India’s Civil Nuclear Energy Sector

2023 DEC 24

Mains   > Science and Technology   >   Energy   >   Nuclear energy

Syllabus: GS 3 > Science and Technology   >   Energy   >   Nuclear energy



  • Recently, the fourth unit of the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP-4) in Gujarat, with 700 MWe capacity, has achieved criticality.
  • Also, the government recently announced that it has initiated steps to increase the nuclear power capacity from 7480 MW to 22480 MW by 2031–32.


  • The 700 MWe units are the largest indigenous nuclear power reactors to be built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).
  • The 700-MWe unit-3 of KAPP started generating commercial electricity from August 30,2023.
  • These reactors are pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs), which use natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as coolant and moderator.
Criticality in a nuclear reactor is achieved when the nuclear fission chain reaction becomes self-perpetuating. This occurs when each fission event generates enough neutrons to sustain further fission reactions, maintaining a steady rate of energy production. It's a crucial first step in the process of generating nuclear energy.


  • Nuclear power is the fifth-largest source of electricity in India after coal, renewables, natural gas and hydroelectricity.
  • Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), under the administrative control of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of nuclear power reactors.
  • The NPCIL presently operates 23 nuclear electricity reactors with a total capacity of 7,480 MWe. It has nine units, including KAPP-4, under construction while 10 more reactors, with a total capacity of 7,000 MWe, are in the pre-project phase.
  • BHAVINI, another PSU of the DAE, implements the Fast Breeder Reactors programme at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam, Tamilnadu. 
  • India's three-stage closed fuel cycle nuclear power programme was formulated by Homi Bhabha in the 1950s to secure the country's long-term energy independence.
  • Its long-term objective is to utilise the abundant thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of India’s coastal regions.


  • To address energy poverty:
    • Although India is the third largest producer of electricity in the world behind the US and China, it continues to remain energy-poor
    • As per data from the Ministry of Power, India's per capita electricity consumption was 1255 kWh in 2021–22, which is only around one-third of the global average of per capita electricity consumption.
  • Meet rising demand:
    • According to the Economic Survey 2019-2020, India needs to quadruple electricity production to assure a reasonable quality of life to citizens. Such exponential growth can be achieved only through development of nuclear power.
  • Low carbon footprint:
    • Nuclear plants support India's commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and achieving the 2070 net zero emission goal.
  • Depleting reserves:
    • Over 60% of India's energy is derived from coal and natural gas, but as these resources deplete, nuclear energy emerges as a viable alternative.
  • Reduce import dependency:
    • Heavy reliance on fuel imports poses economic and strategic risks. Alternatives like solar energy often require imported technology
    • Building domestic nuclear capabilities could mitigate these dependencies and improve strategic stability.
  • Reliable Year-round power:
    • Nuclear power plants operate at much higher capacity than renewable or conventional energy sources. For example: In 2018, one of the reactor unit in Kaiga set a new world record for 941 days of continuous operation.
  • Cost effective:
    • Nuclear technology has developed to such extend that most of the spent fuel can be recycled or stored safely for decades. In the long run, this makes nuclear energy economically competitive with alternate sources of energy.
  • Land requirement:
    • A nuclear energy facility has a small area footprint. For instance, Asia’s largest solar park in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh is spread over 1590 hectares and will produce 750 MWe. In comparison, Kakrapar occupies only 959 hectares, which includes 500 hectares of green belt and 200 hectares of township but produces 1140 MWe.


  • Growing demand for power:
    • The growing economy and rising population mean that the demand for power in India will not subdue in the near future. This makes India’s energy sector an attractive market to investors. 
  • Indigenous capacity:
    • India has developed indigenous capabilities in the construction and operation of nuclear reactors. India also has more than 40 years of experience in spent fuel reprocessing technology, vital for the success of the three-stage programme.
  • Availability of raw materials:
    • India has ample thorium reserves in its beach sands and has boosted its domestic uranium supply with the Tummalapalle mine in Andhra Pradesh. It also imports significant uranium from countries like Russia, France, and Kazakhstan.
  • Favourable government policies:
    • Government's commitment to boost nuclear power capacity to 22,480 MW by 2031-32 reflects strong support for the sector.
  • Push for sustainable development:
    • India's commitment to reducing carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutrality by 2070 supports the growth of nuclear power.
  • International support:
    • India has a credible track record of being a responsible nuclear power. Hence, despite being a non-signatory to the NPT, foreign countries continue to extend support to India’s civilian nuclear sector.


  • Slow progress:
    • Seventy years down the line, India’s three stage reactor programme is still stuck in the first stage. The Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) of 500 MW at Kalpakkam is yet to come on stream.
  • Global aversion to nuclear power:
    • Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, several countries have decided to phase move away from nuclear power. Eg: Germany pledged to close all its reactors by the end of 2022. This aversion is a major challenge to developments in nuclear power.
  • Potential risks:
    • India’s new nuclear plants seek to import expensive and untested AP 1000s reactors that are not in commercial operation anywhere around the world yet.
    • Also, they are located in coastal regions which are often heavily populated and are getting increasingly vulnerable to global warming-induced natural disasters.
  • Shortage of uranium:
    • India's uranium resources are modest, with 183,600 tonnes of uranium as identified resources in situ. With stage 3 nowhere near development, India has to rely on imports to meet its needs for a foreseeable future.  
  • NPT-NSG hurdle:
    • As India is not a signatory of NPT and NSG, some willing nations are been unable to supply India with nuclear fuel.
    • For instance, Namibia, being a part of the Pelindaba Treaty (also known as the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty, ANWFZT), is barred from supplying uranium to a non-NPT signatory.
    • Also, India's non-signatory status to the NPT, despite its significant nuclear capabilities, complicates its dealings with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which promotes nuclear safety under the NPT framework.
  • Risky investment:
    • Nuclear power has the energy sector’s highest capital intensity and longest plant-construction time frame, making it hardly attractive for private investors.
  • Waste Management
    • Handling and disposing of nuclear waste safely is a major challenge. The long-term storage and management of radioactive waste require secure, stable facilities, which can be both costly and controversial.
  • Delays in completion:
    • Plant construction time frame in India, including licensing and approval, averages almost a decade. Delays leads to cost overruns, making them economically unviable. This discourages lenders to sanction long term loans to investors.
  • Public perception:
    • Nuclear energy is a continuing political problem. There has been significant opposition to the government plans to set up nuclear plants. New sites, such as Jaitpur (Maharashtra), Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh), Mithi Virdi (Gujarat) and Haripur (West Bengal) continue to witness people’s protests.


  • Multi-pronged Approach: India should adopt a comprehensive energy strategy that incorporates both nuclear power and renewables for sustainable and safe electricity generation.
  • Seek New Partners: Focus on securing bilateral civil nuclear deals with new partners instead of solely aiming for NSG membership.
  • Export Technology: Promote the export of India's midsize reactor model, suitable for developing countries.
  • Public Outreach: Implement public outreach to address concerns about nuclear energy.
  • Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill: Prioritize the enactment of this bill to bolster India’s nuclear regulatory framework and security credentials.


  • Developed countries are moving away from nuclear energy due to safety concerns, but developing nations like India, facing growing energy needs and development challenges, must prioritize nuclear energy development with a strong focus on safety.


Q. “India’s transition towards affordable, cleaner and reliable energy is impossible without nuclear power”. Critically examine? (15 marks, 250 words)