WASHINGTON.Two American principals who were instrumental in pushing the US-India civilian nuclear deal said on Monday that New Delhi could not afford to forsake nuclear energy even in the wake of the tragedy in Japan although the disaster will have a salutary effect on India's choice of sites and technology.
Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Tellis and US-India Business Council's Ron Somers, who propelled the nuclear agreement within the American strategic and business community respectively, maintained that India must and will continue to embrace nuclear power given the enormous energy deficit the country faces, shortage that cannot be met from any one source.
"India does not have the luxury of renouncing nuclear power," the Mumbai-born Tellis said at a conference on "The Rise of India," hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. "What India will push for is to be more careful about where plants are sited...that is salutary. It will insist that (nuclear reactor) designs are validated a lot more. I don't think there will be a downward revision (of nuclear power targets)."
India plans to increase its nuclear power production from its current 4000 MW installed capacity to 20,000 MW by 2020 and 40,000 MW by 2030 in one of the largest expansions in the world. The earthquake-induced tragedy in Japan has opponents of nuclear power up in arms over a source and technology that is seen by them to be of a catastrophic nature.
But USIBC's Somers maintained that the Japanese designs were of 1972 vintage and current technology would have coped better with the circumstances. "In that sense, it is a blessing India is getting its civilian nuclear program started now because new technology in the event of such an earthquake would automatically shut down (the reactor) and there won't be a possibly of meltdown," Somers said.
Critics of this line of argument, who have already been venting about India considering untested technology for its new projects, say there is no way to insure against catastrophic incidents. That's something even proponents of nuclear power agree, even as they point out that Indian plants have withstood temblors and a tsunami. Already, there is a surge of risk aversion towards nuclear energy across the world, with Germany announcing on Monday that it was taking seven pre-1980 nuclear power plants offline.
But Carnegie's Tellis said that while the Japan tragedy is going to "give India pause" it won't lead to any fundamental revision of targets. "The reason for that is India needs more of everything fast. It needed it yesterday," he said. "Even if all the sources of power were produced on time and very efficiently, India will be confronted with a deficit in terms of power generation. There is no way the arithmetic of demand and supply add up."
Somers too agreed that the Japan tragedy "will it be a setback for nuclear renaissance" and will cause people to think twice about nuclear power as an energy source, but said India should not back down from the nuclear power option. India's energy needs are 70 per cent dependant on hydrocarbons and rising oil prices among other factors spelled danger for food price inflation, which was a potent political issue in India.