Counted among the fifteen countries currently building reactors and intently following the forty-five countries which intend to introduce fission to their energy portfolios soon, India may be positioning itself as the foremost purveyor of international nuclear growth. It would gain this position by emerging as one of the world’s largest customers for nuclear power plants while simultaneously injecting its own reactor technology – which Indian engineers have long been developing and could soon bring to market – as a potentially disruptive product in the energy industry.
Note that while the fallout of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan is yet to be seen and difficult to predict, it is doubtful that emerging economies like India and China will alter their ambitious nuclear programs in its wake. In fact, the delay in new builds that may occur in more regulated markets like that of the United States (US) and Germany could further India’s leadership position. While the US takes pause to second-guess and triple-check the integrity of designs and plant locations, India will continue to build new generation reactors and commercialize environmentally-beneficial and highly-profitable energy technology.
India’s nuclear sector has enjoyed steady growth because of its Nuclear Power Programme (NPP): a multi-decade, three-stage schedule for meeting rapidly increasing electricity demand and liberating the nation from energy dependence. In the first stage, the industry was jumpstarted with proven technology, Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), in order to equip domestic engineers with reactor-operation experience and to help meet the nation’s anticipated electricity needs. The second stage incorporates research, development, and deployment of Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs).
India’s nuclear policy body, the Atomic Energy Commission, sought to develop breeder technology because it is capable of producing and reproducing the material necessary for fission reactions until nearly no material is left, and it does not need natural uranium – a resource which India lacks. In the long term, breeders could clean up after PHWRs by using their waste as fuel and eliminate the need for spent fuel storage. Finally, NPP’s third stage envisions another breeder design, called the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR), which would primarily use thorium – India’s indigenous fuel. So, after about fifty years of deliberate and well-planned growth, the bustling economy could derive as much as a quarter of its electricity from a carbon-free, domestic resource.