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Nuclear Energy in China & India: A Comparative Study

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  • April 01, 2011
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Dr G Balachandran
    Discussants: Prof Swaran Singh and Dr R Ramachandran

    Dr Ch Viyyanna Sastry in his present paper aimed to analyse and compare the nuclear energy development programmes in China and India. The key issues that he tried to address in the paper are: the roadmaps of China and India in securing their energy demands; how both the countries started their nuclear energy programmes; routes through which they are planning to achieve this; and finally to see what are the possible outcomes.

    At the outset he said that nuclear energy is being viewed by many countries including China and India as one of the potential alternatives to the growing demands on carbon emissions and global warming. The energy deficient countries are also looking for nuclear energy as an alternative source of energy, because of its steady supply source and the stable and predictability of costs for the full operation of reactors.

    Moreover, China and India as the two most populous countries with high economic growth rates for the past several years, they have to generate more energy to sustain their growth rates. Therefore, as the global plans on nuclear energy expand, China and India are poised to play a strong role in this area.

    On China’s nuclear energy programme, Dr. Sastry said that till recently, the role of nuclear energy in the overall energy production was quite low amounting to just 2 per cent of the total electricity generation. At present, China has about 13 nuclear power plants of different capacitates in operation generating about 10.8 GWe. During the eleventh economic plan period for the years 2006-2010, China set an ambitious goal for new nuclear plant construction for developing about 40 GWe by 2020. In addition, there are various revised plans and projections in China for achieving even more than 40 GWe by 2020. As the State Energy Bureau (SEB) of China set the target of 50 GWe and the State Council claimed of possibility of achieving 70 GWe by 2020. Dr Sastry pointed out that in pursuit of the set targets, Chinese government approved the construction of an additional 28 nuclear reactors by 2020 of which 20 are already under construction. Several new reactors are also being planned.

    On India’s nuclear energy programme, he explained that Indian civilian nuclear energy programme is based on the three stage programme envisioned by Dr Homi J Bhabha. The first stage of the indigenous nuclear power programme involving setting up of pressurized heavy water reactors is now in industrial domain. With the start of construction of the 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactors in October 2004, the second stage has been launched. He opined that it is time for India to accelerate the implementation of the second stage and move towards the development of the third stage of the nuclear power programme. He suggested that in parallel, India has to continue to work towards development of emerging nuclear energy technologies to address its long term energy requirements which are indeed very large.

    Dr Sastry said that despite the criticism based on proliferation, safety and security of reactors and environmental concerns after the recent Japanese nuclear crisis, it is possible that India, along with other Asian countries like China, Russia and South Korea, is actively involved in the global resurgence of nuclear power that is being witnessed in the past few years. He held that both China and India are likely to increase their share of nuclear energy significantly in the next decades, thus, leading a nuclear renaissance which could revive the nuclear industry. While the Indian target of 20 GWe by 2020 appears achievable, China too can reach 40 GWe by that time. In addition, China with its resources, manpower, unhindered technology transfers, the single party governance and not much opposition from the people, is more likely to reach its desired figures.

    Though nuclear energy is going to play a pivotal role, he suggested that both the countries have to work on clear technologies to sustain their higher growth rates. The increasing population could be a wild card.

    So far as the export of future nuclear reactors are concerned, he said that with passing indigenisation and development of related nuclear infrastructure, China is certain to become a nuclear exporter in a big way. On India’s export capability, however, he said that till it masters the fast-breeder technology, India should not hesitate to consider offering soft loans to kick start export of its nuclear reactors i.e. Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs). It is possible that many countries would like to start with medium to small nuclear power plants than say 1000 MWe plants.

    At the end of his presentation, Dr Sastry said that India was a victim of international politics because of its principled stand against the nuclear proliferation treaty (NPT) and subsequent nuclear tests which led to the formation of the nuclear suppliers group (NSG). He pointed out that the Indo-US nuclear deal has changed the situation enabling India to import nuclear reactors along with the required fuel from outside. Finally, he suggested that India can become a world leader in the production and running of fast breeders if it manages to run successfully the much-awaited Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam. In fact, that success is likely to turn a new leaf in the development of nuclear energy.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions:

    • Although at present the primary emphasis of China’s nuclear programme is on its peaceful uses, its nuclear programme started for military purposes and in October 1964 it conducted its first nuclear test. However, India’s nuclear programme was started solely for peaceful purposes and its civil nuclear programme is the oldest among the Asian countries.
    • The DAE's announcement of targetting 10,000 MWe by the year 2000 and its subsequent failure to achieve it had lessened the image of the department. However, the main reason for the failure to achieve the stated objective was because of the government’s failure to put equity in this sphere.
    • India’s civilian nuclear programme would have improved if the Indian government had put more equity in this sector. The situation, however, is improving gradually after the successful conclusion of the Indo-US nuclear deal and the follow up measures taken by the Indian government in this regard.
    • On China’s standardisation of nuclear energy reactors, what are the measures China has taken in this regard and how India can learn this from China?
    • So far as the indigenisation and development of nuclear infrastructures are concerned, how can India cooperate with China?
    • China has recently taken many safety measures for its nuclear reactors. However, how it is going to address the issues relating to the safe disposal of nuclear wastes and environmental concerns still remain the major concerns.
    • Role of civil society in China is very critical in the Chinese civil nuclear energy programme especially in locating the reactors and addressing the environmental concerns. How civil society in China is going to react in coming years on this needs to be looked into. However, at present no such major opposition is coming from the civil society.
    • Vietnam wants to build nuclear energy reactors and China is interested in supporting it, if this will materialise how it would impact other countries of the region?
    • From the present Japanese nuclear crisis, what are the lessons Indian government has learned and what are the safety measures that the government is going to take to face similar situations in the future.
    • So far there is no allegation against India on proliferation concerned activity. It has impeccable track record on nuclear non-proliferation. There is also no case against India of diverting the imported civil nuclear technology or energy for military purposes.
    • The stated objectives of the research paper are not clear enough at present and there are also no clear policy recommendations. The author needs to focus on this and needs to further streamline the paper.

    Report prepared by Dr Saroj Bishoyi, Research Assistant, IDSA