Left Parties on Shortage of Uranium fuel

Date: 
Friday, May 23, 2008

Left Parties Statement:

On Shortage of Uranium Fuel

The Government is currently conveying a picture that the Indian Nuclear Energy program is short of fuel and only the India US Nuclear Deal can bail India out of this shortage. Shri Pranab Mukherjee, Convenor of the UPA-Left Committee on the nuclear deal, made such remarks while stating the case for seeking the IAEA Board’s approval for the India-specific safeguards agreement.

There is no doubt that India is currently experiencing a shortage of uranium compared to what its requirements are for running its PWR's. The question is, is this shortage due to actually running out of nuclear fuel as it is being projected or due to a temporary shortage, created either through a lack of proper planning or deliberately in order to push a high cost import based nuclear energy sector?

Since the days of Homi Bhabha , it is a well-known fact that India has limited resources of natural uranium. India has 61,000 tonnes of uranium ores in its soil, which can sustain a total PHWR capacity of 10,000-15,000 MW, against our current installed capacity of only 4,100 MW. We quote below the statement of Shri B.Bhattacharjee, the then Director, BARC (November, 2003, Issue No.238 of BARC Newsletter)

“Our present generation of PHWR utilizes only 0.5% of total uranium fuel and our modest uranium reserves may not support more than 15,000 MWe installed capacity through the existing PHWR route. That is why our committed nuclear power of about 20,000 MWe by the year 2020 calls for induction of Fast Breeder Reactors(FBRs) to contribute about 2000 MWe and Advanced Heavy Water Reactors to contribute about 3000 Mwe.”

Neither the DAE nor the Government has given the nation any explanation of how this current shortage has come about, when we have known reserves in the country to sustain a nuclear energy programme of at least 10,000 MW. Knowledgeable experts feel that the current uranium shortage has been created through allocation of insufficient funds to the uranium mining sector by the Planning Commission and the Finance Ministry since about 1990. Added to this was the lacklustre management of the Uranium Corporation in the past, working uranium mines having been closed down and actions taken to overcome environmental opposition to uranium mining being weak and ineffective.

It is pertinent to note that according to DAE, India's plan was to raise the nuclear energy to 20,000 MW by 2020 and to 25% share of the country's needs by 2050 and all this was planned with indigenous fuel resources. Suddenly, we have a plan for changing the route of nuclear energy away from the one developed earlier, which calls for large-scale import of Light Water Reactors and import of uranium. It needs to made clear that such a plan that depends on imported fuel has neither been discussed nor been placed before the people. Even the Integrated Energy Plan produced by the Planning Commission envisages -- as a most optimistic scenario -- nuclear energy to reach 29,000 MW by adding a limited number of Light Water Reactors to the 20,000 MW envisaged earlier by DAE. For none of this, a serious shortage of nuclear fuel has been projected either by DAE or the Planning Commission.

While the shortage of uranium is a serious issue for which the Government owes the country an explanation, what is disturbing is to paint the temporary shortage as a permanent scarcity in order to push the India US Nuclear Deal. That this shortage is a temporary one can be seen from the attached Press Release dated 20/08/07 of the Nuclear Power Corporation itself. We understand that with opening of new mines and the new ore processing facility at Jaduguda, re-opening of the open cast mine there, this shortage is expected to be overcome by 2008. In case this is not true, the country would like to know what has gone wrong from the earlier estimates of the Nuclear Power Corporation as stated in its above Press Release?

Government may clarify what it is doing to address the gap between demand for uranium and supply. Has the government fixed the responsibility for this serious deficiency in government operations? How long will it take before the plant capacity factors of current PHWRs start coming up and reaching close to 90% once again?

Government should also explain why the plan expenditure of the Department of Atomic Energy has been reduced by Rs. 188 crores between Budget Estimate 2007-08 and 2008-09?

The current shortage of uranium is certainly NOT because the India-US deal has not come through, since the 10,000 MW plan was finalised purely on the basis of proven Indian uranium reserves, long before any deal with the US was in the horizon! A temporary mismatch between the national uranium supply and demand cannot be the basis to plunge the country into an India-US deal with far reaching adverse implications.