Nuclear energy in India for UPSC: Science & Tech

Nuclear Energy In India For UPSC

In this article, you will read Nuclear energy in India for UPSC Exam.

This is our comprehensive post on the development of nuclear energy and nuclear energy policy in India, especially for the UPSC examination.

So first of all, let’s look at some basics information for a better understanding of the topic i.e. Nuclear energy in India.

Fissile and Fertile materials

Fissile material is one that can sustain a chain reaction upon bombardment by neutrons.

Fertile meaning that it can transmute into a fissile radioisotope (U-233) but cannot itself keep a chain reaction going.

Thorium is by itself fertile.

In a thorium reactor, a fissile material like uranium or plutonium is blanketed by thorium.

The fissile material, also called a driver in this case, drives the chain reaction to produce energy while simultaneously transmuting the fertile material into fissile material.

Isotopes

Atoms and elements are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. The nucleus is made of protons and neutrons, and the electrons surround the nucleus. The sum of the number of protons and the number of neutrons is equal to the atomic mass.

Isotopes are atoms with the same number of protons but that have a different number of neutrons. Since the atomic number is equal to the number of protons and the atomic mass is the sum of protons and neutrons, we can also say that isotopes are elements with the same atomic number but different mass numbers.

For example: U-233, U-235, U-238 (U – Uranium)

Out of these three U-233 and U-235 are fissile whereas U-238 is fertile.

The first two breakdowns to produce heat and neutrons as well as 2 lighter nuclei whereas the third-one changes into Pu-239 which is fissile substance. Similarly, Th-232 is also a fertile element, it changes into U-233.

Nuclear Energy in India

India’s nuclear power plants, mostly set up during the sanction years, provide only 3% of the energy mix. After the historic Indo-US nuclear deal 2008, the first two plants at Kundankulam – established with Russian assistance.

Nuclear fuel of the future: Thorium

According to the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD), a constituent Unit of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), India has 11.93 million tonnes of Monazite (ore) which contains about 1.07 million tonnes of thorium.

The country’s thorium reserves make up 25 per cent of the global reserves. It can easily be used as a fuel to cut down on the import of Uranium from different countries.

  • Through U-233 that could be produced from it releases 8 times the amount of energy per unit mass compared to natural U.
  • In waste generation also, it has a relative advantage over Uranium. Thorium dioxide is much more stable the Uranium dioxide
  • Higher thermal conductivity so in case of explosion heat energy will quickly flow out and prevent a meltdown.
  • The melting point is 500 degrees higher so in case of accident heat energy will flow out quickly and prevent a meltdown.

Thorium Cycle – Working

Thorium-232 is a fertile material. The thorium cycle can be understood in following figure:

Nuclear Energy In India

Reasons it has not been developed

  • First, one needs to produce U-233 from Th, and for this, reactors based on the naturally available nuclear fuel material, Uranium-235, are required.
  • Recovery of U-233 by large-scale reprocessing of irradiated thorium poses certain practical hurdles.
  • Thorium cannot be weaponized and world powers built nuclear energy plants after they built the weapon.

Spent Fuel Reprocessing Process

  • The nuclear fuel mix has a high amount of fissile material. Once it is used, the amount of non-fissile material and by-products would increase and that material cannot be used again as fuel in its present form. This is called spent fuel.
  • It may or may not be re-usable. If spent fuel is not reprocessed, the fuel cycle is referred to as an open fuel cycle (or a once-through fuel cycle); if the spent fuel is reprocessed, it is referred to as a closed fuel cycle.
  • India’s nuclear programme is oriented towards maximizing the energy potential of available uranium resources and the utilization of the large thorium reserve.
  • Available global uranium resources cannot sustain the projected expansion of nuclear power without adopting the closed fuel cycle approach.

Uranium Enrichment-

UE is an artificial process in which the percentage of U-235 is enhanced and for this purpose, centrifuges are used. Naturally occurring U is comprised of two isotopes i.e. U-235 and U-238. Natural Uranium consists of 99.3 % of U-238 which is not fissile material i.e. not suitable as fuel and 0.7 % of U-235, which is very fissile and used as fuel.

So, it is required to convert it in maximum percentage for use.

In enrichment process the % of the fissile isotopes are increased by using centrifuges.

In enrichment isotopic separation is done by using lessors and diffusion. Enriched U falls into two categories-

1. LEU (Low Enriched Uranium) In this case the % of U-235 is equal to or less than 20, it is used for peaceful processes like fuel for the nuclear reactor for example Jaitapur requires 5% enriched U as the fuel.

