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Obama and the Nuclear Deal to India – Negotiations over a potent catastrophe?

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Nuclear Energy(The possibility of a nuclear energy deal is one of the high cards that the Indian government has been expecting to explore in order to facilitate efficient infrastructural growth. While many international suppliers and nuclear architects attempted to cut a final deal in the past, the U.S. seemed to be at the helm of it in the recent progress of events during the Obamas’ visit to India. Commenting on its different aspects, the author brings to perspective and debate the whole rationale for such a technology and its fool-proof viability against the availability of better alternatives. – Editor)

Image Credit: 洁伟 王

Why Obama should stop pushing nuclear energy on India
by Vivek Wadhwa

The White House is claiming victory for a breakthrough in the impasse with India over nuclear energy. Indian laws have held suppliers, designers and builders of nuclear plants liable in case of an accident and this made U.S. companies fearful of doing business there. During his recent trip, President Obama persuaded India’s government to create an insurance pool to compensate victims of a potential disaster and to cap the liabilities of companies supplying the technology.

This is hardly a victory for the United States or for India. It no longer makes sense for any country to install a technology that can create a catastrophe such as Chernobyl or Fukushima — especially when far better alternatives are available. Technologies such as solar and wind are advancing so rapidly that by the time the first new nuclear reactors are installed in India, they will be less costly than nuclear energy. Most importantly, the alternative technologies are cleaner and safer.

Take solar energy, which has become a political hot potato in the United States because of Obama’s support of solar companies that failed. Critics are arguing that solar is inefficient, too expensive to install, and unreliable, and will fail without government subsidies. They argue that after decades of development, solar power hardly supplies 1 percent of the world’s energy needs and that we need to double our bets on fossil fuels and nuclear. But they are simply wrong.

Solar power has been doubling every two years for the past 30 years — as costs have been dropping. At this rate, solar is only six doublings — or less than 14 years — away from meeting practically all of today’s energy needs. Even with this, we will be using only one part in 10,000 of the sunlight that falls on the Earth.

In places such as Germany, Spain, Portugal, Australia and parts of the United States and India, residential-scale solar production has already reached “grid parity” with average residential electricity prices. In other words, it costs no more in the long term to install solar panels than to buy electricity from utility companies — without government subsidies. The prices of solar panels have fallen 75 percent in the past five years alone and will fall much further as the technologies to create them improve and scale of production increases. By 2020, solar energy will be price-competitive with energy generated from fossil fuels on an unsubsidized basis in most parts of the world. Prices will keep dropping and efficiency will keep increasing even after this. In the late 2020s, these will cost a fraction of what fossil fuel- and nuclear-based alternatives do.

This is the reality — believe it or not.

Yes, there is an issue of energy storage for when the sun is not shining. Batteries are expensive and their capacity is limited. But these technologies are also advancing rapidly. They will improve over the next decade to the point that storage devices will be economical and sufficient for homes and villages. For India, energy production using solar will alleviate the problems of its decaying national electricity grid. Energy can be generated and stored locally — at the village level.

Wind, biomass, thermal, tidal, and waste-breakdown energy, and a host of newer energy technologies are becoming increasingly practical to install worldwide. Wind power, for example, is already competitive with the cost of new coal-burning power plants in the United States.

The president should not be prescribing medicine that he would not take himself. The United States has not installed any new nuclear plants for more than 30 years. There would be massive public protests if any were even proposed — anywhere in the country. Germany is working towards phasing out all of its nuclear plants by 2022 and many other developed countries are looking to follow its lead.

So why subject India and other developing countries to these dangers?

India is still reeling from the Bhopal disaster of 1984, when a leakage of cyanide gas at the Union Carbide plant killed 5,295 people and left tens of thousands with permanent disabilities. The surviving victims are stillbegging for fair compensation. This was a chemical catastrophe; a nuclear one would be far more destructive.

Instead of trying to chain India to the past with technologies such as nuclear, he should help the country leapfrog into the future with clean energy. This will benefit not only India, but also the world.

Vivek Wadhwa is an academic, researcher, and entrepreneur on technology. 
He writes his views on Wadhwa.com.
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All You Need To Know About India’s Strategic Chabahar Port

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border.

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Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Verma

  • The Chabahar Port is of great strategic importance for India
  • It is in Iran and is being built and operated by India
  • This port will increase India’s trade with Central Asia and Europe

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border. Chabahar is the trans-shipment and logistics hub for the Makran Coast and Baluchistan province of Iran.

Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons

The tension between India and Pakistan is nothing new. There are several instances where both the countries have tried to obstruct each other’s political or economic agendas. This obstruction, along with other strategic reasons, resulted in the India and Iran’s deal on the Chabahar Port, which is crucial because of several reasons.

Here are few things about it you may not have known before :

  • Under the Trilateral Transit and Transport Agreement of 2016, the Chabahar port is the gateway to the Transport Corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan, which allows multi-modal goods’ and passengers’ transport.

Also Read: India and Iran sign agreement to develop Chabahar Port

  • The agreement also states that India will develop and operate two berths in the first phase of the port. The contract is for 10 years and extendable. This time period excludes the first two years as they will be used for construction.
Chabahar Port will make India's trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port will make India’s trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port’s first phase, which was developed by India, and inaugurated by Iran on 4th December 2017, is of great strategic importance as it makes it easier for India to conduct trade with Central Asia and Europe.
  • Iran’s Chabahar port is also important for India’s trade because of Pakistan’s reluctance in allowing India to send goods to Iran and Afghanistan through its land territory.

Also Read: Gwadar Port: China Turning Pakistan Port Into Regional Giant 

  • The development of Chabahar Port will increase the momentum of the International North-South Transport Corridor whose signatories include India, Afghanistan and Russia. Iran is the key gateway in this project. It will improve India’s trade with Central Asia as well as Europe.
    The Chabahar Port has also reduced Afghanistan’s dependence on the transit road, which went through Karachi. Now, trade can be conducted via Chabahar Port too. Islamabad has accused India of trying to use this development as a means to destabilise Pakistan.

    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port also acts as a counter to the barely 100 km away, Gwadar port in Pakistan, which is developed by China. However, Iran has defended that Chabahar is not a rival to Gwadar and Pakistan is invited to join in its development.
  • In October 2017, India sent its first shipment of wheat to through Chabahar to Afghanistan, in order to test the viability of the route.
  • India will also construct a 900-km Chabahar-Zahedan-hajigak railway line that will connect Port of Chabahar to Hajigak in Afghanistan. It will also connect Mashad in the north, providing access to Turkmenistan as well as northern Afghanistan.This project is worth $1.6 billion.

    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehrain. Wikimedia Commons
    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehran. Wikimedia Commons
  • It is being said that India will supply $400 million of steel rails to Tehran. There are also possibilities of setting up a fertilizer plant through a joint venture with the Iranian government.