Although for the first time, on last November in COP – 26, the matter of proliferating nuclear energy was tabled, it received good support, especially from the young leaders across the world. The leaders realised that not only the challenges related to carbon footprint management but also the escalating price of fossil fuels would hinder seamless supply of electricity to many parts of the world. Thus, there is an urgent need to focus on developing the stable and reliable alternative sources.
Just a few months later, after the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war in March this year, the world leaders have very clearly comprehended that the geo-political instability will not allow them to establish stable and reliable electricity supply systems depending on import of fossil fuels.
Thus, considering seasonal variations, as at this juncture, the world cannot completely rely on the renewable energies (especially solar and wind), nuclear energy is the only complementary source to fulfil the great ambition of supplying power to all global citizens in a fail-safe manner.
Number of the power reactors across the world
As per the available information from Wikipedia and other sources, as of May 2022, there are 440 operable power reactors in the world, with a combined electrical capacity of 393 GW. Additionally, there are 53 reactors under construction and 96 reactors planned, with a combined capacity of 54 GW and 97 GW, respectively.
Indian scenario of nuclear power reactors
In India, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), a public sector enterprise under the administrative control of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Government of India, is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of nuclear power reactors.
At present, NPCIL is operating 22 commercial nuclear power reactors with an installed capacity of 6780 MW. As per the information from NPCIL, the reactor fleet comprises two Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs), 18 Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) including one 100 MW PHWR at Rajasthan which is owned by DAE, Government of India and two VVER reactors of 1,000 MW capacity each. Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP) Unit – 3 was synchronized to the grid on January 10, 2021 and is expected to be in commercial operation soon. Apart from KAPP Unit-3 of 700 MW capacity, NPCIL has 9 more reactors under construction with a total capacity of 7,500 MW.
Why nuclear power is important now?
As per a report (2019) from the International Energy Agency (IEA), “Nuclear power and hydropower form the backbone of low-carbon electricity generation. Together, they provide three-quarters of global low-carbon generation. Over the past 50 years, the use of nuclear power has reduced CO2 emissions by over 60 gigatonnes – nearly two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions. However, in advanced economies, nuclear power has begun to fade, with plants closing and little new investment made, just when the world requires more low-carbon electricity. ” The years 2020 and 2021 were highly disturbed because of corona pandemic.
Is nuclear power safe?
While as on April 2022, globally 51 new nuclear power reactors are under construction, many people are still afraid of the nuclear technology – especially after witnessing the Chernobyl (April 26, 1986) and Fukushima (March 11, 2011) disasters.
However, as per the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the policy organization of the nuclear technologies industry, based in Washington, D.C.: “The accident at Chernobyl stemmed from a flawed reactor design and human error.” Also, “The accident at Fukushima occurred after a series of tsunami waves struck the facility and disabled systems needed to cool the nuclear fuel.”
Today, the technology has advanced much further with almost five decades’ experience. Almost each and every parameter can be measured, analysed and automatically actions are initiated in case of any abnormality. So, the chance of reaching off-normal situations due to human-related mistakes is almost nil.
Besides a few advantages are making the nuclear power option indispensable at this juncture. As the office of the Nuclear Energy under the (US) Department of Energy highlights:
Nuclear is a zero-emission clean energy source. It generates power through fission, which is the process of splitting uranium atoms to produce energy. The heat released by fission is used to create steam that spins a turbine to generate electricity without the harmful byproducts emitted by fossil fuels.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the United States avoided more than 476 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. That’s the equivalent of removing 100 million cars from the road and more than all other clean energy sources combined.
It also keeps the air clean by removing thousands of tons of harmful air pollutants each year that contribute to acid rain, smog, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Despite producing massive amounts of carbon-free power, nuclear energy produces more electricity on less land than any other clean-air source. A typical 1,000-megawatt nuclear facility in the United States needs a little more than 1 square mile to operate. According to NEI – wind farms require 360 times more land area to produce the same amount of electricity and solar photovoltaic plants require 75 times more space.