2. HEU (High enriched Uranium) HEU is also known as weapon-grade Uranium. The % of U-235 can go beyond 90. It is used for conducting nuclear tests and configuring nuclear weapons under any circumstance such as material can not be transferred to any country.

Nuclear Cooperation Agreement

One of the plans of action devised by India to address climate change is to produce 25% of its total electricity from nuclear by 2050, for 2032 the target is 27000 MWE, for 2020 the goal is 20,000 MWE and current production is 6780 MWE which is 2 to 3 % of total electricity.

Domestically India can produce only 1/5 of total nuclear fuel, therefore, the Nuclear cooperation agreement was a sign with Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, South Korea, Russia, UK, USA, Uzbekistan.

Under this agreement India was promised –

  • Nuclear Fuel
  • Nuclear reactor
  • ENR Technology (enrichment and reprocessing)

Reprocessing is the extraction of useful elements from the spent fuel rods, but later the USA, Russia, and France asked India to get the membership of NSG then only access to ENR will be allowed.

India’s obligation –

  1. Separation plan
  2. Safeguard agreement

As India is not a member of NPT, therefore, it was asked to classified it’s nuclear facilities in civilian and military categories and those which are in civilian were to brought under the inspection of IAEA through safeguard agreement, In 2006 India was having 21 reactors out of them 14 were brought in the civilian list and 8 in the military list. India is the only country other than the 5 nuclear weapon states which are allowed to maintain military reactors. It implies India’s recognition as a country with nuclear weapons.

Additional Protocol – It was adopted by IAEA in the 1990s to increase its presence in the nuclear programme of non-nuclear weapon states. In 1993 IAEA adopted a programme i.e.  93+2 to address the weaknesses of safeguard mechanism, this led the genesis of the additional protocol. The difference between safeguard agreement and additional protocol is that under former only declared sites can be brought under the inspection whereas under additional protocol both declared as well as undeclared sites can be inspected.

India refused to sign the protocol which has been signed by non-nuclear weapon state rather it negotiated a new one and gave 3 commitments-

  1. To bring 14 civilian reactors under IAEA inspection
  2. It will inform IAEA if Uranium is exported to non-nuclear weapon states
  3. It will communicate to IAEA if Th is being exported to non-nuclear to weapon states.

Nuclear diplomacy and India: controversies and relations

Voluntary restriction on Nuclear Testingalso described as safe guard moratorium on nuclear testing. In order to define liability in case of nuclear accident a law will be passed.

The indo-US nuclear deal is popularly described as 1 2 3 agreement because it was signed as per section 1 2 3 of the US atomic energy act 1954. The section says if a country has signed an NPT and US president is satisfied then US can share nuclear technology for peaceful use, in case of India the problem was it has not adopted NPT therefore in 2006 US amended section 1 2 3 through Hyde act which removed the requirement of NPT, the deal was concluded in 2007 and ratified by the Indian parliament in 2008.

The highlights of agreement are –

  1. The US will supply nuclear fuel to India rather it will help in maintaining the strategic reserves of Uranium i.e. at least one-year fuel in advance for the reactors in the civil category, in case the US is not able to fulfill requirement then it will ask others to supply the nuclear fuel.
  2.  The US will give India a nuclear reactor one of their suppliers is exporting 6 reactors for kovvada in Andhra Pradesh.
  3. The US was very reluctant to allow the reprocessing of the spent fuel. Their argument was that such a facility is not been extended to any country.

    The text of agreement says India will set up a centralized reprocessing facility where the spent fuel of all the 14 reactors will be brought and it should be safeguard with IAEA.

US was looking to establish a connection between termination of deal and nuclear testing, which was outrightly rejected by India. The agreement says that if India conducts the nuclear test then US will try to understand the circumstances that will be followed by negotiation b/w two countries which should conclude within a year.

Any of two, terminate the deal by giving one-year notice in advance. The deal is reviewed annually by the US president.

Implication of the deal –

  1. India’s nuclear isolation was broken.
  2. Access to the latest nuclear technology which is vital for energy security.
  3. Recognition as a country with nuclear weapon.
  4. Retaining the right of conducting the nuclear test.
  5. De-hyphenation of India-Pakistan by USA.

