R. Chidambaram, principal scientific adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a former director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, spoke in an interview about plans to develop technologies for the next generation of power plants, as well as implications of the recent approval of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill. Edited excerpts:
India has been planning to start work on the advanced ultra super critical power generation equipment.
The government already has a super critical programme in place. But the idea here is to have an advanced ultra super critical programme. All this depends on the steam pressure and the temperatures we can achieve. The higher we go in these, the greater the efficiency we can achieve. The programme we are thinking of is to bring together the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), which has a great deal of experience with fast breeder reactors and materials developed. Then, of course, we have NTPC Ltd, India’s largest power utility, and then, of course, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (Bhel).
The first step we have taken is to have an MoU (memorandum of understanding). IGCAR will be involved in the science and core technologies, NTPC will field test materials and be involved with the project management. Bhel will develop capabilities for developing the large generators and turbines needed. If these come together, we can come up with the first prototype plant by 2017.
We are told that the total investment for this is nearly Rs8,000 crore. Where is the funding going to come from?
All that we have to see. I’m only talking about the science part. Let’s get our science right, and that’s a very crucial step because (the) higher the efficiency we achieve, the lower our carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt, and the development will have implications for all the other things. The money part will come.
Is India developing all the core technologies required for this by itself?
Yes, all the core technologies. But today, nobody can overwhelm India in matters of technology. If we need something from outside, it’s available, and we’ll bring it from there so that we have control over the entire technology.
Once this technology is in place, do we have nearly 50% of our future orders based on advanced ultra supercritical technologies?
Once this is successful, of course. It is better than super critical.
Do we know where the prototype is going to be located?
Not yet. We’ll take a decision on this shortly.
You have been closely involved with discussions around the National Knowledge Network. Where are we on it?
The initial phase of the National Knowledge Network was inaugurated by the Prime Minister in April, and a few months back, the entire project was cleared by the cabinet committee on infrastructure. Parts of the project, such as virtual classroom and inter-connections between several IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) have already been achieved. In the next phase, we will be connecting most of the universities. The CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) labs will be connected and once you have this kind of gigabit connectivity, teaching as well as research are going to be much better. Suppose you are developing some component for the fast breeder reactor and it involves the IGCAR and other universities, any change in design, etc., can be quickly implemented.
Recently, Parliament cleared the civil nuclear liability Bill. How will this impact and change India’s nuclear industry?
I don’t want to get into those details. I think these things will work out on their own. There is a nuclear renaissance taking place in the world driven by the energy security needs of India and China. Independent of the threat of climate change, there is not enough fossil fuel for India or China to consume fossil fuels at the levels which already developed countries are doing. We have to look for alternate sources of energy and nuclear is a major source. Different countries are gearing up in different ways.
I went to Abu Dhabi recently and they are developing a nuclear plant. They don’t want to be dependent on that one source (fossil fuel). In countries which have seen a steady growth, knowledge management has not been a problem. Young people have been joining the field. In developed countries where growth has stagnated, there’s an entire young generation that has not been working in this field. Such countries would look to partner countries like India. That’s primarily because of the sheer quality of the human resource. Also, the cost of manufacturing in India can be brought down. So there are going to be collaborations in not just supply, but also manufacturing.
Will this mean that organizations such as BARC will expand their workforce?
Yes, that can and will be done. As of now, the number of people who are joining BARC are a minor fraction of those who apply.