Is Nuclear Power Safer Than Other Energy: We need the power, but with scrutiny

The fact that India needs nuclear energy to contribute to its portfolio seems indisputable. Today, roughly half of India's population does not have access to clean energy forms and the other half that does have access cannot rely on either the quantity or the quality of energy provided.

Therefore, if India needs to sustain an 8-9% annual rate of economic growth based on inclusive development, we would need to add approximately 6,00,000 mw of power by 2030. It is increasingly obvious that India's coal resources are not going to be able to support this growth. While renewable energy is an option, the need for stable base power makes reliance on nuclear power almost a given.

India has made huge efforts, therefore, to enter into the civil nuclear agreement with the US and extended the same with several other countries. The question now, in the wake of developments in Japan , is can India responsibly handle its current and future nuclear generating capacities? One serious accident in a nuclear plant can lead to large-scale and long-lasting impacts - impacts that do not differentiate between the rich and the poor or the young and the old.

But it is also true that our inability to provide clean energy sources to the masses is resulting in around 4,00,000 premature deaths annually from indoor air pollution - largely impacting children under 6. It has also been estimated that air pollution in urban areas leads to approximately 50,000 premature deaths. The key difference between these casualties and those arising from a nuclear accident is that these are widely dispersed geographically and spread through the year, although repeated annually.

As such, we need to carefully evaluate India's options before closing the door on nuclear energy. Having said that, there is a need to open up the nuclear programme in India to greater technical, economic and social scrutiny. The people in the country have to be involved in the decision-making processes on location, safety and regulatory aspects and disposal of nuclear wastes. India needs to evaluate its own options in a local context.

Tags: energy access, nuclear energy, clean energy