Indo-Japan Nuclear deal-

India is only non-NPT country with whom Japan has signed the nuclear cooperation agreement. The agreement was finalised in Nov-2016. This deal was important for two reasons-

  1. Japan along with China and Russia enjoyed the monopoly over the steel which requires the core of the Nuclear reactor.
  2. The French supplier Areva is controlled by Mitsubishi, general electric, and Westinghouse of USA are controlled by Hitachi and Toshiba respectively, in the absence of an agreement with Japan the French and American suppliers would have failed to get the consent for supplying the nuclear reactor. When the negotiation started with Japan, they proposed highly unrealistic conditions that India has to make unequivocal conditions that it will never conduct the nuclear test. This was refused by India rather it was insisting on 1 2 3 models.

Following the Fukushima accident in 2011, the talks got suspended. Later when they were resumed India changed the proposal from purchasing the steel to purchase of reactors. The nuclear agreement with Japan has two set of documents –

  1. Notes on views and understanding, it carries two commitments by India
    1. No first use
    1. Voluntary restricting on nuclear testing
  2. The second set of documents is the main agreement. According to Japan both the document was binding whereas Indian position is that only main agreement is binding. Japan is trying to establish a connection b/w the conduction of the nuclear test and the termination of nuclear deal. India can not accept this interpretation because than the others will also start demanding similar provision and one more possible is negative fallout is dilution of predictability among the nuclear agreement which might hurt the prospect of NSG membership.

Given the geopolitical scenario where the US is withdrawing and China is expanding it is highly unlikely that Japan will do anything to undermine India’s position. Realistically India will conduct the nuclear test if China carries out some serious provocation, given the fact that China is as big a security threat to Japan as it is to India, Japan will have a sympathetic view.

According to the agreement Indian companies and their Japanese counterpart will form the joint venture to built nuclear reactors. This arrangement will facilitate the transfer of technology. India will reprocess the spent fuel for Japan, this is how the japan has been made a stack holder in the process of having the NSG membership.


India’s Three Stage Nuclear Power Programme

This programme was formulated in the 1950s by Dr. Homi Bhabha to secure the country’s long-term energy independence, via the use of uranium and thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India especially the state of Kerala. The ultimate focus is on the Thorium Fuel Cycle.

In 1954 Asia’s first research reactor APSARA was installed. It was followed by CIRUS from Canada under the “Atoms for peace program” later India developed Dhruva which is still the largest supplier of Plutonium for weapons, besides them BARC has developed ZERLINA and PURNIMA I-II-III out of them only DHRUVA is operating.

Indira Gandhi center for Atomic research has developed following research reactor –

  • Kamini
  • Fast Breeder test reactor
  • Prototype fast breeder reactor – it has not yet started the operation.

India’s Three Stage Nuclear Power Programme are as follows:

  • Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR)
  • Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR)
  • Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR)

Stag-1 (PHWR)

  • The first stage involved using natural uranium to fuel PHWR to produce electricity and producing Plutonium-239 as a by-product.
  • Kindly note here that the PHWRs were chosen for the first stage because in 1960s, India had the efficient reactor design in terms of uranium utilisation.
  • It was calculated that rather than going for creation of Uranium Enrichment Facilities, it would be wiser to create heavy water production.
  • Moreover, using Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors rather than Light Water Reactors was also a correct and wise decision. While Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors used unenriched uranium, Light Water Reactors required enriched uranium. Further, India could domestically produce the components of PWHR, as opposed to LWRs.
  • Furthermore, the by-product plutonium-293 would be used in the second stage.

First Stage: Following Reactors

  1. Boiling Water Reactor
  2. Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor
  3. Pressurized Water Reactor

BWR:

  • In 1962, India signed an agreement with USA and got two BWR.
  • First installed reactor at Tarapore.
  • Light water as moderator and coolant
  • Enriched uranium as Fuel

PHWR:

  • Also known as CANDU- Canadian Deuterium Uranium
  • Heavy water as moderator and coolant
  • Natural uranium as fuel
  • Majority of India’s working reactor are this

PWR:

  • Light Water Reactor
  • Light water as the moderator and coolant
  • Enriched uranium as fuel
  • USP is safety mechanisms incorporated in them
  • Belong to Generation III +

India is having PWR from Russia and France

VVER: Voda Voda Energy Reactor from Russia    

Stag-2 (FBR)

  • The second stage involves using plutonium-239 to produce mixed-oxide fuel, which would be used in Fast Breeder Reactors. Plutonium 293 undergoes fission to produce energy, and metal oxide is reacted with enriched uranium reacts with mixed-oxide fuel to produce more plutonium-239.
  • Furthermore, once a sufficient amount of plutonium-239 is built up, thorium will be used in the reactor, to produce Uranium-233. This uranium is crucial for the third stage.