They also state – to put that in perspective, you would need more than 3 million solar panels to produce the same amount of power as a typical commercial reactor or more than 430
wind turbines (capacity factor not included).
Nuclear fuel is extremely dense. It’s about 1 million times greater than that of other traditional energy sources and because of this, the amount of used nuclear fuel is not as big as you might think.
All of the used nuclear fuel produced by the U.S. nuclear energy industry over the last 60 years could fit on a football field at a depth of less than 10 yards.
Also, that waste can be reprocessed and recycled. Although the United States does not currently do that, some advanced reactors’ designs being developed that could operate on used fuel.
Plans for nuclear reactors’ waste disposal
Although the waste is small at present, with mushrooming of nuclear power reactors across the globe, it will not remain so. Thus, the plan for systematic nuclear waste disposal must be made at this point of time. Let us now see, some of the methods being adopted in this regard at different parts of
This year the Swedish company SKB has received a permit under the Nuclear Activities Act (Sweden). SKB uses a special method for final disposal of the spent nuclear fuel. It is called KBS-3 and is based on three protective barriers: copper canisters, Bentonite clay and the Swedish bedrock. Although the spent nuclear fuel’s radiation gradually decays and the waste becomes progressively less dangerous, it still contains substances that are active for a very long time and those need to be finally disposed of for many years to come. Therefore, SKB is planning to construct a Spent Fuel Repository at Forsmark in Östhammars Municipality. The method that has been developed involves first encapsulating the nuclear fuel in copper canisters. The sealed copper canisters will then be placed in a system of tunnels about 500 metres deep in the solid bedrock. Here they will be embedded in Bentonite clay. The photograph in the previous page carries more information about their method.
Another US-based company Deep Isolation, a leading global innovator in nuclear waste storage and disposal solutions, is using directional drilling technology to place nuclear waste hundreds of metres underground within stable geological formations.
According to the company, “Borehole repositories can provide substantial isolation for many types of high-level waste in a wide range of locations. Because it can be implemented modularly, it is well suited for smaller inventories of waste or as a complement to an existing repository. Placement and retrieval methods for borehole equipment are highly developed and are commonly performed using wirelines with a tractor, coiled tubing, or drill-pipe methods.”
“Forecasters including those at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IEA, and the IAEA have looked at data that underpin where we are today and where nations say they want to be in the coming decades, and have concluded the journey will require a doubling of nuclear capacity,” communicates IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.
A future looking statement
From the items of information presented in the previous paragraphs, we can clearly conclude that in the coming one or two decades, globally the number of nuclear power reactors and their energy outputs will increase at a rapid speed.
Recently in May 2022, International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, who was a participant in the COP 26, has communicated his view on the future of the nuclear power. He has written, “Today, just a few months after COP, we are seeing the consequences of military conflict in Ukraine begin to turn that (championing nuclear energy in the battle against climate change) interest into action. Governments from Belgium to Japan have announced their intention to extend the lives of nuclear power plants, citing concerns about geopolitical instability. Across the world, leaders are worried about shortages in the supply of oil and natural gas, and price spikes in electricity and
petrol, undermining their nations’ economies and political stability.
Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) has recently announced that Elizabeth Muller, CEO of Deep Isolation, has been a finalist for Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 in the San Francisco Bay Area, US…
The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) calls this our first global energy crisis. There’s little doubt this crisis will accelerate a shift in our energy infrastructure. Still to be decided is whether it will be coal and gas, or nuclear, that work together with hydro, wind, solar and other renewables to deliver uninterrupted electricity. If, despite the short-term pressures, governments prioritize moving to more predictable long-term prices, meeting their climate targets, and reducing the 8 million annual deaths caused by air pollution, nuclear capacity will grow.” To the best of my understanding, that’s exactly going to happen.