India Plans Massive Nuclear Energy Boost, Increasing Capacity by 12,000% by 2050

India aims to boost its nuclear energy capacity by 12,000 percent by 2050.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in making the announcement Tuesday at a New Delhi conference on peaceful uses of nuclear power, predicted that India could produce 470 gigawatts of nuclear power.

That would make India the largest nuclear energy producer in the world, surpassing the United States, which now produces 101 gigawatts of nuclear energy. India’s 17 reactors currently produce 3.8 gigawatts of power.

In the short term, the contribution of nuclear energy is expected to rise from just 3 percent to 6 percent of India’s total needs over the next decade. But by 2050 it will increase to between a third and a half of the country’s energy needs, according to the new forecast announced by Singh.

“Our nuclear industry is poised for a major expansion and there will be huge opportunities for the global nuclear industry,” Singh said, the Times Online reports. “This will sharply reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and will be a major contribution to global efforts to combat climate change.”

Greenhouse gas-producing coal-fired plants now account for 50 percent of the country’s electricity. India is the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

India also announced that American companies would be allowed to establish “nuclear parks” at two sites in the states of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh under a bilateral nuclear agreement. The deal — struck in 2005 but approved by the U.S. Congress last year — lifts a ban on India buying American nuclear technologies and fuel, imposed following New Delhi’s 1974 testing of its first nuclear weapons.

Alan McDonald, an expert on nuclear power at the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Times that prior to the agreement with the United States, India had set a target of generating about 270 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050.

McDonald questioned how India would keep up the momentum of nuclear energy expansion through 2050. “That kind of growth for a decade is not unprecedented, but maintaining it over four decades is probably a challenge,” he said.

The success of India’s plan, McDonald said, would hinge on the cost of nuclear reactors and the price of fossil fuels, as well as international efforts to impose binding caps on carbon emissions.

India’s total power generation capacity is currently only 150 gigawatts, less than a fifth of China’s. According to the Power Ministry, demand outstripped supply by 9.5 percent between 2008 and 2009. More than 400 million Indians — over a third of the population — are not connected to the national grid.

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