Nuclear Power Plants
Should Nepal explore an energy source that holds both the potential to provide clean energy to the masses and the responsibility for the death of civilians in Chernobyl?
Nuclear is a form of energy based on Einstein’s ‘Theory of Relativity’, which uses radioactive material like Uranium and is produced from the nucleus of an atom by the means of two processes: nuclear fission (the splitting of nuclei of atoms into several smaller nuclei) and nuclear fusion (the combination of nuclei). At present, when the world is affected by the extreme impacts of climate change, nuclear energy is perceived as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. This article analyzes the social, economic, and geopolitical aspects involved with nuclear energy and whether it can be feasible for the least developing country like Nepal.
The major advantage of opting for nuclear energy is its lower carbon footprint in comparison to non-fossil sources. Notably, carbon dioxide is one of the primary greenhouse gasses that can absorb heat radiating from the Earth’s surface and release it in all directions. Lesser carbon emission points to a reduced quantity of heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere which will contain the process of global warming. Likewise, slowing the surge in global temperature will prevent the rapid melting of glaciers and increase in sea level. Curtailing carbon emission is even more important because carbon dioxide (CO2) alone caused about two-thirds of the total heating of the Earth out of all greenhouse gasses in the year 2021, as per the NOAA Global Monitoring Lab.
In the same manner, constructing a nuclear power plant is more eco-friendly than the site of other sources of energy. This is so that a nuclear site does not require huge space or the clearing of agricultural or forest lands. Furthermore, its power can be produced at a large scale on demand, unlike solar and wind energies that mandatorily require the presence of sunlight and wind. Most importantly, a study by Yale University in 2013 estimated that the production of nuclear energy prevented 1.84 million deaths worldwide in the period from 1971-2009. An analogy has suggested that using nuclear energy reduces carbon generation in an amount that is equivalent to removing one-third of total cars worldwide.
Nevertheless, several other factors must be considered while dealing with nuclear-related topics. Firstly, nuclear energy is found to be the most expensive form of energy when compared to its counterparts due to its expensive nuclear components, insurance, and workers’ wages. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021, the yearly Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) of America reduced for other sources from 2015 to 2020 while nuclear power costs per MWh increased from US $117 to US $163. This poses a difficulty for low or middle-income countries such as Nepal.
Moreover, the simplest errors in nuclear energy production can be a nightmare for humans. Taking into consideration the nuclear accidents of 1986 in Chernobyl and of 2011 in Fukushima, Japan, and their catastrophic consequences for the local population, economy, and health for decades, it can be concluded that the maintenance of nuclear sites at an international standard is not a walk in the park for any government. It is not guaranteed that developing nations with limited resources and abilities can do so in the long run. This is why a substantial population in such countries does not want nuclear sites in their locality.
In addition, nuclear energy has been a highly politicized issue since the end of World War II. Battles such as the 2003 Iraq Wars have been fought on this very topic. Present-day tensions between Iran and Israel are also attributable to nuclear debates. When the decision to allow nuclear use is dominated by a handful of big powers, how can this energy be equitable to all? Remarkably, it is the reason why countries like Iran and North Korea are globally isolated and are imposed with severe sanctions. However, how the global community can trust the nuclear commitments of these autocratic and intransparent regimes should also be considered. The world has seen instances where countries have developed nuclear weapons under the pretext of using them for energy purposes, such as India and Pakistan. Hence, there is no clear understanding regarding the accessibility of nuclear energy due to global power politics.
In the case of Nepal, the country has signed the ‘Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT),’ but it has never ruled out the peaceful use of nuclear energy for social and economic development. This position has been clearly stated by the ‘National Nuclear Policy, 2007’ of Nepal. However, nuclear ambition remains a far-fetched dream for the Himalayan state to date due to a set of existing obstacles.
Firstly, Nepali administrations lack seriousness on nuclear subjects due to unstable politics. Likewise, there is a scarcity of proper infrastructure to conduct a study and determine the quality of uranium deposits found locally in the nation. Since a majority of these deposits are found in mountainous regions with difficult terrains, the connectivity in such locations is difficult for a large-scale mobilization of researchers. Moreover, Nepali manpower does not have enough experience and expertise to work on nuclear projects at an international standard. They are also not readily provided with all the required safety equipment for nuclear study. Furthermore, the insufficiency of funds for a huge nuclear project adds to the woes.
However, it is not uncommon for the ‘Department of Mines and Geology’ to find radioactive materials like Uranium in different districts of Nepal during surveys nowadays. An article published in 2014 by the Hindustan Times stated that uranium has been located in 25 places across the nation, among which the one in the Upper Mustang region is believed to be of higher concentration and greater quality. To convert this natural gift into a blessing for the country, there is a need for sincere efforts by the state to utilize the discovered uranium efficiently.
Hence, the ‘Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’ should include ‘nuclear energy’ in schools and universities curricula. Nepali universities should provide sufficient opportunities for researchers to study nuclear prospects in the country. Most importantly, Nepal can look to its nuclear-armed neighbors for assistance in pursuing its objective. It is significant for Nepal, as a landlocked state, to bring the countries in its immediate neighborhood into confidence about its nuclear use.
There is no denying that nuclear energy can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels to contain climate disasters in Nepal; however, its feasibility in Nepal remains unknown due to its complex and expensive infrastructure. The power play among big powers and the internal politics of Nepal only further increase the mystery. Consequently, there is a need for the government of Nepal to explore its uses actively by creating trust among the global community, national politicians, and local population.
References and Bibliography:
International Atomic Energy Agency (2022, Nov 15) What is Nuclear Energy? The Science of Nuclear Power. https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/what-is-nuclear-energy-the-science-of-nuclear-power
World Nuclear Association. How can nuclear combat climate change? https://world-nuclear.org/nuclear-essentials/how-can-nuclear-combat-climate-change.aspx
The Himalayan Times (2020, Aug 13) Manage uranium mines properly. https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/manage-uranium-mines-properly
Youtube (2022, Apr 9) Is Nuclear Energy Green? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kahih8RT 1k
Hindustan Times (2014, June 10) Scientists find large uranium deposits in Nepal. https://www.hindustantimes.com/world/scientists-finds-large-uranium-deposit-in-nepal/story-6icA8HZqskhIpUaWFwxpJP.html
Climate.gov (2022, June 23) Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide#:~:text=Carbon%20dioxide%20is%20Earth's%20most,including%20back%20toward%20Earth's%20surface.