Then, what about the nuclear deal with USA and our own energy security strategy?
There is a steep rise in fuel prices. They Congress play a cynical drama by Sonia posing as the savior of the poor, the Left and the BJP does what they know, taking a procession on the Delhi streets! Is this all to fuel shortages? What about really serious in-depth analysis by the government and experts and the more responsible behavior by the most senior politicians like Vajpayee, Karunanidhi and Lalu Yadav and Sharad Pawar or even Deve Gowda? These politicians are seniors, with age and one hopes certain wisdom, and they should be doing more serious and responsible things. At least, they can ask some questions openly and ask for answers from experts who must know the difficulties better.
Unfortunately, the UPA is a coalition of such narrow ambitions that everyone from Dr.Singh to Sonia to other allies is all seeking short-term survival escape routes! So, the current logjam over the OBC quota and the office of profit bill that simply made life impossible for the UPA. What next is the question on everyone’s mind!
As for the fuel price hike there are more complicated and international issues when it comes to seek any credible and viable-looking energy security. Let us ask at least some questions openly.
The big euphoria over the nuclear deal with the USA is bogged down in many technicalities and no one is sure when we will get some light over the outcome of our deal! But one thing is clear. That civilian nuclear power is not going to come to help us in any near-term future. Nuclear power debate anywhere, more so in India, is always shrouded in secrecy and there is no public debate or public awareness for such a debate.
First, nuclear power’s promise for solving civilian energy needs is not yet fully proved. It is said that nuclear power might now have a new dawn, though many had written it off as a sun set industry. Recently, while speaking at a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant, President George Bush focused most strongly on nuclear energy. He called it a source of power, “abundant, affordable and safe”. On every count Bush observations may be challenged. If abundant, it is not yet become so abundant! If it is affordable, why it had not become so yet? If safe what about the Chernobyl (the meltdown on 26, April, 1986) and the Three Mile Island incident in the very same Pennsylvania in 1979?
Bush can be taken not a safe nuclear expert!
There are so many technical, economic and even political and military issues and that too when the USA is debating the Iran nuclear power plant and when India is also being drawn into such international strategic buildups, to talk of nuclear power as if it can be tapped at our will is a near fantasy.
France is the one country where nuclear power is a strong contender for civilian supply, France a country with some innovative technological breakthroughs like nuclear technology, high speed trains, Concorde and even the commercial aircraft like Airbus. So, we only can wait and watch and can’t take India’s own nuclear power strategy any more seriously.
The very economics of civilian nuclear energy is forbidding. A recent Nature, the science journal issue had written an editorial as well as essays on the various issues of nuclear power. There are really so many unresolved issues, the construction and safety apart, there is the spent fuel and disposing off nuclear waste and also the rise of terrorism poses other problems.
It is pointed out that the costs of nuclear power plants are simply mind-boggling. In UK, the Sizewell B reactor, opened in 1995, for instance, with 1,200 megawatts is the most powerful single reactor supplying 3% of the country’s electricity needs. It costs US 3.3 million dollars, quoted in 1987 and now revised three times upwards and electricity priced six pence average cost every kilowatt hour over a 40 year period, the cost is said to be two to three times more expensive than power generated by modern gas-fired station!
There is now a renewed interest and a new demand for constructing more nuclear plants. USA, UK, Canada, China, India, EU countries, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and South Africa are some of the countries where nuclear power plants are going to be built, some two dozens in the next five years. Worldwide, nearly 80 per cent of the 441 commercial nuclear reactors are more than 15 years old and need replacements.
There is of course a strong anti-nuclear power movement, there are concerns about the safety of the plants, Gorbachev, Green Peace, Friends of the Earth and others are active in the anti-nuclear power movement. So, also change of heart among some of the anti-nuclear power lobbyists, for the simple reason of the global warming over the overload of the carbon dioxide of the planet earth. Safe and clean energy through renewable sources is only tiny and the real alternative is through coal, gas or nuclear. So the debate goes on and yet we have to be realistic and continue to import oil and gas!
So much for the cost factor. Has anybody talked of the cost of producing civilian nuclear power in India? Or, has anyone cared to ask the costs? We are all still immature or amateurs in politics. What else you expect when we have ministers who straight go to become Cabinet Ministers just out of their family businesses or professions and start talking on every conceivable subject under the sun!
Yes, nuclear power, even at the high noon of Homi Bhaba and Nehru, was only expected to offer cheap power and it didn’t ever, yet in India. So, let us not be lulled by the Singh’s US deal. At best it is just a beginning and the road ahead is long and unchartered and by the time some more things happen Dr.Singh may not be there in the hot seat! That is politics and we have to pay a price for that sort of uncertainties.
Now, as for the more conventional fuels the world today is changing fast on the energy front. The US being the largest consumer of oil and gas, it can be safely expected that the world energy supplies would be largely dominated by the US strategic interests. As this reality hits, we are faced with cultivating the US friendship, also our relations with Russia which continues to dominate the world gas and energy supplies.
There is a rise in the nationalist fervor, many oil rich countries, in Latin America and Middle East are nationalizing and controlling more severely their oil supplies and hence, the rise in the oil almost relentlessly. India has invested, over 2.7 billion dollars in Russian Sakhalin I oil fields and we are so dependent upon Russian oil and gas supplies as well as through other sources. And certainly, the future doesn’t look bright or easy. Yet, we have to live with the ground realities. We have to develop alternative fuel supplies, also alternative fuels.
Subsidy regime is also here and it is a question of managing scarce resources by judicial subsidies and also economic and social controls. So, let there be a wider debate, a more citizen-centric debate over the emerging energy scenario before the country.
There are more radical and rational alternatives to save fuel use and also a suitably priced fuel supplies to the range of users, individuals and corporate.