Second stage: Only one type of reactor

Fast Breeder Reactor:

  • First at Kalpakkam in TN
  • Uses Pu-239 as fuel and u-238 is converted into Pu-239
  • Also known as Fast Neutron Reactor
  • No moderator
  • Coolant is liquid Na

Stag-3 (AHWR)

  • The main purpose of stage-3 is to achieve a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle. The advanced nuclear system would be used as a combination of Uranium-233 and Thorium. Thus, India’s vast thorium would be exploited, using a thermal breeder reactor.
  • Thorium use was reserved for the last stage because despite having significant availability, the use of Thorium in the production of energy has been full of certain challenges. It cannot be used directly.
  • Since it is a fertile material, it can be only used with added fissile material that can be enriched Uranium, Plutonium, or Uranium-233 (obtained after irradiation of Thorium).
  • Thorium absorbs the neutrons, which can more efficiently produce more Plutonium in Fast Breeder Reactor for faster growth.
  • Therefore, using Thorium in the first, or an early part of the second stage of the nuclear power program will adversely affect the rate of growth of nuclear power generation capacity in the initial periods.
  • Due to these reasons, large scale deployment of Thorium was postponed until the later part of the second stage. Thorium is to be introduced only at an optimal point during the operation of Fast Breeder Reactors in the second stage.
  • Thorium, for power generation is to be used mainly in the third stage.

AHWR: Advanced Heavy Water Reactor: BARC is developing

  • Fuel is U-233 but it will use Thorium to make U-233, so very important
  • Light water as coolant
  • Heavy water as moderator

Nuclear Weapon Programme

After the success of Cyrus and indigenous reactor with the name Dhruva was developed so as to have an indigenous source of Pu for the weapons. The first nuclear test was in May-1974 with the name operation Smiling Buddha which was described as a peaceful nuclear explosion by PM Gandhi, their explosion was carried out all of them were fission devices and sub-kiloton devices.

The yield of the nuclear test is expressed in kiloton with respect to TNT(Trinitrotoluene). In response to the nuclear test by India a cartel came into existence in the form of Nuclear Supplier Group. Initially, it was also called London club, its purpose is to control the transfer of nuclear technology and to do so it takes decisions to consensus if a country is looking to receive nuclear technology but not a membership then it has to fulfill two conditions –

  1. Sign NPT
  2. Adopt full scope safeguard i.e. bring all the present and future nuclear facilities under the inspection of IAEA.

For the membership there are 5 conditions –

  1. Should be in a position to export the technology
  2. Compliance with the guidelines
  3. Contribution in preventing nuclear proliferation at the international level.
  4. Should have taken the step to address proliferation domestically
  5. Sign NPT or any one of the following treaty which has declared nuclear-weapon-free zone.
    1. Treaty of Bangkok – it has declared southeast as nuclear-weapon-free
    1. Treaty of Pelindaba – to declare Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free
    1. Treaty of Tlatelolco – to declare Latin America as a nuclear-weapon-free
    1. Treaty of Rarotonga – which has declared small island nations as a nuclear-weapon-free
    1. Treaty of Semipalatinsk – to declare central Asia as nuclear-weapon-free

When India started the negotiation for nuclear cooperation agreement, one of the questions was – why would NSG will permit USA, Russia, France to share nuclear technology with India. In Sep-2008 the external affairs minister Mr. Pranav Mukherji address NSG and gave to commitments-

  • No first use
  • Self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing

Very next day US brought a resolution that in case of India none of two conditions will apply and it can receive Nuclear technology from the member. This is described as special clean waiver till date NSG has granted such exemption only to one country.

Following the disagreement over nuclear liability act USA pushed NSG chairman to write a letter to IAEA regarding the fulfilment of condition. Following this development US, Russia, and France especially USA started insisting that India should get membership of NSG.

The liability issue was resolved in 2015 and for the first time claim for membership was made in June-2016 When the NSG meeting was held in Seoul. During voting, China and 9 other countries voted against us. Their argument was India is not a member of NPT which is a mandatory clause.

