The Bear & Tiger II: Why is India So Committed to Nuclear Power?

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The recent announcement that Russia will build 12 nuclear reactors for India by 2035 was really, mostly, a reiteration of earlier agreements.

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Manpreet Sethi, Indian Council for Social Science Research Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies, writing in the EuraAsia Review has said the main statement and a parallel document outlining the ‘strategic vision’ for cooperation on the civil nuclear energy front reiterate earlier plans calling for a total of 12 Russian reactors to be built at Kudankulam and another (yet to be identified) site in India.

What was new, however, was the commitment to “progressively and significantly enhance the scope of orders for materials and equipment from Indian suppliers and establish joint ventures, including by transfer of technology.”

Siddharth Varadarajan, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University, while writing in the Eastern Mirror, has explained that it was during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official visit to India in October 2000, that the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and India was signed.

From all counts, what is important about this most recent agreement  is India’s oft-stated belief that nuclear power will now play a big role in augmenting its power capacity, is being acted on. The country’s 20 nuclear generators provide less than 2% of the nation’s power capacity today, and the government now wants to take that up to 62 gigawatts by 2032.

Indian officials were quoted in other media as saying that 6 of the 12 reactors would be built around Kudankulam, while sites for the remaining reactors were yet to be chosen.

Therein lies the rub. Even if one were to go by the official position, getting sites to set up 6 nuclear plants in India will be no easy task.

As a former Congress Minister Mani Shankar Aiyyar posted on NDTV.com, Kudankulam had demonstrated that finding locations for nuclear plants “was always going to be problematic and will increasingly be so.”

Already, a nuclear power plant project in Jaitapur in the western province of Maharashtra and another in the State of West Bengal have run into trouble because of protests by locals who do not want the plants in their backyards. There are apprehensions, which almost everyone connected with the issue feel are justified, in the wake of nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl in Russia and of late, the disaster at Fukushima in Japan, that the plants pose a major threat to life and the ecology.

Power sector analysts in India claim that the only country, as of now, that seems convinced of the potential of nuclear power for civilian use, especially in power generation, was India. They extend the example of Germany, a highly industrialized country, which had decided in the wake of Fukushima that it would phase out all existing nuclear power plants and build no new ones.

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