The key issues noted here are some of those raised by individual workshop participants, and do not in any way indicate consensus of workshop participants overall.
• India faces many acute challenges of energy development, which has caused the country’s leaders to consider India’s indigenous energy sources and how it can increase energy supply to better meet the exponentially expanding energy demand.
• Given this demand, India has chosen to pursue nuclear energy as a source of energy, and is planning a rapid expansion of the nuclear power sector in the coming decades.
• Green scenarios (solar, nuclear, or a combination) should be considered.
• Development deficits and lack of sufficient energy are also issues that can create their own security problems over time.
• India has chosen to develop a closed fuel cycle because of its limited domestic sources of uranium.
Promising Topics for Collaboration Arising from the Presentations and Discussions
These promising topics for collaboration arising from the presentations and discussions are not those representing the consensus of the participants, but are rather a selection of those topics offered by individual participants throughout the presentations and discussions.
• New, safer reactor designs are of interest to India and the United States.
• The need for nuclear energy as a component of the overall energy future is uncertain and could be jointly studied.
India faces many acute challenges of energy development, which has caused the country’s leaders to consider India’s indigenous energy sources and how it can increase energy supply to better meet the exponentially expanding energy demand. Given this demand, India has chosen to pursue nuclear energy as a source of energy, and is planning a rapid expansion of the nuclear power sector in the coming decades. Anil Kakodkar delivered a special lecture during the workshop entitled, “Lowering threats in sustainable development using nuclear energy,” which highlighted several issues discussed by other presenters and which provided important context for the realities on the ground in India as they relate to the country’s energy needs as well as the long-term development of its nuclear energy program. Moderator Arcot Ramachandran noted that the energy need is two to three times the global average of 1.7 percent. Coal fossil fuels add more carbon dioxide into the air, but while nuclear energy is carbonfree, there are associated challenges, such as security threats and other risks. With that backdrop, Ramachandran introduced Kakodar, noting that he is a mechanical engineer and former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and was responsible for the design and construction of many of the nuclear reactors in India.
Kakodar began his remarks by stating that from his perspective, the question of nuclear energy is intriguing, given the topic of the workshop itself: technical aspects of civilian nuclear materials security. The proposition Kakodar made is to consider nuclear energy as a solution to the larger problem of security-related risks connected with development assets because nuclear energy is one important means of addressing development issues. Security of all types, including conventional security, should be considered within frameworks such as those of physical security, malevolent acts of different actors, and so forth. Fundamental issues also exist and need to be addressed to move closer to permanent solutions. One of those fundamental issues is the link between the Human Development Index (HDI) and the Per Capita Electricity Consumption (see Figure 7-1).
The circled area in the top left is the optimum region where, if we are able to find that much energy for all citizens of the world, we would have met an important criteria on the HDI. One can look at the world in two parts, one part on the right side of that particular circle, that is a world essentially consisting of industrialized countries where the HDI is unaffected by the change in electricity use. Whether one increases electricity use or decreases electricity use, it is not going to make much difference in terms of the HDI. And then there is another part of the world on the left-hand side of that circle, where the HDI is, in fact, very strongly dependent on access to electricity. There is a larger part of the
FIGURE 7-1 Human Development Index and the Per Capita Electricity Consumption. SOURCE: Kakodkhar, 20012.
world, the emerging economies like India and China, which are very rapidly moving toward economic growth and they all certainly would require more energy. Moreover, the countries on the left side of the graph make up a large part of the global population, and they are bound to become capable of accessing that energy. They are expected to move to the optimum point (the circle). For example, India is currently at 779 kWh per capita and if this were to increase to 5,000 kWh, one could hope to be able to open at least one important condition necessary to reach the highest possible HDI. Kakodkar noted that the picture across India is varied. The lowest per capita kWh consumption is in Bihar (122 kWh/per capita), and the highest is in Goa (2,263 kWh/per capita). In short, there is a huge demand for electricity that needs to be fed to realize improvement in the HDI in a fairly large part of the world.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries represent the industrialized countries with a Gross Domestic Product above a particular threshold. Table 7-1 indicates the population, annual electricity generation, and annual carbon dioxide emissions for OECD and non-OECD countries.
