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Nuclear Energy Program

2024 MAR 8

Mains   > Science and Technology   >   Energy   >   Renewable energy


GS 3 >> Science and Technology >> Energy >> Renewable energy


A significant landmark in India's nuclear initiative was reached with the commencement of the core-loading process in the domestically developed Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu. This step signifies the initiation of the second phase in India's three-stage nuclear energy program.


The Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) is a nuclear reactor in India that produces more nuclear fuel than it consumes. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, designed the PFBR. It’s a key component of India’s three-stage nuclear power program, aiming for energy self-sufficiency.

Importance of Stage II

  • Transition to Thorium Use: Stage II, featuring the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), is crucial for transitioning towards using thorium, leveraging India’s large thorium reserves.
  • Foundation for Future Expansion: This stage lays the groundwork for building additional fast breeder reactors (FBRs). The Department of Atomic Energy proposed constructing four more FBRs, each with a 600 MWe capacity.
  • Self-Sufficiency in Nuclear Energy: Stage II is a strategic step towards making India completely self-sufficient in nuclear energy, a major goal of the country’s nuclear program.

Challenges of Stage II

  • Technical Complexity: FBRs like the PFBR are more complex to operate compared to other reactor designs.
  • Safety Concerns: Fukushima Daiichi disaster has intensified the concerns around.
  • Regulatory Hurdles: The AERB, India’s nuclear regulatory body, faces criticism for not being independent, as it ultimately reports to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
  • Handling of Radioactive By-products: The thorium fuel cycle produces radioactive isotopes like caesium-137 and radium-224. These are difficult to handle and store.




The roadmap of India’s three-stage nuclear program was envisioned by Dr. Homi J Bhabha. The program had been conceived with the ultimate objective of utilizing the country’s vast reserves of thorium-232. India hosts roughly a quarter of the world’s thorium, and the three stages are expected to make the country completely self-sufficient in nuclear energy.

There are 22 operational reactors in India with a total installed capacity of, 6780 MWe (Megawatts electric). 10 nuclear power reactors with a total of 8000 MW capacity are under construction.


  1. Energy Independence: In 2021, about 82% of India's primary energy needs were met by fossil fuels, with a substantial portion being imported. This exposes India to economic and strategic risks as a developing nation. Transitioning to nuclear energy can mitigate reliance on foreign fuel sources.
  2. Reducing Carbon Emissions: The power sector, primarily fueled by thermal power plants, significantly contributes to carbon emissions, exacerbating global warming, climate change, and air pollution. Nuclear power, in contrast, offers a pathway to significantly lower the power sector's carbon footprint.
  3. Overcoming Renewable Energy Constraints: While renewable sources like solar and wind energy play a crucial role in the energy mix, they face challenges such as land intensity, the need for energy storage systems, and dependence on imported technology and materials like photovoltaic cells and batteries. Indigenous nuclear technology, however, lessens the need for critical imports.
  4. Cost-Effectiveness in Operation: Operating nuclear power plants is more economical than running fossil fuel plants. It's estimated that nuclear facilities incur only 33-50% of the operational costs of coal plants and 20-25% of gas combined-cycle plants, even when accounting for the management of radioactive materials and waste disposal.
  5. Stable and Uninterrupted Energy Supply: Unlike the variable nature of solar and wind energy, nuclear power offers a stable and constant supply of electricity, ensuring uninterrupted power for the nation's needs.
  6. Exploitation of Thorium Reserves: India's significant thorium reserves, primarily found in the coastal monazite sands of South India, present an opportunity for energy generation through thermal breeder reactors, further strengthening India's energy security.


  1. High Capital Requirements: The construction of nuclear power plants demands significant financial investment, often leading to cost overruns in recent projects.
  2. Limited Current Capacity: Despite a goal set by the Atomic Energy Commission for 650 GW by 2050, the existing nuclear capacity stands at merely 6.78 GW.
  3. Concerns Over Nuclear Safety: Public opposition to nuclear facilities, driven by fear of disasters similar to those at Chernobyl or Fukushima, exemplified by protests against the Mithi Virdi project in Gujarat.
  4. Challenges with Nuclear Liability: The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act of 2010 has deterred foreign investment due to concerns over liability for accidents.
  5. International Regulatory Barriers: Not being a part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and not having Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership have restricted India's access to nuclear fuel and advanced technology.
  6. Dependence on Outdated Technology: Many of India's nuclear reactors are aging and face operational issues, such as the VVER reactors at Kudankulam encountering operational challenges.


  1. Adoption of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs): There should be a focus on developing and deploying indigenous SMRs at sites of retiring coal plants, leveraging their safety, economy, and adaptability. Collaborations with entities like NTPC and owners of thermal plants should be pursued.
  2. Scaling Up Indigenous PHWR Reactors: The domestic 700 MWe Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) should be expanded on a large scale to increase India's nuclear power capacity.
  3. Advancing to Later Stages of the Nuclear Program: The momentum should be increased towards the second and third stages of the nuclear power program to harness the thorium reserves of the country effectively.
  4. Exploring Nuclear Fusion: Efforts should be made to explore nuclear fusion as a safer alternative to fission, with the added benefit of utilizing the vast reserves of ocean water.
  5. Improving Nuclear Facility Safety: Ongoing safety training for nuclear operators and extensive public awareness campaigns on nuclear energy's benefits and safety, possibly spearheaded by influential figures, should be prioritized.
  6. Granting Regulatory Independence: The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) needs to be given operational independence from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to ensure unbiased regulatory oversight.

Thus, India's nuclear program is at a crucial juncture and aims to navigate challenges and unlock its vast potential, positioning itself as a frontrunner in sustainable and secure energy through strategic advancements.


Q: Nuclear energy although has the potential to solve India’s energy problems but carry great inherent risks. Elaborate.(15M, 250W)