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India’s nuclear power plans – obsolete, dangerous and ultra-costly

Don’t go for pricey foreign N-power plants when solar’s going dirt-cheap, Times of India, May 21, 2017,  SA Aiyar in Swaminomics | IndiaWorld | TOI Forget the Bush-Manmohan Singh vision of a nuclear power renaissance. Recent developments — cheap solar power plus the bankruptcy of Westinghouse — call for a total overhaul of nuclear plans that now look obsolete, dangerous and ultra-costly.

I say this as one who solidly supported the Bush-Manmohan deal in 2005. That deal lifted sanctions against India, and provided access to imported uranium and nuclear technology. In return, the US, France, Japan and Russia were to build six nuclear plants each in India, reviving their flagging equipment industries.

In 2005, the nuclear industry expected a boom following global concerns on greenhouse gases. Nuclear power then was costlier than coal-based power but much cheaper than solar. With many nations going big on nuclear, scale economies plus third-generation technology promised to make nuclear power as cheap as thermal power, minus the carbon.

Then came the Fukushima disaster in Japan. This highlighted the nuclear power risks. It led to the closure of old nuclear plants and cancellation of new ones across the world. The disappearance of mass orders killed scale economies for equipment, while new safety concerns led to expensive re-design…….

the price of solar power keeps falling, and could halve again. New N-plants could take 8-10 years to build, by which time solar power may cost just Rs 1.50/unit, and storage costs may fall below Rs 1/unit. It is crazy to build nuclear plants producing power several times costlier. The solar revolution means that, a decade hence, other forms of power will be needed mainly for peak evening demand. Nuclear power is totally unsuitable for peaking.

Now, the nuclear deal implicitly obliged India to buy nuclear plants from the four foreign powers. But at the time, these were supposed to be competitive with thermal power. That’s now a pipedream.

To avoid gargantuan financial losses, India needs to exit these foreign deals if at all possible. Diplomacy mandates that India cannot renege simply because solar power has become cheap. But India can demand that suppliers stick to the original idea of thermal price parity. If they cannot — as is the case — India should politely excuse itself, saying it can live up to its side of the implicit deal only if foreign suppliers live up to theirs.

General Electric of the US has anyway opted out of Indian nuclear plants, saying Indian liability limits for accidents are insufficient. If Westinghouse finds no buyer, or a non-Japanese buyer, India can scrap that deal. For Areva and future Russian plants, India should insist on thermal price equivalence, even if it sinks those deals……….

May 22, 2017 - Posted by | general

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