Thursday, February 24, 2011

Long live Gaddafi....why India needs Gaddafi to continue in Libya

Every time crude prices climb, we get reminded of our vulnerabilities with respect to fuel. The long term solution is to go in for an aggressive nuclear power programme. In the short run, we must pray that Gaddafi re-establishes control of his country. It doesn’t matter than Libyans will have to live without democracy for a few more decades.....!

One little crisis in one little part of the world can send the oil rates soaring. At $120 a barrel, crude prices have increased by more than 50% in just three months. Libya is only a small supplier of crude.....accounting for less than 5% of total production in the world. It’s only the 18th largest producer of crude in the world. However, in the business of commodities, the balance between supply and demand is very fine and fragile. A little change in one of the two can impact prices to a very large extent. In this case, disruption in supplies in Libya has spooked the prices. Of course, there is the very real fear that the revolution in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya could also spread to other Gulf autocracies....if that were to happen, Nomura’s view that oil could touch $220 a barrel would indeed come true.

Frankly, there is zero control that India has in this matter. This is one subject on which we simply cannot blame the government! India simply does not have enough oil. We still import nearly 70% of our oil requirements. If we cannot find a substitute for oil quickly, we will remain vulnerable to the developments around the world. If crude does touch $220, the Indian government would have no option but to increase petrol prices to some Rs 125 a liter, diesel nearly the same......and also consider significant price increases to kerosene and cooking gas. Imagine what will happen to inflation and growth then. This is no longer a distant worry.....its nearer than we are think it is. While the government cannot be blamed for unavailability of crude in India, it will be blamed if it does not act smartly and quickly to develop alternatives.

The only way out for India is to develop alternate fuels. And for us to change the way we live our lives. The biggest consumption of crude is in power production and transport. We have to look at ways of cutting consumption in both these sectors. With respect to power plants, we just have to switch to nuclear power plants. With respect to transport, we simply have to go towards “mass transport” systems like trains that work on electric power (and not oil).....generated by nuclear power plants.

The one readily available fuel is nuclear fuel. There are ample supplies of nuclear “raw materials” like Uranium and Thorium around the world and also to some measure in India. India has a fair degree of expertise in nuclear technology on its own. Besides, the doors of the world’s biggest nuclear technology companies have recently been opened for India. If now, Indian politics prevents India from exploiting this opportunity, then it will be a terrible tragedy for India. Sooner or later, the country will understand the vision of Manmohan Singh.....and his strategy of striking the nuclear power deal with the US and other countries.

So where is the politics in all this?

Firstly, whenever land has to be taken for a nuclear power plant, villagers from neighboring areas create a problem. They have a fear of a nuclear disaster. The fact is that nuclear power plants are amongst the safest amongst all types of power plants. The fear is akin to the fear that one has with respect to air travel.....though in reality, air travel is far far safer than railways or roadways. People fear that nuclear radiation could harm them and lead to genetic deformations. These fears are fuelled by the political maneuverings of opposition parties who would not like to see the ruling government function smoothly. Everyone forgets that a country like France generates almost 90% of its energy from nuclear power plants located right inside its own borders. A combination of political evil and societal ignorance takes over and everything gets delayed.

Just look at the debate around Jaitapur. We have a plan to put up 10,000 MW of nuclear power reactors there. We have a vendor ready to work on the project. The government has allotted funds to the project. Environmental clearances have been obtained. Why should anyone have a problem? But using safety and environmental concerns (impact on coastal waters and sea life) as an excuse, people have stalled work. The fact is that nuclear power is environmentally the cleanest power. No emissions of “burnt” fuels.....hence much lesser levels of Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, Sulphur stuff etc. Now the project will be delayed for several years.....

Admittedly, nuclear power plants are more expensive than thermal and hydro power plants. But coal is also going to run out in the next 200 years and water resources are becoming increasingly difficult to harvest. Non-conventional sources of energy are still in a preliminary stage of development.....and are expensive as well.

I am suggesting that we set an aggressive goal for nuclear power in the next 20 years. We must have more than 25% of our power generation from nuclear power. In the next 20 years, our power generation capacity would have increased to about 8-9 lac MW (from the present 1.5 lac MW). Let’s plan to generate 2-2.5 lac MW from nuclear power. Let’s factor in environmental issues.....lets take care of safety worries. But like Sachin Tendulkar says: Let’s “Go get it”!

The real truth is that we really have no options to nuclear power. Costly or cheap....nuclear power it has to be. If we have to realize our dream of becoming #1, we have to stop having doubts or playing politics. Some issues should be left purely to the economic and technology experts. But can we do it? I am confident we will......but with the regular     one-step-forward-half-step-backward style that we have patented as being our own!

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