For the per capita kWh usage to increase to 5,000, corresponding to the capacity use attained by industrialized nations, generation of something like 20 trillion kWh would be required. In other words, this would be roughly doubling the amount of energy produced today. Therefore, this is the key development challenge or the key energy challenge. It is also a security challenge because disparity is one of the core issues that leads to conflict and security issues around the world.
Producing 5,000 kWh per capita will take time, therefore it is important to conserve equitable resources for this purpose, because we are living in a world where resource depletion is occurring. Of course there are new resources becoming available, but they are not always available in poorer countries. In this context, energy assurances are important, and this, Kakodar believes, is a prerequisite for long-term peace and security and stability.
TABLE 7-1 Population, annual electricity generation, and annual carbon dioxide emissions for OECD and non-OECD countries.
|OECD Countries||Non-OECD Countries||World|
|Population (in billions)||1.18||5.52||6.7|
|Annual Electricity Generation (trillion kWh)||10.6||8.2||18.8|
|Carbon Dioxide Emissions (billions of tons/year)||13||17||30|
SOURCE: Kakodkar, 2012.
In addition, the threat of climate change requires a reduction in fossil energy use, so this challenge cannot be met in a business-as-usual mode. “Green” scenarios (solar, nuclear, or a combination) should be considered, but every time there is a serious study conducted, precious time is lost. When green energy scenarios are compared with other energy sources, nuclear energy will probably not play a large role. This is due in part to the fact that the world is scared of nuclear safety and security issues, which is reducing investments in nuclear power. On the other hand, can we live with the risk of climate change? When considering the spectrum of green energy sources, inevitably there will be a minimum contribution from nuclear energy if one wants to meet energy requirements.
Next, we must calculate how much uranium would be required to meet a scenario of nuclear power as part of the overall energy supply. For this particular scenario, by 2025 there would not be enough additional uranium to commit to a new nuclear power plant. Depending on the scenario, this may shift to 2035 or 2040, within the next 20 to 25 years there will not be sufficient uranium to move away from fossil fuels to a reasonable extent, particularly when uranium is used in a once-through mode, which is most common today. Again, this depends on the uranium supply, and, of course, just like other resources, more uranium surely would be found in the future. But if we consider the resources and numbers as of today, regardless of what category of resources one is talking about, Kakodkar stated that it is absolutely clear that uranium by itself in a once-though mode cannot supply the total energy requirements on the scale he discussed above. He has stated this at International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meetings, including those where Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) representatives were present, because IAEA and the NEA said that when they produced their Red Book, they produced estimates of how much uranium is available. Kakodkar received replies of disagreement at those meetings, but when the next Red Book was released, fine print had been added saying that there was sufficient uranium “at the current level of uranium use.” This was Kakodkar’s point: If uranium use remains at the current level, then the climate change issue is not addressed. If one wants to address the climate change issue, then the issue of the closed nuclear fuel cycle has to be addressed. These are the only two alternatives.
Another issue to consider is spent nuclear fuel. If uranium is used in a once-through mode, the spent fuel has to be disposed of and this is an unresolved issue, and is likely to remain unresolved for a long time. This is because there are legal frameworks that require safeguards, including physical protection. Even if one were to dispose of the spent fuel in a geological repository, safeguards would still legally apply.
Leaving aside the legal issues, if spent fuel is disposed of as spent fuel, it eventually leads to the creation of a plutonium mine over a period of time. Spent fuel is difficult to handle today but it will be easier to reprocess the material in the future when a good portion of the radioactivity has decayed away. This may happen, but not in foreseeable generations. Humanity will be still around, Kakodkar said.
So are we acting in a responsible manner in leaving such a legacy for the next generation? This is why disposal of spent fuel remains an unresolved issue and the only way to handle this issue, Kakodkar stated, is to recycle by removing the uranium and plutonium using technologies currently available. There are, of course, some residual issues in terms of byproducts (actinides, long-life fission products), but there are technologies for disposal of these byproducts, not disposal repository that has to stand geological times, but as complete degradation of radioactive waste in a time span comparable with the institutional lifetime. This technology should be available soon.
