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Scientists set new record in creating energy from Nuclear Fusion – 11MW in 5 seconds

Scientists set new record in creating energy from Nuclear Fusion – 11MW in 5 seconds

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  • GS 3 || Science & Technology || Energy || Nuclear Energy

Why in the news?

Scientists set new record in creating energy from Nuclear Fusion

Present Context:

  • Scientists in the United Kingdom have managed to produce the largest amount of energy so far from a nuclear fusion reaction, the same process that makes the Sun, and all other stars, shine and emit energy.
  • This result is being seen as a major breakthrough in the ongoing global efforts to produce a fusion nuclear reactor.
  • The experiments produced 59 megajoules of energy over five seconds (11 megawatts of power).
  • This is more than double what was achieved in  similar tests back in 1997

Nuclear Power of India:

Nuclear 

Energy

 

Background of India’s Nuclear Energy Program:

  • India has made a strategic choice to look into the possibility of generating power using nuclear energy. In the 1950s, Homi Bhabha suggested a three-stage nuclear power system in this manner.
  • The Atomic Energy Act of 1962 was created with the objective of using two naturally occurring elements, Uranium and Thorium, as nuclear fuel in Indian reactors.
  • Uranium resources in the country are projected to be above 70,000 tonnes, with thorium reserves estimated to be over 3,60,000 tonnes.

A nuclear power scheme with three stages:           

                   Stage 1

 

Pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR): Natural uranium was used to power the pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR), which produced energy and Plutonium-239 as a byproduct. For the initial step, PHWRs were chosen.

                Stage 2

 

FBR (fast breeder reactor): The second stage entails producing fuel from plutonium-239 for use in Fast Breeder Reactors. Plutonium 239 is fissioned to generate energy. Thorium will be utilized in the reactor to generate Uranium-233 after a significant amount of plutonium-239 has been built up. The third step requires this uranium.

                     Stage 3

 

Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR): The primary goal of stage 3 is to create a long-term nuclear fuel cycle. Uranium-233 and Thorium would be combined in the advanced nuclear system. India has a large amount of thorium that might be used in a thermal breeder reactor.

 

India’s Position on Various Nuclear Treaties:

  • The Limited Ban Treaty: It was signed in 1963 by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. It only enables nuclear testing to take place underground, and so forbids nuclear experimentation on the ground, beneath water, or in space. The pact has also been approved by India.
  • Outer Space Treaty: Signed in 1967, it forbids countries from testing nuclear weapons in space or on celestial bodies such as the moon.
  • Nuclear Non-Proliferation Pact (NPT): The treaty was signed in 1968 and went into force in 1970. It presently has 190 signatories. It demands countries to abandon any current or future intentions to manufacture nuclear weapons in exchange for access to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Nonproliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully utilize nuclear technology are the three major goals of the pact. India is one of only five nations that either did not sign the NPT or signed but later withdrew, joining Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan on the list.
  • Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is not a treaty, and it does not bind Partners in any way (members). Rather, it is an unofficial political agreement between governments to prevent the spread of missiles and missile technology.
  • The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) aims to prohibit all nuclear explosions – anywhere, at any time, by anyone. It was first available for signing on September 24, 1996, and has since been signed by 182 nations, the most recent being Ghana, who ratified the treaty on June 14, 2011.
  • Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) is a proposed international agreement that would ban the manufacturing of two key components of nuclear weapons: highly enriched Uranium and Plutonium.
  • The Wassenaar Agreement, which was created in 1996, is a collection of countries that agree to restrict arms exports. It aims to promote security and stability by encouraging openness in the sale and transfer of armaments, materials, and technology that may be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.