On the other hand, is instead of a criteria-based approach the approach should be based on performance where non-proliferation credentials should be considered. Following that China proposed that all the non-NPT countries like Israel, North Korea, Pakistan should also be made members along with India and for that it will devise a two-step formula, spent more than 2 years there is no hint for that formula. They are just looking to delay if not deny the entry.

India is working on a multipronged strategy –

  • It has got the membership of multilateral export control regimes like MTCR, Australia Group, Wassenaar Arrangement, along with NSG these three forms of technology denial regime.
  • India is looking to improve relations with China in that regard two informal summits have taken place in Wuhan and Chennai. If China does not agree then the next option is to have the support of 47 other members to isolate it.

The membership will have the following positives –

  1. It will facilitate access to sensitive nuclear technologies which in turn will push the nuclear power programme in the desired direction.
  2. By virtue of being the member India will be able to export nuclear technology especially in the neighborhood.

In 1998 five nuclear tests were conducted under operation Shakti. Out of them 4 were fission devices and one was a thermonuclear device, a few days later Pakistan conducted its first nuclear test to give a message to the global community that the purpose is not to attack rather it is to defend that is why National Security Advisory Board headed by Mr. K. Subramanyam asked to drafted the nuclear doctrine. It was made public in 1999 and adopted on 4 Jan-2003.

The highlights of doctrine are-

1. No first Use

When the nuclear doctrine was discussed and debated there were three school of thought –

  • Pragmatism (favouring no first use)
  • Maximalism (supporting first use)
  • Rejectionism

Finally, pragmatic school of thought prevails and No first use was adopted. It says India will not be first to use a nuclear weapon but if attacked it will carry out massive retaliation to cause unacceptable damage.

This is known as second-strike capability. To have second-strike nuclear tried is required i.e. all the 3 wings (Army, Navy, Airforce) must have the mechanism to deliver nuclear weapons. Especially the navy must have a submarine that can use nuclear missiles. The tried was completed when INS-Arihant was inducted, it uses the missile Sagarika which can carry nuclear Warhead but to have credible tried just should be at least 4-5 submarine i.e. being negotiated by India with other countries like Russia and France.

In 2003 when the doctrine was adopted there was a slight modification b/c of the following clause which says irrespective of the fact whether a country is a nuclear weapon state or non-nuclear weapon state, if it uses biological or chemical weapons against us then the retaliation will be in the form of nuclear weapons.

This might sound like a dilution of no first use but it is a deterrent that India has to project as it does not have the stocks nor the production facility of biological or chemical weapons rather it is a signatory of the biological and toxic logical convention as well as Chemical weapon convention. United Nations has officially recognized that we neither produce nor we have the stocks of such weapons.

In 2010 National security advisor said no first use is pledge only towards non-nuclear weapon state, at times there is debate that India should move from no first use to first use policy which is supported by the following structural factors –

  1. India’s technological today is much better compared to 2003 therefore the shift is possible.
  2. The gap b/w India and China in terms of conventional war have increased, one of the options to neutralize that edge enjoyed by china is to carry out the first strike.
  3. Pakistan had adopted terrorism as an instrument as state policy against India these attacks over a period of time have caused huge looses therefore the option of the first strike should be considered.

No first Use has also many positives associated with it-

  1. If two countries are having no first use policy then the possibility of nuclear war is minimum, On the contrary, if both countries are having first use policy then the chances of nuclear war maximum.
  2. No first use saves political leadership from unnecessary psychological pressure.
  3. By adopting no first use participating in arms race can be avoided but in first use the attacker must have more weapons and missile than the adversary.
  4. No first use was one of the critical factors when nuclear deals were signed and NSG granted India especially clean waiver the change in policy will adversely affect these arrangements, Instead of changing the policy the focus should be on anti-ballistic missile system as well as improving the nuclear tried through submarine and better fighter aircraft. It will enhance the credibility of deterrence.

2. India will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states – India will continue with the policy of voluntary restriction on nuclear testing.

3. For decision making, there is nuclear command authority comprising of the political council headed by the PM. Executive council under national security adviser, National security advisory board, and Strategic force command under the officer of the rank of Air marshal. The final decision lies with the political council, but the responsibility of execution is on strategic forces command, as per protocol whenever PM is not available the responsibility is delegated to someone else.

4. Credible Minimum deterrence

As per this policy India will always maintain certain minimum no. of a nuclear weapon to cause unacceptable damage to work out what is unacceptable to our country it is important to understand their society, polity, economy, and defense setup.

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