This is the approach that we should address from a long-term security perspective, because it is more stable and sustainable, but today, this approach is discouraged, certainly for valid reasons. We discourage it because there is fear of diversion of weapon usable material. In other words, the question of security risk management is a question of the capability of human society to manage this situation. It is important, therefore, to consider the risks in this context. On the nuclear side, there is the risk of diversion of nuclear materials for weapons purposes, that can lead to risk anywhere depending on where the diverted material travels. There is also a risk in terms of threat to the nuclear facility because a breach of security would cause serious public trauma, primarily in the neighborhood of that facility. The risk of diversion can be mitigated by not reprocessing the material so that the weapon-usable material is not freely available. Second, risk can be mitigated by the security architecture in place. On the other hand, the absence of sufficiently large deployments of nuclear energy would make dependence on fossil fuel inevitable. Third, there is the difficulty of predicting global consequences arising from climate change.
But that risk could be much larger than risks posed by weapons of mass destruction. These two issues should be considered together. Development deficits and varying energy security challenges are also issues that could create security problems over time. Kakodkar stated that he believes the need to reduce the risk to humanity necessitates rapid growth of nuclear power. Further, he believes that security measures alone are unlikely to be sufficient. The sovereignty of nations, varying degrees of security as perceived by other nations, responsible behavior or the lack of it, trust deficits, and the need to manage non-state actors are likely to remain difficult challenges. Therefore, the question is how to deal with minimizing the nuclear security risk, while recognizing that nuclear energy should create conditions for rapid growth. This is where technology comes in. Kakodkar is a firm believer that minimizing security risks requires technology; not just technology in terms of physical protection or security architecture solutions, but also technology in terms of the configuration of nuclear power plants, nuclear energy itself.
This is where thorium comes in, which Kakodkar believes is the answer to all of these challenges. It is a one-stop solution to safety, sustainability, and proliferation resistance. If one is concerned about plutonium diversion, once the decision is made to reprocess spent fuel, plutonium can be burned the fastest with thorium matrix fuel, he said (see Figure 7-2).
FIGURE 7-2 The plutonium content in fuel at loading and discharge as a function of fuel burnup. SOURCE: Kakodkhar, 2012.
The fissile plutonium content in the irradiated fuel at discharge is low even for low burnup fuel. Furthermore, the plutonium that is produced has a high plutonium-238 fraction, which makes it more proliferation resistant. Uranium-based fuels cannot achieve this reduction because absorption of neutrons in uranium-238 generates additional plutonium. Inert matrix fuel (where plutonium is mixed into an inert material) can burn and degrade plutonium, but one cannot run a reactor loaded only with inert matrix plutonium fuel because the reactor itself becomes unstable.
On the other hand, with thorium, the reactor can run in a very stable manner and degrade plutonium to a very safe level in just one cycle. Uranium-233, which is the fissile counterpart of thorium is present along with a small amount of uranium-232, which is a high energy gamma emitter. While this combination is excellent for production of energy, it has tremendous resistance from diversion, simply because of the lethal dose, which it can give in a short time, depending on the burn-up.
A thorium reactor designed in India, the Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWR), would use 20 percent uranium enriched for 20 percent of the fuel mixed with thorium (80 percent of the fuel). This reactor is not only designed for the normal fuel cycle benefits, but also to attain safety and security advantages. For example, this reactor provides three days’ grace period in the event of any accident. This reactor promises no radiological impact on the pub-
lic, even in the event of a severe accident. It has a design life of 100 years and other maintenance advantages, Kakodkar said.
Kakodkar noted that everyone is concerned about the insider threat but he said that the AHWR is designed to guarantee safety against an insider threat. For example, in a scenario where there is a complete station blackout—no power, no station diesels available, and complete failure or deliberate disablement of primary and secondary shutdown systems—the fuel cladding temperature would only rise a small amount, the core would not melt, and there would be no serious accident. That is the worst an insider could do, which provides a degree of immunity even from an insider threat.
A comparable amount of energy is gained from the uranium used in pressurized heavy water reactors and light water reactors, but there are fewer proliferation concerns with thorium reactors.
