
The development of nuclear energy started in the 19th century, however it was centered around destructive uses such as creation of atomic bombs. After witnessing the catastrophe and disaster caused due to these developments and their indiscriminate use, which was not confined to the victim nation but had far reaching impacts on the entire world, it was realized that this enormous energy must be diverted to peaceful uses.
From the mid of the 20th century, nuclear technology was being developed for the use of producing electricity and naval propulsion.
Very recently, this has been structured by the world community in the form of nuclear power plants, which offer a peaceful use of nuclear technology as well as a clean alternative for producing energy, imperative for the cumulative development of the global village.
Russia and Britain can be termed as pioneers in the discovery of Uranium and initial attempts for the development of the nuclear technology.
India has always been at the forefront of the idea for usage of nuclear energy in a peaceful way. India believes that the development of nuclear technology must be strictly for the betterment of quality of life of the people, empowering the nation through efficient energy utilization and promotion of sustainable development for protecting the environment.
It can be firmly stated that India’s planned development of nuclear energy started in the 19th century under the guidance of Dr. Homi Bhabha. He designed a three stage nuclear power programme for India. These stages would be fueled by uranium, plutonium and thorium respectively. It is also good to note here that these three stages would be using-
- Pressurized heavy water reactor – Ist stage
- Fast Breeder reactor – IInd stage
- Thermal Breeder reactor
Amidst multiple challenges, India’s nuclear programme is trying to catch up to replace the conventional resources of energy for generating power. India aims to generate 20 GW of nuclear energy by 2020. India has limited reserves of uranium, but has much greater reserves of thorium, however the development is still at an early stage.
Uranium Mines in India
Nuclear Power Plants
India entered into the nuclear suppliers group agreement in 2008. Since then, it has been very smooth for India to source fuel and reactors both from other countries. Since then, India has got into many agreements with countries such as USA, Kazakhstan, Australia, Namibia, Russia, Canada, South Korea including others.
Nodal Agencies: Structure
- The Atomic Energy Commission was formed in 1948
- Post this, the Department of Atomic Energy was constituted in 1954, that deals in technology development and research.
- The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board comes under the Atomic Energy Commission and was formed in 1983
- The Department of Atomic Energy includes NPCIL, Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL, mining and processing), Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD, exploration), Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (reactor control and instrumentation) and BHAVINI* (for setting up fast reactors). The department also controls the Heavy Water Board for production of heavy water and the Nuclear Fuel Complex for fuel and component manufacture.(Source: World Nuclear association)
The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 aims to provide relief to the victims in the event of an accident. It places the responsibility on the operator. However, if the event has occurred due to the error of the supplier, the operator will have the right of a legal recourse to the supplier.
The act was brought in after the Bhopal Gas tragedy of 1984, which happened due to the error on the part of the operator.
Nuclear Suppliers Group and India
The Indian nuclear experiment in 1974 prompted the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It seeks to control measures that may promote the manufacture and use of nuclear weapons.
India wishes to be a part of the group however, it seems that it is still a way full of challenges.
Advantages of Nuclear Energy
- It is a reliable source of energy which can be produced irrespective of the constraints that are in case of solar or wind energy
- It has the least impact on the environment. It can be called environment friendly
- Although it is an expensive investment, however it is highly efficient, hence the long term advantages supersede it
- The energy produced is manifold with the use of low amount of fuel, as compared to other forms for generating energy
Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy
- The by-product of the chain reaction can prove to be extremely harmful if exposed to nature
- The effects of a nuclear accident are intense and far reaching. Events at Fukushima and Chernobyl have prompted the necessity of rethinking on the operation modes of the nuclear reactors
- The initial investment of setting up a nuclear power plant is huge. Hence it gets very difficult for developing countries to increase its use
- The proper disposal of the radioactive waste is a hurdle in the uninterrupted use of nuclear energy. If exposed to nature, it can be extremely harmful as well as the danger of being used as a nuclear weapon is always there.
How to approach for the Civil Services Examination
General Studies 2:
Policies and Acts by the government
General Studies 3:
Examine the advantages of nuclear energy in today’s age over its disadvantages. Do you think India should carry on the development of nuclear energy seeing the level of expenditure that it initially incurs?
What are the difficulties in the development of nuclear power in India? Suggest measures on how can the challenges be effectively handled.