The simmering potential of nuclear power in India’s energy mix

Kudankulam NPP India The simmering potential of nuclear power FEATURED STORY in India’s energy mix

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) Units 1 and 2 at Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, India. Image courtesy Reetesh Chaurasia, Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).

At the Sydney Energy Forum, co-hosted by Australia and the International Energy Agency, Raj Kumar Singh, Indian Minister of Power and Minister of New and Renewable Energy, enounced that the current global energy crisis is likely to go on for some time due to the “cartelisation” of the fossil fuel industry, not just because of the Ukraine conflict. This statement brings to the forefront the importance of alternative sources to the energy security of countries across the world. Evidently, there is an impending need for new energy sources, both to replace the dependence on fossil fuels and to meet increased demand for electricity. And nuclear energy seems to be a worthy contender.

By Tanya Rudra

According to the World Nuclear Association, despite the strong support for, and growth in electricity sources with low carbon footprint, in the recent years, the fossil fuel contribution to power generation has not changed significantly in the last 15 years or so. In 2019, 63% of the world’s electricity was generated from the burning of fossil fuels. Interestingly, nuclear energy is the second largest source of low-carbon electricity in the world behind hydropower but its potential remains largely under-utilized.

What is nuclear energy?

In a nuclear power plant, power in the form of electricity can be created thanks to a process called fission. In layman’s terms, fission refers to the splitting of uranium atoms. This process releases heat. In turn, that heat is used to create steam that spins a turbine to generate electricity. This is achieved without the harmful byproducts emitted by fossil fuels. Nuclear power is therefore classified as a zero-emission clean energy source.

Advantages of nuclear energy

  1. One of the most low-carbon energy sources – Most of the CO2 emissions associated with nuclear power stations happen during construction and fuel processing, not when electricity is being generated.
  2. It also has one of the smallest land footprints – Despite producing massive amounts of carbon-free power, nuclear energy produces more electricity on less land than any other clean-air source.
  3. It’s one of the answers to the energy gap – Nuclear energy isn’t only low-carbon, it’s also reliable when compared to other low-carbon options. So, when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, nuclear takes over keeping the lights on around the world.
  4. Nuclear energy is cost-effective – Although nuclear power stations take considerable investment to build, they have low running costs and longevity. This means they are particularly cost-effective.
  5. Uranium is widely available – Uranium, the raw material used to create fuel for nuclear reactors, comes from stable regions around the world and is widely available. This dependability means nuclear power is a long-term and low-carbon option. To put things in perspective, the world’s present measured resources of uranium (6.1 Mt) are enough to last for about 90 years. This represents a higher level of assured resources than is normal for most minerals.

Scope of nuclear energy in India

In March 1944, Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the architect of the Indian Atomic Energy programme, and the father of nuclear research in India stated that, “When nuclear energy has been successfully applied for power production in, say, a couple of decades from now, India will not have to look abroad for its experts but will find them ready at hand.”

Today, India is the fourth largest energy consumer in the world, behind only the US, China, and Russia. While the foundation for a solid nuclear power plan was laid in India in the 1940s, the country still heavily relies on fossil fuels for electricity generation. Only 3% of India’s ever-growing energy needs are met by employing nuclear power.

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), wholly owned by the Government of India, is responsible for design, construction, commissioning, and operation of nuclear power reactors. NPCIL is presently operating 22 commercial nuclear power reactors with an installed capacity of 6.7 GW, while five are under construction.

In 2010, the Indian government set an ambitious target to have 14.6 GW nuclear capacity by 2024.

“Some 13,000 valves are required in a modern nuclear power plant.”

The world view

Nuclear energy now provides about 10% of the world’s electricity from about 440 power reactors. About 55 more reactors are under construction in 15 countries, equivalent to approximately 15% of existing capacity.

As of 2020, France gets around 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy, while Ukraine, Slovakia, Belgium, and Hungary get about half from nuclear.

Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates are all constructing their first nuclear power plants. Several other countries are moving towards use of nuclear energy for power production.

Valves used in nuclear applications

Successful operation of a nuclear power station demands the highest standards of safety and reliability. These requirements are also expected of the valves and actuators used. Valves and actuators therefore undergo a rigorous testing and certification programme. This can involve a simulated life test, involving exposure to seismic, environmental, and mechanical aging. The valve can also be repeatedly opened and closed to see whether it can withstand the expected number of cycles during the forecast lifetime of the plant.

Supplier websites indicate that a wide range of valves are used throughout a typical nuclear power plant, including the primary circuit (often termed the ‘nuclear island’). These include quarter-turn designs (ball, butterfly, plug), multi-turn (gate, globe), check, choke, control and pressure-relief valves. These sources also indicate that some 13,000 valves may be required in a modern nuclear powerplant, with 1,500 located in the primary circuit.

About this featured story

This featured story is an article originally published in Valve World India & Middle East journal (September 2022 issue). Interested in reading more articles about technical developments, company presentations, case histories, etc? Then why not take a print subscription or a free digital subscription? DIGITAL MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS ARE NOW FREE.

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