With thermal reactors, nuclear energy can increase with reduced risk in a variety of new regions in the world. The challenge still remains, however, of meeting energy needs beyond what can be supported by thermal reactors. Fast reactors will still be needed, Kakodkar said, because that is the only way one can increase the energy generation capacity of nuclear power.
Fast reactors and uranium fuel enrichment and recycle technology return us to the question of plutonium diversion. Kakodkar believes that these technologies should be contained within a responsible domain. This does not mean dividing the world into responsible and irresponsible domains. Rather, fast breeder reactors should be implemented in responsible domains, where there are more assurances, to allow for an increase in nuclear power through the use of thorium.
Kakodkar concluded by saying that this is his proposition for the deployment of nuclear energy, which would address both the energy challenge as well as the security challenge. Today’s thermal reactors run on either natural or low enriched uranium. This can be enhanced around the world with thorium in thermal reactors. In order to meet the larger energy requirements, beyond what can be supported by thermal reactors, fast breeder reactors will be needed. With reprocessing plants, fast-reactors and recycling, energy capacity will grow. Eventually, both roads can converge. Breeding with thorium in thermal reactors is limited, but advanced reactor systems can breed more effectively to enable growth. He hopes that the world will create an environment that facilities development of nuclear energy that meets energy requirements and security requirements worldwide. If this path is followed, some nuclear security risks will remain, but the world would become a vastly safer place.
Raymond Jeanloz began by stating that he was intrigued by Kakodkar’s suggestion that for this enhanced deployment of nuclear power, there will have to be a focus on more responsible parties. What organization, what mechanism, what structure would be involved in terms of international organization (in the
cutoff between responsible and irresponsible parties)? Would this be using existing organizations, such as the IAEA, or something entirely separate?
Kakodkar replied by stating that, for example, in Nuclear Suppliers Group-level discussions, there is already movement on how to address the enrichment and reprocessing issue. There are some seeds of that kind already there. He is not in favor of completely dismantling the existing framework. We should be able to build on what is already there, but clearly there are fault lines in the existing framework. Defining what is responsible and what is not is always going to be difficult. Every country will argue that it is responsible. But given the direction in which the discourse is moving, one could make progress.
A workshop participant asked: What data exists on the availability of thorium?
Kakodkar replied that there is plenty of data available and in India, the availability of thorium is much greater than what is currently known or discussed because Indian thorium assessments are based on what has been explored primarily for ilmenite. Some of the ilmenite has been found, and along with that there is so much monazite, which means there is a lot of thorium. He said he would not be surprised if the quantities are in the range of approximately 800,000 or a million tonnes in India, although, thus far much lower numbers have been referenced. There are large-scale deposits in many other countries, including Brazil, Turkey, and the United States. The problem with thorium is that it is available either in countries where there is plenty of uranium so there is no interest in thorium, or in countries where there is no nuclear technology.
S. Gopal asked Kakodkar if he thinks that new discoveries of alternative sources of energy, such as shale gas or hydraulic fracturing, would make OECD countries less enthusiastic about his proposal?
Kakodkar replied that this already happened. The U.S. view of energy sources is quite different from that of India precisely for these reasons, and enthusiasm in nuclear power today has diminished. For example, if one takes the case of Britain when the North Sea resources were found, that actually stopped the nuclear program in Britain. Today, the U.K. is again considering nuclear energy because the North Sea resources have been exhausted. Uranium is not an infinite source of energy and the fact still remains that although oil is better than coal and gas is better than oil, the earth’s carrying capacity for greenhouse gas emissions increase daily. How this will evolve, Kakodkar did not know.
Kakodkar was asked what he thought about the promise of nuclear fusion and other new technologies. Kakodkar replied that one cannot compare thorium with fusion in terms of readiness. Although fusion will always need research and new technology, the deployment of thorium reactors can be done on the basis of what we know today. Whereas, with fusion, we have to wait until approximately 2020 for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor to be completed and then one will have to allow for the 15 year time period to conduct experiments to understand the performance of the steady state plasma. So in 2035, construction of a reactor may begin to demonstrate energy production, which will be another 15 years after 2035. If everything goes well, we will light a
lightbulb using fusion energy in the year 2050, and only then can commercial deployment follow. If one really looks at this from the climate change point of view, there is not that much time.
