Emphasising that nuclear energy will play a significant role in India’s goal of becoming a developed nation, Former Chairman Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar said that such power is a clean energy option for facilitating integration of variable renewable energy (RE).

Speaking at industry body PHDCCI’s National Technology Day symposium on Saturday, Kakodkar discussed the current and future energy consumption scenario in India.

Highlighting the importance of India’s domestic self-reliance programme, he suggested advanced deployment of thorium in pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs), which would reduce uranium requirements and total reprocessing capacity. Leveraging thorium would allow for rapid capacity expansion while maintaining a manageable fuel cycle.

The noted scientist stressed that decarbonisation is unavoidable. While RE is crucial, nuclear energy remains a clean base load energy option available for facilitating a cheaper integration of variable renewable energy.

Kakodkar urged for scaling up nuclear deployment to support India’s development aspirations effectively.

Shailesh Nayak, Director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, too emphasised on the need for transitioning to the next level while meeting sustainable goals with energy being a critical aspect. He stressed that nuclear energy is an essential option and that current policies need to be reviewed to ensure they are conducive to its development.

Depending on capabilities and requirements, India should aim to develop nuclear technology to the level of developed countries and export it to others as well, he added.

Head of Nuclear Controls and Planning Wing (Department of Atomic Energy) A K Nayak pointed out that by 2050, most coal plants will retire, leaving room for small modular reactors (SMRs) to replace them. He suggested that replacing brownfield sites with SMRs could generate up to 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of electricity. 

Highlighting the necessity of policy changes, he said that without nuclear energy, India cannot achieve true development and urged for a change in perception of nuclear energy.

TERI Director (Circular Economy & Waste Management) Suneel Pandey discussed the environmental aspects of nuclear energy and stressed that depleted fuel and cooling process results in radioactive waste with high radioactivity levels, which needs to be treated and vitrified. 

This waste can be used in various applications, providing a resource from what would otherwise be considered waste. Key issues such as the cost of decommissioning nuclear plants after 30-40 years require more attention and suggested a customised environmental impact assessment process, he added.

Nuclear energy, with its multiple applications, can collaborate with all low-carbon technologies to achieve net zero emissions targets. It serves as a master of low-carbon base load power supply and can drive decarbonisation beyond electricity, Indian Youth Nuclear Society President Nitendra Singh.