PRODUCTION OF ELECTRICITY BY ATOMIC POWER?
Is nuclear energy the solution to our energy crisis? Is nuclear energy going to be a deadly weapon in the hands of greedy countries and businessmen? Do the benefits of nuclear energy overweigh the risks? This paper presents arguments in favor of and against nuclear energy and finally ends up with the conclusion that there are grave dangers inherent in the use of nuclear power. Nuclear power is more economical than power produced from coal, oil and gas. But the major problem in the production of nuclear power is the disposal of nuclear wastes. Radioactive waste is a deadly weapon which continues to release radiation for many generations. The paper also emphasises that the major part of electrical energy is produced from thermal, hydroelectric and renewable energy sources.
India is the second largest country in the world in population next to China. India has to generate enormous amount of electricity to cater the domestic and industrial needs. The electrical energy consumption has been doubling in India due to industrialization and population increase. This growth in electricity consumption is related more to the production of garbage than to the quality of life.
Power produced from various sources
The electricity sector in India supplies the world's 5th largest energy consumer, accounting for 4.0% of global energy consumption by more than 17% of global population. The electricity consumed in India is generated 65.34% by thermal power plants, 21.53% by hydroelectric power plants, 2.7% by nuclear power plants, 10.42% by renewable energy sources . India has also invested in renewable energy utilization, especially in wind energy and in 2010 the production of electricity by wind energy would be 14,550 MW. Additionally, India has been constructing various nuclear reactors which would generate at least 30,000 MW and in July 2009, India unveiled a $19 billion plan to produce 20,000 MW of solar power by 2022. Chart1 gives the major public sector units involved in the generation of electricity.
The current installed capacity of thermal power as of June 30, 2011 is 115649.48 MW which is 65.34%of total installed capacity. The present installed coal based thermal power is 96,743.38 MW which comes to 54.66% of total installed base. The total installed oil based thermal power is 1,199.75 MW which is 0.67% of total installed capacity [2,3].
The present installed capacity of hydroelectric power as on 30-06-2011 is approximately 37,367.4 MW which is 21.53% of total electricity generation in India. As on 30-06-2011 about 18,454.52 MW of electricity is being generated through renewable energy. This forms about 10.42% of total electricity generation in India .
Wind and solar energies
As of June 2010 the installed capacity of wind power in India was 12009.14 MW, mainly spread across Tamil Nadu (4132.72 MW), Maharashtra (1837.85 MW), Karnataka (1184.45 MW), Rajasthan (670.97 MW), Gujarat (1432.71 MW), Andhra Pradesh (122.45 MW), Madhya Pradesh (187.69 MW), Kerala (23.00 MW), West Bengal (1.10 MW) and other states (3.20 MW). It is estimated that 6,000 MW of additional wind power capacity will be installed in India by 2012.Wind power accounts for 6% of India's total installed power capacity, and it generates 1.6% of the country's power. The average intensity of solar radiation received in India is 200 MW/square km (megawatt per square kilometer). With a geographical area of 3.287 million square km, this amounts to 657.4 million MW .
Biomass and tidal energies
India is very rich in biomass and has a potential of 16,881MW of energy from agro-residues and plantations, 5000MW of energy from Bagasse (the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane or sorghum stalks are crushed to extract their juice. It is currently used as a biofuel and as a renewable resource in the manufacture of pulp and paper products and building materials) cogeneration and 2700MW energy recovery from waste. The high energy of sea tides is used to rotate turbines which drive generators to produce electricity. The identified economic tidal power potential in India is of the order of 8000-9000 MW with about 7000 MW in the Gulf of Cambay (an inlet of the Arabian Sea along the west coast of India, in the state of Gujarat) about 1200 MW in the Gulf of Kutch (an inlet of the Arabian Sea along the west coast of India, in the state of Gujarat, and renowned for extreme daily tides) and less than 100 MW in Sundarbans (the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in Bengal).
The current installed capacity of nuclear power produced from nuclear power reactors is 4,780 MW which is about 2.7% of total generation. It is to be noted from the data that the least production of power is from the nuclear power generation units . Chart 2 gives the amount of power produced from various sources.
The present problem and crisis
Since electricity has been produced from thermal, hydraulic, oil, coal, gas, biomass and tidal energies, our planet is currently faced with a devastating problem. The major devastating problem is, where are we going to find energy in the future, now that our present sources of oil, coal, gas and biomass are dwindling rapidly? Henceforth the scientists and the leaders of the world started insisting that nuclear energy is one possible solution. However, many people feel that there are grave dangers inherent in the use of nuclear power. The accident at Three Mile Island of USA on 28th March 1979, Chernobyl of Russia in 26th April 1986  Fukushima of Japan on 11th March 2011 have increased people's fear of nuclear energy, and a large group of people support for anti-nuclear energy.
