Monday, May 9, 2011

Redefining Energy Security for India

Redefining Energy Security for India


THE CM of Goa, Mr Digambar Kamat as the chairman of the selection committee made the right choice in recommending Dr Anil Kakodkar as the first recipient of the ‘Gomantvibhushan’ award. He showed statesmanship in inviting all the three MPs and the Leader of the Opposition to share the platform–thus rising above petty power politics.
However people were surprised to notice the inexplicable absence of the members of Goa cabinet for the function. The CM has also requested Dr Kakodkar to be honorary advisor to the state government on energy security and advanced technology and has sought his help to set up a small research facility of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in association with Goa University and NIO. In his short address, Dr Kakodkar assured all the possible help to the state government. The administration of Goa now needs to rise to the occasion and enter into constructive and creative engagement with Dr Kakodkar. This is an excellent beginning.
Technological Independence
After a somewhat tame, stereotyped and lacklustre panel discussion, the three hours long felicitation programme on Saturday offered some glimpses of India’s short term and long term strategy on energy security. Enough hints were dropped by former ISRO chairman, Dr Kasturirangan, former national security advisor, Dr Narayanan and Dr Anil Kakodkar himself about the shape of things to come and how India’s quest for superpower status is intimately linked to energy security and technological self reliance. One good thing about Indian democracy and the Indian polity is the faith which people and the politicians have in country’s topmost scientists and technologists. There is considerable congruence of opinion on matters of India’s defence and energy security between the major political parties. As Dr Kasturirangan put it–no good idea in India would be now rejected provided people are prepared to serve the country. The message which the thin audience in the large auditorium got was that India is waiting and buying time. India is buying time to stand on its’ own feet and to catch its’ breath. India has understood that technological independence is passport to economic independence and prosperity. Homi Bhabha’s 3-stage nuclear energy strategy worked handsomely for 6 decades.
Dr Kakodkar chose his words very carefully and guardedly, but he was speaking as a knowledgeable man engaged in formulating the country’s long term energy security doctrine. His confidence was based on certain national projections and assumptions. Thirty years ago, the world was laughing when India was struggling to learn tips, tricks, nuts and bolts of information technology. India depended on imported computers. But slowly the Indian IT juggernaut started rolling. Within a decade the world began to take notice. And now within a few years India’s IT business is likely to cross $ 100 billions. India’s pursuit of energy self sufficiency is at the same level today as that of IT in 80s. Dr Kakodkar revealed a multi-pronged strategy–develop all the sources of energy–conventional and non-conventional.  India has already made global investments in advanced areas like magnetohydrodynamics and nuclear fusion technology. Work is at advanced stage on indigenous Hydrogen fuel cells. But these technologies would take decades to attain commercial scales.
Thorium for Power Generation
Another Goan intellectual giant D D Kosambi had a problem with nuclear energy and had championed solar energy while working at Tata Institute of Fundamental research. He would have been pleased to hear from Dr Kakodkar that despite his faith in atomic power, he supports development of solar power generation technologies. However huge economies of scale are not currently possible in India for solar power generation. He explained that it would be the Thorium cycle which would give India its’ own technology and capacity to expand. He declared that no other country is interested in using Thorium for power generation. Since India has world’s largest Thorium deposits it is but logical that first we develop the technology on a small, scale and then expand to build large Thorium cycle based reactors. India’s short term strategy is aimed till year 2032 and the long term strategy is for next 50 years.
Dr Kakodkar used 2 important terms which have deeper strategic connotations-‘energy self reliance’ and ‘energy independence’. He envisages a future which would make energy imports by India impossible or unaffordable. By that time India would be self reliant in meeting its’ overall power needs-projected at 778000 MW by the integrated energy policy up to year 2032. The contribution of nuclear power would be 40-54000 MW. After reaching this stage, India would launch itself to exploit Thorium-based nuclear power generation in a big way. Dr Kakodkar expects the stage of ‘energy independence’ to begin from that point. Energy independence according to him is both technological independence and full control of resources and the energy generation cycle. At that stage he envisages India to be in a position to “export” technology to friendly countries. This was a bold and optimistic statement in view of the present miserable energy generation and supply situation in India. But Dr Kakodkar had reasons to be optimistic. He has tremendous faith in the capacity of Indian scientists and technologists to achieve miracles.
The Indo-US civil nuclear deal was basically a “stop gap’, short term arrangement to end India’s global nuclear isolation. Without high quality Uranium it would have been impossible to run Indian reactors. Uranium to Thorium nuclear fuel switchover needed time. That’s what India got. A full 20 years to expand pressurised heavy water reactors and fast breeder reactors. That would take care of the first 2 stages of India’s 3-stage programme. India would also get international cooperation to build a large number of light water reactors. Reactor engineers would not sit idle during these 20 years. They would increase the capacity for Thorium based power generation. It is likely that India would spring a surprise for the international community by achieving a significant technological breakthrough in Thorium based nuclear power generation much earlier than expected. Such a breakthrough would change global energy supply market. Once India begins to reduce energy imports, it would boost economic growth and development.
Dr Kakodkar painted a glorious picture of an energy rich, economically prosperous India in 21st century. By redefining India’s energy security paradigm, he sent a message to the young generation that the future belongs to them provided they dedicate and serve their country with new and innovative ideas.

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