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     Gobar times: Environment for Beginners

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C O V E R  S T O R Y


But there are several apprehensions about using nuclear energy, such as:
  • Current light water reactors burn the nuclear fuel poorly, leading to energy waste.
  • The long-term radioactive waste storage problems of nuclear power have not been fully solved.
  • The economics of nuclear power is not simple to evaluate because of high capital costs for building and very low fuel costs.
Moreover, the possibility of nuclear disasters, such as the Three Mile Island accident and the Chernobyl disaster, has built public fear. This acts as a major deterrent to the use of the power.

In India
Nuclear power supplies about 3 per cent of India's electricity. By 2050, it is expected to rise to 25 per cent. Currently, there are 14 reactors in commercial operation and nine under construction. The total nuclear installed capacity is 1840 Mega Watt electric (MWe) as compared to 3,46,000 MWe of the world.

But, India has limited coal and uranium reserves. So, its huge thorium reserves – about 25 per cent of the world's total – are expected to fuel its nuclear power programme in the long run.

Verdict: Nuclear power does not produce any primary air pollution. But it releases highly radioactive wastes, and has high environmental and economic costs.
“Wow! So many alternative energy options to choose from, then why aren’t we shifting right away?”

Shamik: Wow! So we have so many options. But then, why aren’t we shifting to them right away?

Money Shankar: There are various reasons. Let’s look at the two main consumers of energy in India, and probably the entire world – transport and industrial sectors.

Guilty Parts

Transport sector is one of the largest users of our energy resources. In 2005, almost 50 per cent of the world’s oil consumption went into running vehicles. And it is growing at a disastrous pace.

Transport sector runs mainly on two fuels – petrol and diesel.

In India, roughly 7 per cent of our consumption of oil products is for petrol – mainly used in private vehicles. More cars mean more petrol use. And as there are no set guidelines to regulate fuel efficiency of cars, which will give us more mileage per drop of petrol, we will continue to inefficiently use the fuel and grumble about prices.

The increasing cost of oil means that there will be even less money and resources to invest into public systems.

Diesel, on the other hand, is the so-called fuel of the poor. And the price hike will hit the same poor real hard. Because with the upsurge of fuel prices, the costs of other goods will also rise. This will be mainly due to the higher road-based transportation costs.

There is a way out of this too. Railway system. It can transport much more, while using much less energy. But, people still depend on trucks and trailers, which run on diesel. The railway system remains neglected and dismembered.

What the country needs today is a clear focus on developing a strong public transport – buses and railways. We must be mobile without cars, for the sake of energy and environment.

India’s industrial sector is another major energy guzzler. It consumes about 50 per cent (including feedstock) of the total commercial energy produced in the country! Here are some other figures:

  • The total industrial energy consumption, including non-energy uses, grew from 45.7 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE) in 1984-85 to 113.1MTOE in 1996-97.
  • Of the commercial sources of energy, coal and lignite contribute about 57 per cent, oil and natural gas 33 per cent, hydroelectric power 3 per cent, and nuclear power 0.2 per cent.
  • A few energy-intensive industries, including fertilisers, aluminium, textiles, cement, iron and steel, pulp and paper, and chlor-alkalis consume around 65 per cent of industrial energy.

A final figure…
  • The estimated total conservation potential of this sector is around 25 per cent of the total energy used by it.

  • Yes, there is a huge scope for improving energy efficiency in industries. But, the industrial sector has failed to take full advantage of the financial incentives provided by the government to encourage energy conservation strategies.

    Godhuli: Oh! We are wasting so much of energy! May be the developed countries are right… We are the main “culprits” behind the oil price rise…

    Money Shankar: India’s situation is very complex, my dear.

    Crude war

    India needs more and more energy to fuel its booming economy. Thus, accelerating the overall energy demand in the world.

    But, the problem is not merely this growing demand for energy. Major part of it is the inequality in the world economy.

    War of two worlds

    There are two worlds – industrialised/developed countries and developing countries. Or say, the North and the South.

    Now, developing countries like India and China are experiencing rapid economic growth. Their per capita income is growing, and so are their demands for food and fuel.

    But, the industrialised world is accusing the developing countries for creating global energy crisis. How?

    The North alleges, supported by many politically motivated data and reports, that the South is consuming more non-renewable resources and thus, emitting more greenhouse gases, which is leading to global warming.

    But what everyone is forgetting is that the North, with only 20 per cent of the earth’s population, accounts for 85 per cent of the global consumption of non-renewable energy. On a per capita basis, the North releases much more greenhouse gases than an Indian or Chinese. The North has already used much of the planet’s ecological capital. It has already gobbled-up much of the global energy resources. And has already set off the climate change process.

    But, the same inequality exists at home…

    Developing Dilemma

    Similar to the situation explained in the story ‘Feeding Frenzy’ (Issue dated 1-15 July 2008), the rise in per capita income of India has favoured half of the country’s population – the urban poor and middle-class. The other section has experienced no such rapid growth in income. The ‘richer’ group spends a lot of their new income on energy-intensive goods like cars. This stresses the supply and ultimately, shoots up the prices of fuels (in this case). But, the rural poor face this higher fuel prices with no greater income. So, the rich continue to enjoy and waste the resources, while the poor cannot afford to use any.

    Scene 3: The school lobby >>

    Money Shankar: So do you realise now what is the root of all problems? It is not the impending doom of energy resources, but it is this global inequality. The focus is not on the industrialised countries that are rampaging the resources and ecology. Instead, it is on poor developing countries and their miniscule resource use. Similarly within developing countries, there is a huge rich-poor divide.

    Shamik: So the concept of ‘one world’ – interdependent and equal – seems like a distant dream. How can there be any kind of global management in a world that is so highly divided between the rich and poor?

    Do any of you have an answer? Or an opinion or experience that you would like to share with Godhuli and Shamik?

    Then please write to:,   or
    Pandit ji,
    Centre for Science and Environment 41,
    Tughlakabad Insititutional Area New Delhi-110062

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