In 2011, the Labor Party of Australia (ALP) decided to reverse the prohibition of sales of uranium to India. In 2014, the Australia-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement was signed. The Australian Parliament subsequently adopted a draught law that permits the supply of nuclear material by its uranium mining companies to India. These initiatives were
supposed to allow Australia to take advantage of the purchases of Indian uranium.
In 2011, Prime Minister Julia Gillard argued at the 2011 ALP national conference that India planned to produce 40 percent energy with nuclear power by 2050. During the conference, Gillard said, “Accessing to this market is good for Australian jobs.” ‘Australia could expect to sell about 2.500 tonnes of uranium to India by 2030, generating export sales of around 300 million AUD’ (205 million USD) the Australian Uranium Association has projected. But what is the reality almost a decade later?
In 2017, no uranium seems to have been exported to India, apart from a small shipment of uranium, to be sent for testing in India.
Indian Atomic Energy Ministers stated in 2018 that India had signed contracts to procure uranium with companies from several European countries. And India signed an agreement with Uzbekistan in March 2020 but Australia was not mentioned. In the future too, a large order for Australian uranium seems unlikely. India has no large uranium requirement with a net generating capacity of only 6.2 gigawatts (GW). In the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety measures that seek to ensure that no nuclear weapons materials are utilised, Australian uranium can also only be utilised for reactors.
The capacity of these reactors is less than 2 GW in India. Nor will India’s nuclear fleet be significantly expanding. India’s Atomic Energy Department (DAE) has a long history of achieving and failing to achieve ambitious nuclear power targets. In 1984, the DAE committed to 10 GW of nuclear power by the year 2000. In 2000, the current figure was 2.7 GW. The DAE set itself a new goal of 20 GW by 2020. By 2020. Again, this target is nowhere near the current capacity (6.2 GW).
There are still seven reactors under construction, with a total capacity of 4.8 GW. However, five of these reactors were considerably delayed. In 2015 and 2016, four of them were scheduled for commissioning. These reactors are expected to commence operation respectively in October 2020, September 2021, March 2022 and March 2023.
Fifthly, the prototype fast breeder reactor is the leading project of India (PFBR). Construction began in 2004 and the reactor should start operating in 2010 but is now ‘anticipated to start electricity generation in October 2022.’ Costs are also rising. Estimates of PFBR increased to Rs 68.4 billion, which amounted to Rs 34.9 billion (US$ 457 million). The costs of PHWRs are about 40% to 45% higher than originally planned.
The renewable energy sector of India, by contrast, is another storey. Wind and solar power have been introduced to India’s energy mix only recently, but both technologies are expanding quickly, at a considerably lower cost. The installed solar power increased between 2016 and 2019 from 9.6 GW to 35 GW. Wind capacity increased to 37.5 GW from 28.7 GW.
The total electricity generation in India was higher than atmospheric energy, both in 2019, by wind (63.3 TWh) and solar (46.3 TWh) energy (45.2 TWh).
India is expected to continue to grow in the renewable energy sector, while nuclear energy will probably remain stagnant. In a recent context of ‘technically feasible and financially sustainable infrastructure projects that can be started in fiscal 2020–25,’ the Department of Economic Affairs has set up a task force. In 2019 the task force forecast that renewable capacity would rise from 22 percent to 39 percent by 2025 of the total power installed. Conversely, about 2.0% of the installed capacity remains nuclear.
The Indian administration even expects that the difference between the increasing renewable energy sector and the stubborn nuclear industry will increase as nuclear power is being made redundant because of the rapidly falling cost of solar energy.
Australian policymakers advocating for uranium exports to India bet on the wrong source of energy.
There may be additional motives, including recognition of India as a major power. However, good policy cannot be based on misrepresentations.
Australian uranium firms continue to insist on India’s expansion of nuclear power. The 2017 Annual Report of Energy Resources Australia Ltd states that ‘India has 22 operating reactors and plans to generate 25% nuclear power by 2050.’ The same claims were made in 2019 by Paladin and Yellow Cake.
The amount of nuclear power in the Indian electricity supply has never been greater than a few percent. It will never be much more given current trends. The factors that explain why the electricity supplied by nuclear power plants globally has continued to decline from 17.5% in 1996 to 10.15% in 2018 are costly and time-consuming to build. Australian policymakers must bear this global trend in mind when dealing with uranium mining lobbyists and pushing for nuclear power plants there.