The atomic energy commission of India
In India, the atomic energy commission was established in 1948. Dr. Homi J. Bhabha was the first chairman of atomic energy commission. The department of atomic energy has constituted many research reactors and critical facilities of different designs with varying power levels. The research reactors in India include Apsara, Cirus, Dhruva and Purnima at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) Trombay, Maharashtra, and Kamini at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu. They support research work that requires the use of neutrons and also to produce radio isotopes for use in research, medicine, agriculture, industry, food preservation, etc.
Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) is the public sector company which owns, constructs and operates nuclear power plants in India. NPCIL plans to put up a total installed nuclear power capacity of 20,000 MW by the year 2020. India’s nuclear power programme has 46 units of reactors in operation. There are 43 units of pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWR) and 3 units of boiling water reactors (BWR) with a total power generation capacity of 4560 MWe. The operating nuclear power reactors are given below.
Atomic power plants in India
Name & place of the atomic power plant Unit Type Capacity (MWe) Date
TARAPUR ATOMIC POWER STATION (TAPS) , Maharashtra 1 BWR 160 October 28, 1969
TARAPUR ATOMIC POWER STATION (TAPS) , Maharashtra 2 BWR 160 October 28, 1969
TARAPUR ATOMIC POWER STATION (TAPS) , Maharashtra 3 PHWR 540 August 18, 2006
TARAPUR ATOMIC POWER STATION (TAPS) , Maharashtra 4 PHWR 540 September 12, 2005
RAJASTHAN ATOMIC POWER STATION (RAPS), Rajasthan 1 PHWR 100 December 16,1973
RAJASTHAN ATOMIC POWER STATION (RAPS), Rajasthan 2 PHWR 200 April 1,1981
RAJASTHAN ATOMIC POWER STATION (RAPS), Rajasthan 3 PHWR 220 June 1, 2000
RAJASTHAN ATOMIC POWER STATION (RAPS), Rajasthan 4 PHWR 220 December 23, 2000
RAJASTHAN ATOMIC POWER STATION (RAPS), Rajasthan 5 PHWR 220 February 4, 2010
RAJASTHAN ATOMIC POWER STATION (RAPS), Rajasthan 6 PHWR 220 March 31, 2010
MADRAS ATOMIC POWER STATION (MAPS), Tamil Nadu 1 PHWR 220 January 27,1984
MADRAS ATOMIC POWER STATION (MAPS), Tamil Nadu 2 PHWR 220 March 21,1986
KAIGA GENERATING STATION, Karnataka 1 PHWR 220 November 16, 2000
KAIGA GENERATING STATION, Karnataka 2 PHWR 220 March 16, 2000
KAIGA GENERATING STATION, Karnataka 3 PHWR 220 May 6, 2007
NARORA ATOMIC POWER STATION (NAPS) , Uttar Pradesh 1 PHWR 220 January 1,1991
NARORA ATOMIC POWER STATION (NAPS) , Uttar Pradesh 2 PHWR 220 July 1,1992
KAKRAPAR ATOMIC POWER STATION (KAPS), Gujarat 1 PHWR 220 May 6, 1993
KAKRAPAR ATOMIC POWER STATION (KAPS), Gujarat 2 PHWR 220 September 1,1995
Nuclear power is more economical
Nuclear power is more economical than power produced from coal, oil and gas. The amount of coal, oil, and gas, although available more plentiful in the world, do not contain as much potential energy as uranium, when equal amounts are compared. Therefore, though uranium is a rarer element and may cost more, the money saved through its use make it more economical than coal, oil, or gas. Similarly, though the initial cost of a nuclear power plant is much higher than that of other energy plants, the money saved by using nuclear energy would cover the cost of its construction within its first six months of operation. After the initial six months of use, the nuclear plant will save money and make it much more economical than other types of energy plants for the duration of its life, usually about forty years.
Safety and environment
However, nuclear power is more economical than power produced from coal, oil and gas, safety and environmental factors must also be taken into consideration. People worry more on the possibility of an accident as more nuclear power plants are established. They also think that a plant has the capability of exploding like an atom bomb. The fact is that the uranium used in power plants differs greatly from that used in bombs, and presents no threat. People are also worried about radiation leakage. The radiation from a nuclear power plant is contained in materials that prevent passage. Even if these materials fail to prevent the leakage, there are safety systems to prevent leakage and in addition there are back-up arrangements on the safety systems. The radioactive wastes are sealed in leak proof vaults, and when transported are sealed in accident proof containers, able to withstand incredible impact [8,9].
