Friday, July 25, 2008

Thorium and the Indian nuclear programme

siddharth varadarajan writes in his blog - Reality one bite at a time

In a recent article in Frontline, my colleague R. Ramachandran has drawn attention to the July 4, 2008 speech by Department of Atomic Energy chairman Anil Kakodkar at the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore as well as his Founder's Day address last October to suggest the atomic energy chief is diluting his earlier advocacy of thorium use in order to make a stronger case for the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal.

Ramachandran ends his article directly questioning the motive for Kakodkar's arguments:

The juncture at which Kakodkar has chosen to make these remarks can only make one wonder whether the compulsions were political or technical. Thorium science and technology developed within the DAE itself would suggest the former. As [former head of the Indian fast breeder programme Placid] Rodriguez says, “The statement that thorium, which has all along been hailed as the panacea for our energy security and independence, is suddenly discovered to have nuclear properties that do not allow fast growth in power generation capacity, and giving this as an alibi for the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal is surprising, coming as it does from Kakodkar, who is identified in the public mind with India’s thorium utilisation efforts.”

Well, Kakodkar has hit back in today's Hindu in an interview to my colleague, T.S. Subramanian:

Subramanian: You are the father of thorium reactor technology in India. You said in Bangalore recently that if India could import 40,000 MWe of nuclear power between 2012 and 2020, we can wipe out the gap between the demand and the supply of power by 2050 – by building more fast breeder reactors using the spent fuel arising from these imported reactors. But you also said that thorium does not have properties that allow for faster growth of power generation. Media commentators have alleged that this amounts to India abandoning its third stage of building thorium-fuelled reactors.

Kakodkar: Right from the beginning all the way up to now, there is absolutely no contradiction between my statements on thorium utilisation strategies.

These are based on detailed analyses and they remain valid. [Dr. R.] Ramachandran’s article in Frontline (August 1, 2008) is either from a result of lack of understanding or misinterpretation. The three-stage nuclear power development programme based on domestic efforts remains a priority activity and would be implemented unhindered.

To optimise the benefits of thorium utilisation, the timing of the introduction of thorium has to be judiciously planned. In any case, it has to follow significant build-up of nuclear power generation capacity through deployment of fast breeder reactors. The point to realise is the fact that India’s electricity requirements are growing faster. The gap between electricity demand and supply that can be managed on indigenous resources is widening and it would exceed 400,000 MWe by 2050.

The question that one needs to address is how soon we can bridge this gap through the growth potential that is possible with fast reactors. Clearly, this necessitates emphasis on deployment of fast breeder reactors with the shortest possible doubling time. The timing of the introduction of thorium needs to be adjusted such that the demand-supply gap is bridged at the earliest and at the same time, we derive full benefit of the vast energy potential of our thorium resources for centuries to come.

The import of 40,000 MWe of power as an additionality [to the domestic nuclear power programme] bridges not only this gap by 2050 but it would avoid the necessity of import of much larger fossil energy resources and at the same time enable earlier deployment of thorium, meeting the objectives stated above.

The point is even after we pursue the domestic three-stage nuclear power programme, which we will pursue on a priority basis in any case, there will be a gap of 400,000 MWe. If we introduce thorium earlier, this gap will become larger and the three-stage programme will become smaller. On the other hand, if we can get this 40,000 MWe from outside [by importing reactors], we can bridge this gap, and at the same time, we can advance the deployment of thorium.

You can read the full interview here.


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