Thursday, December 13, 2012

Revisiting the n-issue

We need more power. No one can argue that. With only 53% of the rural population having access to grid electricity, no doubt we need more power. The Central Electricity Authority shows that the gap in average supply and demand varied from 8 to 11% between 2007 and 2012, while the peak varied from 9 to 18%. Both the peak and base deficits will, in fact, increase to 14% and 20% respectively by 2017 at the current rate of growth in India.

But, while we need any kind of clean power, the question is whether we can afford nuclear. Managing nuclear plants can even be dangerous. But isn’t handling lead-acid batteries also a dangerous hazard? Even generating solar power is not without its toxic hazards. Think inverter and battery store! Of course, not as hazardous as a nuclear plant but many such will add up to create their own problems.

Now consider that nuclear plants have been functioning pretty well except for the couple of mishaps. Can we rule them out? Or call them only dangerous? Since nuclear has been around for around 60 years, how about a comparison with fossil fuels and their cumulative damage down 60 years? The water they have used and polluted, the carbon they have emitted, the flyash they produce, etc. Can one then dismiss nuclear, especially if the safeguards are established? Perhaps we need to look at smaller plants rather than big ones with their potential for large mischief.

However, instead of constantly producing more power, wouldn’t it help if we learnt to get more from less? Also to turn off the switch when we can afford to. An energy expert was saying that even if every house in India turned off just one light for 5 hours a day, the country would have no power problem!

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