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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

India's indigenous Nuclear Technology & International sanctions

"I found that whereas sanctions slowed progress in nuclear energy, they made India self-sufficient and world leaders in fast reactor technologies. While much of the world’s approach to India has been to limit its access to nuclear technology, it may well be that today we limit ourselves by not having access to India’s nuclear technology developments. Such technical views should help to advice the diplomatic efforts with India."
This quote acknowledging the advancements made by India, in its indigenous programmes to develop technologies for harnessing Nuclear Energy for civilian needs, has been attributed to Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker, PhD. He was the Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S. He made this observation  while testifying before an U.S. Senate Committee in 20081.

I came across this quote while going through the presentation slides used by Dr. Anil Kakodar, then Chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, while delivering a lecture at the Indian Academy of Science. Titled, 'Evolving Indian Nuclear Programme: Rationale and Perspectives', it puts in context development & adoption of Nuclear energy by India, including its Fast Breeder Reactor programme, against the backdrop of India's burgeoning energy requirement.
Especially interesting is the projection made in the following slide. As seen, it estimates that if India were to begin setting up Light Water Reactors [LWR] capable of generating up to 40 GWe of electricity by the end of this decade, its spent fuel could then be reprocessed & reused for energy generation in the indigenously developed Fast Breeder Reactors [FBR].
If done within the timeframe stated, then by 2050, India would have a miniscule amount of energy deficit. What little remains could then, perhaps, be fulfilled using alternate sources of energy. Polluting Hydrocarbon consumption, while showing marginal increase [expected when one factors in increasing population], would mostly be restricted to use in transport vehicles [slide 5]. However, any delays in implementing the construction, would widen the 2050 deficit, forcing India to additionally import coal to meet its energy requirements, that would further exacerbate the environmental situation.
On the other hand, a hypothetical scenario, that sees India totally shunning import of such Nuclear Reactors [LWR], as are the kinds India seeks to import & install, & whose setting up activists are opposing, would raise India's coal import requirement to an unsustainable level [below].
India's successes in developing the necessary Nuclear Technology for the civilian domain despite, or rather due to, the International sanctions, in place since 1974, can be credited in great parts to the visionary endeavours of Dr. Homi J. Bhabha. It, perhaps, helped that he enjoyed the confidence of & unrestricted access to then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in the early years of the programme. Making full use of the free hand given to him by the Prime minister, he went about putting in place an organisational infrastructure in the country that could competently carry out the necessary work & effort needed to realise India's goals of ensuring energy security through self-sufficiency. Towards this goals, it was he who put forth the idea of circumventing India's scarcity of Uranium [fissile or even non-fissile isotopes], by breeding it from Thorium, abundantly available in the country. Thus, India today is one of the leading countries working towards the development of a sustainable & economical nuclear Reactor running on the Thorium cycle.
1 - Dr. Hecker was in the news last year for reporting about his visit to North Korea where he discovered that the North Koreans had built a new & advanced Uranium enrichment facility at its Yongbyon Nuclear Complex - North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Complex: A Report by Siegfried S. Hecker
Related: Understanding Nuclear Energy and Technology [suggested weekend reading]