Should India Consider Phasing Out Nuclear Power?


Germany has shut down its final nuclear power plants, while France, the world’s nuclear superpower, is struggling to replenish its stock of aged reactors. With solar and wind power growing more popular around the world, there are questions about whether nuclear power, with its inherent issues about cost and safety, remains a viable choice for a fossil-free future, particularly in India. R. Srikanth and Rahul Tongia debate whether nuclear energy should be phased out in a session mediated by Jacob Koshy.

Points to Ponder:

  • Nuclear power is experiencing a revival in several regions of the world, notably during the Ukraine war. China is racing ahead in nuclear power, and South Korea’s new president has pledged to increase nuclear power’s part of the country’s energy mix. Japan is also restarting reactors that have undergone safety checks and improvements, as the country is reliant on costly imported coal or natural gas in the absence of nuclear electricity.
  • While wind and solar power are becoming more popular, nuclear power is still regarded as a necessary component of the energy mix because it provides consistent, dispatchable power, as opposed to wind and solar, which are intermittent or variable. This means that when wind and solar power are unavailable, nuclear power can be employed to meet energy demand. Batteries can be used to store extra renewable energy, but they are costly and have an impact on the environment.
  • Unless something can completely replace it, using an asset until the end of its life is probably the greatest thing for the environment. Prematurely shutting down nuclear power reactors, as Germany did, may have a detrimental environmental impact due to the carbon emitted during construction.
  • Nuclear reactor passive safety designs have increased safety by progressively and gently managing temperature and waste heat even when power fails. These designs are now standard, including at India’s Kudankulam facility. However, nuclear accidents can still occur, just as coal mining or transportation catastrophes might.
  • Nuclear power faces economic challenges, although new designs, such as compact modular reactors, are being developed that may solve the cost structure. The fear of nuclear liability is also a big sticking issue, as suppliers of nuclear plant components may face numerous responsibilities, including criminal culpability.
  • The amount of fuel required for nuclear power is substantially less than that necessary for an equivalent-capacity coal plant, and coal creates ash that can pollute the water source. In certain circumstances, the size of the ash pond exceeds that of the plant.
  • While there are concerns about nuclear power, particularly about safety and proliferation, many countries continue to use it to meet their energy needs. Nuclear power has a mixed global perspective, with some countries spending more in it while others phase it out.