Saturday, April 2, 2011

Nuclear energy - still the way to go forward, even after Fukushima

Task Force One - Nuclear powered
In the present day world, there may be hardly any topics which received such a heavy criticism and prise like that of Nuclear Energy, from a wide spectrum of audiences ranging from policy makers, military, diplomats, civilian officials to that of common people across the world. No matter whether its in Iran, North Korea, Pakistan etc issues related to nuclear energy/weapons always occupied the central stage. Governments across the world dreamed for it, military liked nuclear weapons in its arsenal, industry courted with nuclear electricity. In the name of energy security, nations across the globe knowingly or unknowingly nurturing their ambition to go nuclear one day. Administrations are ready to spend money like water to develop nuclear weapons; its another matter that they are unable to find resources to fund the research for increasing yields in plants.

Its Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which revealed the enormous destructive power of nuclear weapons. With in no time different nations started their ambitious nuclear projects. The concept of self assured mutual destruction - nuclear deterrence - prevented many limited wars from escalating and in the future also it may act as an effective deterrent.

Bruce-Nuclear-Szmurlo - Nuclear power station
It is in this situation world again wake up to the possibility of a nuclear crisis after earthquake and Tsunami hit Japanese nuclear reactors. Many sections of  people across the world who are already suspicious about the safety of nuclear reactors already created a front against it, no matter whether it is in India or Germany. But what Japanese Fukushima reactors have to teach us? to avoid nuclear energy due to possibility of a nuclear accidents in the future? or to move ahead with better designs and safety aspects for the advancement of humanity?

Lets revisit the events again. Fukushima reactors were hit with 9.0 magnitude undersea megathrust earthquake, whose epicentre is just 72kms east of Oshika peninsula of Tohoku.This is one of the most powerful known earthquake ever hit Japan, the total energy released is equivalent to 9320 gigatons of TNT or approximately 600mn times of the energy of Hiroshima atom bomb explosion. Fukushima plants were first commissioned in 1971; which means the technology is that much old. Even then it withstood the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent Tsunamis. Everyone feared a nuclear meltdown and another nuclear disaster like Chernobyl, but the reactor is yet to melt down!!!

Fukushima reactor complex produces a combined power of 4.7GWe and this is one of the largest nuclear power stations in the world. Reactors are yet to melt down after the earthquake, Tsunami and subsequent explosions (March 12's large explosions blew away roof and outer walls of reactor 1 building) which rocked the complex.

Consider these factors, what Fukushima reveals is the ability of 40 year old system to withstand the onslaught of an earthquake and Tsunami. From that time to now, there are huge advances in technology, which may corrected some of the earlier design flaws. Moreover if we are stopping to use these energy sources because it is dangerous then there may not much sources left to us. In fact the major source of energy production in the universe is through nuclear process mainly nuclear fusion. Even the solar energy is the results of nuclear fusion of hydrogen, this the source of energy production in the stars and the reason for the creation of heavy elements.

Are we accusing that enery? Are we accusing the energy which is powering the the sattellites which are currently in the outer belts of solar system? There is no doubt that the progress in science is the way forward, and as the time progress there is no doubt that current fusion experiments like IETR etc may lead to the industrial use of fusion energy, which is considered as one of the cleanest sources of energy.

And what about other energy sources? Do you think the hydro electricity is a clean option? Well, do you think the dams built in India (and in any part of the world for that matter) have the power to withstand a 9.0 magnitude earthquake near to it? What will happen if a dam faced such an earth quake? Do you think coal mines are clean? Still coal mines are one of the most accident prone place in the world. Over and above coal fired plants are not so good for the ecology. What will happen in the case of another major oil spill in the sea? All these are associated with one or other risks.

Fukushima-1 NPP
It is not that nuclear energy is completely safe. If not handled with extreme precautions, it will create disastrous results. It is compulsory to follow the highly efficient design standards, not to build plants near the fault lines, religiously follow the standard operational procedures, build the reactors in sparsely populated areas, keep proper exclusion zones etc. Our aim should be how to  carry forward the works of Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Smith, Oppenheimer etc left to us. So that we can take it to the next level.

This is the time to increase the percentage of nuclear power in India's power profile. The current reactors we use are of low capacity in terms of electricity generation compared to that of France, US, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Korea etc. What we need is to construct the nuclear reactors which are in the same level or higher than that of France's Chooz series, Civaux series etc (which have an electricity generation capacity of 1500MWe and 1495MWe respectively).Please note that the electricity generation capacity of Bakra dam - Satlej river (second largest reservoir in India) is just 1325MW and that of Indirasagar the largest reservoir - in India - Narmada river - is just 1000MW.

In the case of Japan, international community should do everything they can do to help the Japanese in these difficult times. There is no doubt that this time too will be over...


Photo courtesy: wikipedia

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