An energy future with thorium

Regarding Pankaj Mishra’s Nov. 10 article, “Nuclear power: India shouldn’t buy what Japan is trying to sell“: In 1974, India began receiving nuclear plants and related technologies from the Soviet Union. Since 1992, it has gotten them from Russia and, to a limited extent (just one power plant), from France. There has been no serious accidents at those plants. The newly built Russian plant at Tamil Nadu (not yet commissioned for operation) withstood a tsunami during an advanced stage of construction.

Some say it is all right for India to buy American nuclear plants but not Russian or Japanese nuclear plants. In fact the Fukushima nuclear power plants are American designed and were manufactured by General Electric Co.

India’s natural energy resources, coal and petroleum, exist in eastern India, particularly in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Assam. Petroleum remains in the Gujarat offshore oil fields, discovered by the Soviet Union in the 1960s, but these are nearly exhausted.

Hydro-electric projects, meanwhile, normally mean the eviction of thousands of people from their land and homes. Recently, in the Narmada Valley project, at least 400,000 people were uprooted. Therefore, for the industrial development of the rest of India outside eastern India, nuclear power is essential — but not from the old-style, uranium-based power plants.

Although India has a very limited amount of natural uranium, it has the world’s largest reserves of thorium on the beaches of Kerala. Thorium can be utilized as fuel in the advanced-type fast breeder reactor that India obtained from the Soviet Union in 1978. Because of political pressure from the United States, India has not gone this route toward becoming self-sufficient in energy.

Under the Indo-U.S. nuclear treaty, India is not permitted to operate fast breeder reactors in the civilian power sector, because fast breeders produce plutonium, which can be used either as reactor fuel or for nuclear weapons. Yet, fast breeder reactors are the solution to India’s energy shortages outside of eastern India.

So, the first thing India should do is to rid itself of the restrictions imposed by the Indo-U.S. nuclear treaty.

dipak basu
nagasaki

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.