Power that enables progress
S. B. Bhoje, Director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, recently addressed members of the Public Relations Society of India Chennai Chapter, on the benefits of nuclear technology and the need to create awareness about it among people. A report.
PEOPLE ACROSS the world relate anything nuclear to destruction, thanks to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What most do not know, however, is the fact that nuclear radiation accounts for only 0.1 per cent of all radiation, miniscule compared to the radiation through food (12 per cent), cosmic rays (10 per cent) and the small quantities of radioactive substance present in the atmosphere.
Addressing members of the Public Relations Society of India Chennai Chapter, S. B. Bhoje, Director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, said that information about the benefits of nuclear technology needed to be brought to the public domain for people's mindset to change. A Padma Shri award winner this year for his lifetime achievements in the field of science and technology, Mr. Bhoje recalled an instance of a person wondering whether he (Mr. Bhoje) was doing anything sinister when he was told that Mr Bhoje was actively involved in the development of nuclear technology.
Accidents like Chernobyl (which, according to Mr. Bhoje, was a result of the rules of nuclear engineering being improperly followed) create fear in the minds of people whenever the nuclear subject was mentioned. A public relations exercise is necessary, Mr. Bhoje felt, to keep people properly informed and to drive home the advantages of nuclear energy, such as the application of radioisotopes (in medical therapy and biological research) and generation of electricity and hydrogen.
"In fact, it is absolutely wrong to think that nuclear reactors are dangerous places. Even in case of an emergency, a leak, for example, all plants are so designed that radioactivity remains confined to the reactor. With advancement in technology, even the smallest dose of radioactivity can be detected and the accident probability is such that if there are 1,000 nuclear reactors operating over a 1,000-year span, there may be only one accident," Mr Bhoje remarked.
Born in Maharashtra's Kolhapur district, Mr. Bhoje graduated in mechanical engineering from Poona University before joining the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in 1966. He started his career designing the experimental fast breeder reactor. He was deputed to the Centre d'Etudes Nucleare Cadarache, France, in 1969-70 as a member of the task force formed to design the fast breeder test reactor (FBTR).
Today, Mr. Bhoje is an internationally reputed nuclear technologist who successfully designed and commissioned the FBTR in Kalpakkam, an experience, he said, he would always cherish. Another moment of immense satisfaction for him came when he was made responsible for designing a 500 MW (megawatt electricity) prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR), construction of which will commence soon in Kalpakkam. The PFBR is considered the forerunner of a series of fast breeder reactors to be constructed in the country.
"Thirty years ago, our first nuclear plant, the Tarapore Atomic Power Station, was set up with U.S. assistance. We can now be proud of the fact that as far as nuclear power generation is concerned, be it construction of reactors, operation and maintenance of the plant or waste management, India is the only country in the developing world with such capability," Mr. Bhoje said. He was convinced that only nuclear energy could meet India's long-term power requirement.
"The fact that we cannot bear even an hour without electricity shows how important it is to be able to generate sufficient power. Against our very large energy demands, estimated to be about 400-500 GW (gigawatt electricity), our resources are limited. We have only about 200 billion tonnes of coal left, a resource that has to be prudently used to last us at least 60-70 years. Also, burning coal leads to sulphur dioxide and carbon emission, acid rain and destruction of crops. Every year, we spend about Rs. 80,000 crores in importing oil, a drain on our foreign exchange reserves. And that is one of the reasons why we need to look at a safe, reliable and economical (although a nuclear power plant is 20 per cent costlier than a coal-fed plant, long-term costs are low) resource - nuclear energy - by exploiting our huge reserves of thorium and uranium, sufficient to last us a few centuries," he explained.
Citing the example of France, where 75-80 per cent of the power generation is from nuclear energy, Mr. Bhoje pointed out that India's progress was somewhat slow in this field; only 3.5 per cent of the power generated is from nuclear energy against the world average of 20 per cent.
Compared to the per capita energy consumption of North America (12, 000 kWh per annum) and Western Europe (5,500 kWh per annum), India's per capita consumption is only 500 kWh per annum, he said. "But all this is bound to change soon with everybody aspiring for a better standard of living. And that is why sustainability of power, just like water, for future generations is so very important," he emphasised.
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