Even as the Narendra Modi government awaits the carrying out of President Barack Obama’s promise to get India included into the key international groups involved with international trade and commerce in nuclear technology and products, India needs to join the actual Nuclear Suppliers Group, which is that group of countries supplying nuclear energy systems to friendly countries. Many years ago, scientists in the Department of Atomic Energy, led by Anil Kakodkar, developed the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR), which is fuelled by a mix of thorium and uranium, and which at present can each generate about 320 MW of electricity at low cost and with a high degree of safety, besides having a near zero risk of proliferation. Such reactors are eminently suitable for small towns across India and in several other countries, but thus far the official establishment in this country has not taken advantage of this innovative technology to make the country’s nuclear programme self-sufficient in terms of cost. Were a bit more high-level attention given to the AHWR project, it would be a simple matter for scientists to ramp up the electricity production to 500 MW, thereby making the unit even more attractive to buyers in the country and outside. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expended a considerable amount of attention on buying (very high-priced) reactors from abroad. Had he instead given an equivalent amount of time to dotting the country with AHWR reactors, the contribution to this country’s economy would have been much more. However, the establishment in India seems adept at spending the money collected from the taxpayer rather than in themselves making any.
If India has been treated for long as a nuclear untouchable, part of the fault lies with the cringing and supplicatory manner in which some of its leaders have presented this country’s case for being treated as an equal of countries such as the UK and France in the field of nuclear power and technology. For too long, the few countries that pass off as the “international community” have sought to do to India what was done to Ekalavya by Drona, who made him cut off his right thumb after the low-norm archer had defeated the guru’s royal pupils in the art. By its pusillanimity in not expanding the boundaries of its international activity in the nuclear field, India encouraged powers ranging from the US to China to Canada to Australia to seek to roll back this country’s hard-won successes in nuclear technology. Now that this country has in effect been acknowledged as a responsible member of the nuclear club, it is important from the point of view of both developing technology and in meeting expenses that India become a global supplier of nuclear reactors, of course in a manner which fully meets the proliferation concerns of the IAEA. Apart from the heavy water reactor, scientists in India are capable of breaking through into the domestic production of 1,000MW reactors, and this too needs to be expedited, so that the country spends as many taxpayer rupees as possible on its own products and technology, rather than on expensive foreign imports.
The Department of Atomic Energy developed the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor , which is fuelled by a mix of thorium and uranium, and can each generate about 320 MW of electricity at low cost and with a high degree of safety, besides having a near zero risk of proliferation.
Unbelievably, scientists warn privately that for nearly a year, the country’s uranium stockpile is not getting renewed, rather it is being exhausted, because money is not getting released for fresh purchases of the fuel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to remind his babus that budget cuts should not be allowed to affect key functions, such as the building of stockpiles of critical materials, but fall only on those items not vital to the security and the prosperity of the country. Certainly funds are important, but North Block’s fetish about the fiscal deficit is affecting key programmes, including the nuclear. A higher deficit figure added to high growth is much more preferable than a low deficit figure that causes economic slowdown. The new government needs to do some “naya soch”, and a good way to start would be to ensure that India become a key supplier of nuclear energy through the marketing of the reactors designed at such huge effort by scientists at the Department of Atomic Energy.