India needs nuclear power to meet Modi’s pledge at COP26 in 2070

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew attention at the recent United Nations climate summit, known as COP26, when he said India plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2070. This is a laudable goal, although it is a long way off that no one can be held accountable now. for. But if Modi wants to prove he’s genuinely committed to the target, there’s only one way to do it: nuclear power.

India is one of the largest consumers of coal in the world, with its consumption second only to China. A significant part of the economy runs on coal, the state-owned Coal India is the largest mining company in the world, and coal provides around 70% of the country’s electricity. It also makes India particularly vulnerable to price fluctuations, and in October, record thermal coal prices and an easing of coronavirus lockdowns caused national shortages: some factories had only one to three days of fuel, partly due to a significant increase in demand. October as a whole saw the biggest electricity shortage in more than 5 years.

But the long-term problem with coal is its huge emissions burden, which accelerates the climate change processes to which India is highly exposed. These problems cannot be left to 2070. Rising sea levels have drained agricultural land in places like West Bengal, and climate change (through natural disasters like cyclones, floods and storms). droughts) cost India $ 87 billion last year.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew attention at the recent United Nations climate summit, known as COP26, when he said India plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2070. This is a laudable goal, although it is a long way off that no one can be held accountable now. for. But if Modi wants to prove he’s genuinely committed to the target, there’s only one way to do it: nuclear power.

India is one of the largest consumers of coal in the world, with its consumption second only to China. A significant part of the economy runs on coal, the state-owned Coal India is the largest mining company in the world, and coal provides around 70% of the country’s electricity. It also makes India particularly vulnerable to price fluctuations, and in October, record thermal coal prices and an easing of coronavirus lockdowns caused national shortages: some factories had only one to three days of fuel, partly due to a significant increase in demand. October as a whole saw the biggest electricity shortage in more than 5 years.

But the long-term problem with coal is its huge emissions burden, which accelerates the climate change processes to which India is highly exposed. These problems cannot be left to 2070. Rising sea levels have drained agricultural land in places like West Bengal, and climate change (through natural disasters like cyclones, floods and storms). droughts) cost India $ 87 billion last year.

The government has taken steps to switch to cleaner sources. As of August, India had just over 100 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, which is about a quarter of total installed electric capacity. But this is not enough to meet Modi’s COP26 target, and the government is both aware of this and preparing to respond through policies such as subsidies for wind power and a slow decline in subsidies. for coal. However, nuclear power must be part of this answer.

At present, nuclear power is the fifth largest source of electricity in India, and there are several reactors spread across the country, and more are still under construction. However, they’re not that big in the big picture: As of November 2020, they accounted for less than 2% of India’s overall energy supply.

Raising that number will be crucial in tackling climate change as well as concerns over energy reliability, but it’s not necessarily something India can do on its own, and some are wondering if it is to be expected. In Modi’s speech at COP26, he echoed concerns that the Western world is removing the cheap and dirty ladder of power that he himself has climbed. However, he did not close the door to decarbonization efforts and argued that developed countries should commit to helping developing countries through a $ 1 trillion fund for climate finance.

While the fund is in place and the agreements are worked out, there is a concrete way for the United States and India to move to such funding. In 2008, then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the US-India civilian nuclear deal with then-US President George W. Bush. The deal aimed to remedy decades of sanctions resulting from India’s previous nuclear tests. India was required to separate its nuclear power into civilian and military sectors in return for full civilian nuclear cooperation.

At the time, the deal was quite controversial in India – the opposition Bharatiya Janata party and the once powerful Indian Communist Party vigorously opposed it, even though the latter was part of the parliamentary majority in the government. Despite intense hostility, the government managed to both pass the deal and prove its majority, although both were reached with paper-thin majorities and resulted in the departure of the Left Front parties from the United States. government of the United Progressive Alliance led by the Indian National Congress. In the United States, some feared the deal would lead to a change in US non-proliferation policy, but the deal was passed by House 298-117 and Senate at 86-13 – far more margins. strong than in India.

Yet the deal in India did not address all nuclear energy issues, especially popular security concerns. There have been a number of protests in the southern state of Tamil Nadu over concerns over the safety standards of a nuclear power plant built in conjunction with a Russian energy company. Additionally, in 2014, Modi’s then energy minister said the government was still cautious about nuclear power.

By 2016, however, the winds had apparently turned. The United States and India have agreed to move forward with building six nuclear reactors to be delivered by June 2017, the first of such steps under the 2008 deal, despite some concerns. regarding limited liability. Additionally, while there is still some controversy surrounding waste storage, the Tamil Nadu plant appears to have gained wide political acceptance, and construction of its fifth and sixth units has recently started. The United States is gradually replacing Russia as a key Indian ally in a military context, and there is no reason why it should stop in an energy context. India should strive to continue to strengthen its energy relationship with the United States, both for clean energy purposes and to ensure collaboration in a non-military context.

The United States has reached out to India in recent years, mostly with an eye on China. While this cooperation is both important and welcome, it is also important that the relationship between the United States and India is more than a military alliance. Policymakers should reap its benefits not only by strengthening India’s energy infrastructure, but also by ensuring strong cooperation in a non-military context.

The current energy crisis in India has eased, but this is no guarantee against future disasters. Policy makers should act to ensure a safer, more reliable and greener energy network.


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