Of Power and Weapons: M V Ramana on Nuclear Energy

Nehal Chaliawala

Chennai, Nov 8: M V Ramana, a Canada based nuclear physicist and peace and disarmament advocate of Indian origin, criticized India’s investment in R&D of fast breeder nuclear reactors that utilize thorium here on Tuesday.

“It is a failed technology which the entire world has abandoned. India is running in a race in which it is the only participant,” he said, addressing students of the Asian College of Journalism on nuclear bombs and nuclear power

Fast breeders are nuclear reactors that can theoretically use thorium to generate heat which can be used to generate electricity. They also have a unique capability of generating alternate nuclear fuel while making nuclear power, thus their efficiency is effectively a full hundred percent. Moreover, they don’t require any heavy water moderator, thus bringing down operating costs.

However, thorium has to be first converted to Uranium-233 (233U) which in itself is a very complex and expensive procedure. Also, Fast breeder reactors have a higher than normal probability of failure due to their inherent ‘interactive complexity’. In other words, they are so complex that different processes cannot be compartmentalized and failure in one part can quickly result in the collapse of the entire system.

All the countries of the world except India and Russia have given up on this technology. However, given its vast thorium reserves and limited uranium supply, India is still eyeing this technology.

“We should invest in heavy water reactors which the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) has experience operating,”Ramana told The Hindu.

“Only 3 percent of electricity in India is generated from nuclear sources. This figure is likely to stay this way for many years to come because nuclear power is expensive and even when new nuclear plants are developed, other power sources are also being exploited, thus overshadowing the contribution of nuclear power,” he explained.

Talking of nuclear weapons, he quoted the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) who won the 2017 Nobel Peace prize for its achievement of drawing an international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. “We should stop talking about nuclear weapons as means of defense and start viewing them as tools of large-scale human suffering,” he said.

The treaty was drafted in May and in September it was opened for signing. India had not joined in citing its ‘No First-use policy’ as a testimony of being a ‘responsible nuclear power’. Notably, none of the existing nuclear powers, including the United States and its allies have participated in the treaty.

 

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