A workshop participant raised the question of solar energy, referencing a recent news item that Germany had a breakthrough and approximately 40 to 50 percent of their energy requirement is met by solar energy. Kakodkar replied that this would be a great development for India. There is a very justifiable, strong emphasis on solar energy in India. There are only two energy resources that India has that met India’s needs: thorium and solar. But the question is not thorium or solar because India needs both. Storage of solar energy on that scale is impossible purely from an economic perspective, and one should not put all of one’s eggs in the same basket, but have a reasonable portfolio. India does not have much choice: thorium and solar are actually a very narrow range of options. Solar energy is a great development, and India should move in that direction.
A participant asked about lifecycle greenhouse-gas emissions. Thorium reactors do not produce emissions in the production of power, but all that goes into producing a nuclear power plant from beginning to end adds rather than subtracts greenhouse gases. Is there any basis to this?
Kakodkar replied that in fact there are IAEA documents on this issue, where they have looked at the lifecycle emissions from all energy technologies including nuclear, and nuclear energy is actually quite low. In fact, it is lower than hydroelectric power and actually comparable to solar; sometimes slightly lower than solar and sometimes slightly higher than solar. In terms of carbon dioxide emission nuclear energy is very good.
A participant asked about underground nuclear reactors, for which Toshiba has been an enthusiastic advocate. There are underground nuclear power plants in existence. In Switzerland, they are talking about such power plants, not so much due to safety considerations, but because they do not want to spoil the landscape, so they felt that locating a power plant completely underground is a good idea.
This is ultimately a question of cost, and Kakodkar does not believe that by locating a nuclear power plant underground all aspects of safety are fully addressed. One can address the question of an external military attack, certainly an underground power plant would probably do a little better, but with present day or maybe future bunker busters, this may no longer be valid. As far as radioactive releases are concerned, the question is whether there could be failures in the ventilation system and the isolation system. It is not as if with an underground power plant, radioactive emissions could be completely eliminated.
A workshop participant asked Kakodkar about his view of solar energy potential. He replied that in India, if one takes the barren uncultivable land and diverts only 25 percent of it to solar energy, enough energy will be collected to fuel the entire country’s energy requirements. Land is not an issue as far as solar
power is concerned. However, he does not agree with the comparisons that have been made for land use in a recent paper in Current Science.1 The comparison of land requirements for solar and nuclear energy should do so without including the exclusion radius because it is not really diverted for any other use. It is still available for deploying solar energy, for example. Co-location of solar and nuclear plants feeding the energy into the cycle is very much a feasible proposition.
Another workshop participant noted that in his presentation, Kakodkar addressed nuclear safety and climate change as two different risks, but the examples of the accident in Fukushima, Super Storm Sandy, or the incident at a nuclear plant in the United States, indicate that more dependence on nuclear energy actually makes the risks from climate change more severe. Moving away from the nuclear energy makes the handling of climate change easier. Kakodkar replied that he does not understand this proposition at all. By climate change one means the warming that will take place because of carbon dioxide emission causing erratic and severe climatic conditions, but a tsunami is not one of them. Tsunamis do not take place because of nuclear power, nor do they take place because of increasing carbon dioxide. They originate in geoseismic conditions. If there were a nuclear accident, a lot of people would have to be relocated, just as in Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and Fukushima. A more balanced approach is needed in terms of deciding appropriate intervention levels when it comes to displacement of people. Although there was radioactivity released, and there was increase in the environmental radioactivity because of reactor failure. Kakodkar said that he does not expect any significant health consequences in the case of Fukushima. After the Chernobyl accident, there were health consequences, but they are much lower than predicted on the basis of the Linear No-Threshold hypothesis. There has to be balance in considering these radiation-exposure risks versus the health costs associated with public trauma and displacement of the affected populations. Over-conservatism in the case of managing accidents does not work.
1 S. P. Sukhatme (2012) Can India’s future needs of electricity be met by renewable energy sources? A revised assessment, Current Science, 103(10):1153. Available at http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/103/10/1153.pdf, Accessed September 3, 2013.
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