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Small Nuclear Reactors - India’s Ticket to Energy Security

India is considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. With its growing economy, its demand for energy rises. In this critical period, its rising demand is correlated with its demand for fossil fuels to sustain its power sector.  Therefore, the article intends to explore the application of small nuclear power plants to sustain India’s rising energy demand, ensure energy security and decarbonise its power sector. 


An Illustration on Small Nuclear Reactors

Illustration by The Geostrata


MINIMAL RISKS AND REDUCED CONSTRUCTION


Microreactors with a capacity of 10 MWe reduce the chances of radiological risks. The reactors take a reduced period of construction. The construction takes a period of two years, and it can be transported by rail and road. The microreactors can run for a period of fifteen years.


Such reactors differ from conventional reactors, requiring regular refuelling and involving reduced capital investments.

The focus on small nuclear plants can potentially reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The deployment of small modular reactors will result in the generation of low-carbon electricity by reducing the dependence on fossil fuel-based power plants. Therefore, smaller reactors provide safe and scalable options for efficient power generation. 


NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS IN HOUSEHOLD ELECTRIFICATION


India has witnessed significant improvements in electric supply and distribution in recent years. Household electrification improved to 97% in 2020, compared to only 56% in 2019.  The electricity supply has been hindered in rural areas of northern and eastern states such as Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. 


In such cases, the importance of microreactors can be at the forefront. Additionally, in many areas, households face issues of untimely power outages. Therefore, installing small nuclear power plants will ensure household electrification and prevent power outages by providing alternative energy sources.


MICROREACTORS IN PREVENTING FINANCIAL LOSSES


Despite widespread electrification, the supply-side issues of long-time blackouts and low voltages still affect the country. In many cases, the public power distribution companies suffer from financial distress and losses. As per the 2020-2021 financial year, more than half of the public distribution companies faced aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses of over 20%.


Such losses have significantly affected the ability of the power distribution companies to ensure undeterred power supply.  In such a case, small nuclear power plants and their role in ensuring power supply is important.

As per the electricity generated from the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, the unit cost is restricted to INR 3 per unit. The induction of nuclear power plants on a small scale will not only ensure a cost-effective power supply to the households but will also help to avert financial losses incurred by the public distributors as the cost of nuclear power in terms of total electricity is less per unit. 


ENSURING ON-GRID POWER SUPPLY FROM MICROREACTORS


The rising electricity demand has increased pressure on the electric grid. This has resulted in significant challenges to power distribution. In such a case, the microreactors will not only ensure a steady supply of electricity but will reduce the pressures on the existing infrastructure.


In the case of India, the power distribution from the nuclear power plants can be done using both off-grid and grid approaches.

In such a case, multiple grids can be connected to conventional reactors to ensure steady power distribution. Such a system of connecting microreactors and conventional reactors on common grids will reduce the shortage of fossil fuels, equipment failures and maintenance issues in the case of conventional power production plants. In addition, traditional nuclear power plants are unsuitable due to the varied geographical conditions.


Such limitations in terms of area will reduce the ability of larger nuclear plants to generate electricity at lower costs and carbon rates.  Inserting the small power plants closer to the grid connecting fossil-fuel-based power plants will help to repurpose, replace and diversify power sources from the traditional power plants.  Therefore, microreactors can be located close to one another to reduce transmission losses and ensure stability to grid connections during peak power demands. 


SMALLER EXCLUSIVE PLANNING ZONES OF MICROREACTORS


Close placement of microreactors near the grids will ensure efficiency and avert safety concerns. Compared to large nuclear power reactors, smaller reactors will require a smaller area for construction and will require low inventory. This reduces any chances of risks to public safety.


This will result in public confidence and trust in the microreactors. In most cases, public discontent is active in areas close to the large nuclear power plants that claim large areas of the community’s land under the exclusion zone.


The most notable anti-nuclear protests involved the nuclear power plants near Kundakulam, Tamil Nadu and Jaitapur, Maharashtra. In such cases, the smaller nuclear power plants will reduce the chances of risks and local public discontent. 


MASS MANUFACTURING AND REDUCED COSTS


The engineering risks in small nuclear reactors remain low compared to bigger reactors with a capacity of 300 Mwe. In the case of smaller reactors, the innovative designs will likely reduce risks compared to traditional reactors.


The smaller nuclear power reactors will have fewer parts than the traditional reactors, reducing the likelihood of potential disasters. Therefore, mass manufacturing and reduced construction costs will increase the reactor’s capacity compared to other potential energy production sources.


DEVELOPING SMALL THORIUM-BASED NUCLEAR REACTORS


The development of small thorium-based nuclear power plants is needed to avert risks associated with nuclear reactors.  India’s eastern and southern shores possess huge monazite deposits and 6-7% thorium.


Such a statement has also been made by the World Nuclear Association, which claimed that India possesses over 932,000 tons of thorium, one of the largest reserves in the world. 

In addition, nuclear power plants with thorium as a power source benefit from being non-fissile, reducing the chances of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction. It will not only reduce the chances of using plutonium and uranium but will also help in reusing the fertile thoria as a source of fuel. In addition, India is considered one of the nations that can utilise its advanced designs to build thorium-based small nuclear reactors. 


CONCLUSION


In conclusion, India must create actionable policies to meet its rising energy demand by emphasising small nuclear power plants. Such a policy will aid India in not only realising its attempts to ensure energy security at reduced costs. It will also help to ensure the supply of non-carbon energy by diversifying its potential energy sources from fossil-fuel power generators.


 

BY ANIRBAN DUTTA

TEAM GEOSTRATA

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