India’s nuclear energy potential and the need to harness nuclear energy:

  • Energy poverty: Despite being the world’s third-largest generator of energy, around 20% of India’s population lacks access to electricity today. Electricity usage per capita is extremely low, at around 1,181 kWh per year, almost half of the global average and well below that of advanced countries. There are energy and peak power deficits in the range of 10-15%.
  • Thorium and Uranium Deposits: India possesses huge uranium and thorium reserves that, with the right technology, could power India’s nuclear power plants. Thorium reserves in India are projected to be 360,000 tonnes, and natural uranium deposits are expected to be 70,000 tonnes. The country’s thorium reserves account for 25% of the world’s total.
  • Energy efficiency: Nuclear power plants use far less nuclear fuel than thermal power plants. For example, generating 10000 MW using coal will require 30-35 million tons of coal, whereas nuclear fuel will only require 300-350 tons.
  • Economic growth: Achieving developmental goals and alleviating poverty requires rapid economic growth. Over the next few decades, steady economic growth of around 8% to 10% is required. Apart from transmission and distribution systems, a huge increase in energy capacity is required since electricity is a vital engine of economic growth.
  • Energy demand: Nuclear power is vital to India’s long-term energy security. Given that India’s yearly energy consumption is anticipated to reach 800 GW by 2032, it’s critical to include all energy sources while determining the best energy mix.
  • Climate change: Nuclear energy may contribute to global efforts under the Paris Agreement due to its emission-free nature. India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) outlines targets to lower its economy’s carbon emissions intensity by 33-35 percent by 2030 and boost renewable energy generation capacity to 40% of the total installed capacity in the same period.
  • Decreased Energy Supply: Changing weather patterns have had a detrimental impact on energy supply. As water reservoirs shrink owing to decreased precipitation and increasing evaporation, the capacity of hydropower and other water-intensive generating methods to generate energy may dwindle.

The following are some of the nuclear-related concerns and threats:

  • Land Requirement: Building nuclear reactors necessitates a large quantity of land. Local communities, who may not want to go, would be displaced. It is also difficult to rehabilitate them and give them with adequate recompense.
  • Nuclear waste: Nuclear power generation is not as environmentally friendly as it is commonly assumed. The instance of Kudankulam exemplifies this. People have been protesting for decades, fearful that the plant’s hot water could harm the marine life in the neighboring water sources, threatening their livelihood.
  • Health risks: Nuclear power plants emit ionizing radiation, an unseen toxin that is harmful in any amount, no matter how little. Cancer and genetic damage are both caused by radiation. Nuclear power facilities expose both employees and the general public to radioactive risks in a variety of ways.
  • Meltdowns: A meltdown is a nuclear reactor accident in which the core of the reactor melts due to excessive overheating. A nuclear power plant might leak radioactivity into the environment if it melted down. Following disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, countries like Germany began a nuclear phase out, closing down their nuclear power plants.

Way forward:

  • Utilising the Available Resources: Uranium deposits are expected to be around 70,000 tonnes and Thorium deposits are projected to be around 3,60,000 tonnes in the country.
    • As a result, India imports the majority of the uranium it consumes. It is, however, both costly and geopolitically risky.
  • Instead of spending big sums on uranium imports, it will invest aggressively in projects that convert thorium to fissile uranium and generate electricity.
  • Addressing the Pre-Project Issues: The government must address concerns like as land acquisition at new sites, clearances from several ministries, particularly the environment ministry, and locating foreign collaborators in a timely manner. Furthermore, constant efforts must be undertaken to reduce nuclear power plant capital costs.
  • Addressing Safety Concerns: The issue of safety, which is a key concern, should be addressed first and foremost.
    • It would be a mistake to completely phase out nuclear power generating due to the risk of a nuclear disaster.
    • There is a lower risk of catastrophic accidents if nuclear energy is generated in accordance with the strictest safety requirements.
    • In this regard, establishing a Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority as soon as possible would be beneficial to the country’s nuclear power programmes.
  • Technological Support: In India, capacity for reprocessing and enrichment must be increased. In order to effectively utilize spent fuel and increase its enrichment capacity, India need modern technologies.

Conclusion:

Nuclear power has the potential to aid with energy security. It may make a critical contribution to growth in a fast growing economy like India. Nuclear power can also help to alleviate the consequences of climate change by reducing the impact of variable fossil fuel costs. India must develop a long-term energy plan to fulfill its population’s current and future energy needs.

Mains oriented question:

Nuclear energy has the potential to address India’s energy issues, but it comes with significant hazards. Elaborate.