Radioactive waste disposal
Currently in India, the nuclear power constitutes 4,780 MW of electricity from various nuclear power reactors which is about 2.7% of total generation. A major problem is the disposal of nuclear wastes. Radioactive waste produced by one average sized power plant is approximately 15,000,000 times greater than that of all radiation from all the radium used in the entire history of the world. Since the half-life (the time required for one half of a radioactive substance to disintegrate) is so great, most nuclear wastes take up to 200,000 years to dissipate. There is a statement in nuclear physics that a radioactive element takes infinite time to lose its radioactive property completely. The radioactive wastes can neither be destroyed nor stored safely. It has been suggested that we bury the wastes deep underground, but there is no guarantee that the wastes will not penetrate our water supply .
Reactor core meltdown
Another danger is the possibility of a meltdown. Despite all possible precautions, a meltdown is still possible. If the cooling system or any other safety aspect fails, the core could overheat and burn right through the reactor, releasing incredible amounts of radiations. In early 1979, Three Mile Island nuclear power plant almost experienced a meltdown. Officials assured that there was no radiation leakage, but they lied. The public was exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Is nuclear energy worth this risk? Does our government really believe it is safe?
The biological effects can be divided into three types namely short term effects, long term irrecoverable effects and the genetic effect.
Smaller doses of radiations produce short term effects such as skin disorders and loss of hair which are generally recoverable. Thus recovery is possible from small acute doses of nuclear radiations.
Larger doses of radiations produce irrecoverable effects within few weeks. When excessive doses are absorbed, the first noticeable disorder is a drop in white blood cell count. This is followed by radiation sickness pattern of diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. The more serious is the damage done to the bone marrow and to other cells which leads to the production of cancerous cells and become malignant tumours.
The effects of the third type of damage appear in the future generations of those irradiated. The genetic effects produced include an increase in mental deficiencies, an increase in the number of monsters born and a general deterioration of the species in quality and population number.
The lethal dose of radiations is approximately 500 rem. In radiotherapy, to kill cancer cells, a patient may receive localized doses of radiations of 200 rem each day for a period of some weeks. A typical diagnostic chest X-ray exposes a person from 5 to 30 millirem, is less than tenthousanth of the lethal dose. Taking all causes into account, most of us will receive a life time exposure of less than 20 rem distributed to several decades. This makes us a little more susceptible to cancer and other disorders.Cancer effects and explosion from sodium
The major danger of nuclear power is the long term cancer effects resulting from radiation poisoning. If one particle of plutonium (the element used in breeder reactors) were to enter the lungs, it would produce enough radiation to cause cancer and eventual death. In nuclear testing experiments, it has been concluded that plutonium fallout would cause up to 600 deaths in 50 years from cancer. If the present growth continues, up to 130 million pounds of plutonium will be in use, and the possibility of death will increase tremendously. There is another problem in nuclear power plant results with the inception of the breeder reactor. As stated earlier, the breeder reactor uses liquid sodium. Sodium is extremely explosive when combined with oxygen. Therefore, any sodium that leaks into the air or water would produce a devastating explosion.
Is nuclear power more economical?
An astonishing fact regarding nuclear power plant is that the cost of the nuclear fuel only accounts for 18.2% of the total cost of the process. The other 81.8% of the cost is the construction and maintenance of the plant. There are lots of money and manpower involved in the radioactive waste disposal also. Hence, can we say nuclear power production is economical?
A 'credible' large scale nuclear accident might kill 3400 people immediately, severely injuring 43,000 others, and cause S7 billion damage. This estimate was in 1964, when much smaller plants were in operation than today. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster occurred at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on 11th March 2011 in which there was a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns, and releases of radiations from radioactive materials. Three Mile Island of USA, Chernobyl of Russia and Fukushima of Japan disasters prove that the nuclear energy is not the safe energy as it has been told before. Though nuclear energy is economical in the production, what to do with nuclear wastes, which is a big problem with no solution. In United State of America, Rockland County has laws disallowing the transportation of nuclear waste on their roads. Since the dangers of nuclear energy are so grave, perhaps other sources of energy from wind, water, fusion, geothermal, coal, and solar should be explored.
1. Electricity in India, International Energy Agency, 9, Rue de la Federation, 754739, Paris
2. National Thermal Power Corporation: www.ntpc.co.in
3. Neyveli Lignite Corporation: www.nlcindia.co.in
4. National Hydroelectric Power Corporation: www.nhpcindia.com
5. Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency: www.ireda.nic.in
6. Nuclear Power Corporation of India: www.npcil.org
7. Chernobyl, Nuclear Information & Resource Service, Washington DC (1995)
8. S.Glasstone, Atomic energy, Affiliated East West Press, New Delhi
9. Inving Kaplan, Nuclear Physics, Narosa Publising House, New Delhi
10. K.Ilangovan, Engineering Physics, Anuradha Agencies, Kumbakonam