Every Indian is looking forward to rapid growth in the country so that a decent quality of life can be provided to her 1.25 billion people. More than 14 million youth join the job market every year and an explosive social situation can result if they do not find suitable employment. An important input for achieving growth and employment is supply of electricity to every industrial, commercial and residential unit in every city, town and village across the length and breadth of the country. In this article, we will discuss some practical ideas to address these two critical areas of power supply and creation of jobs so that as a nation we see a reasonable rate of growth for the coming years and get counted in the list of advanced nations. Let us take the power situation first.
Currently, more than 80% of our electricity is obtained from coal-fired power plants. Coal is an exhaustible fuel which is expected to last another hundred years, is dirty to handle, filled with ash has to be mined and transported over long distances and highly polluting. It is not a fuel of the future. Uranium, the other fuel, is used in nuclear reactors but unfortunately it will have to be imported for feeding the extremely expensive nuclear reactors as and when they are built in India with foreign help. This source of energy would always be at the mercy of the foreign suppliers both for fuel and for the spare parts of the reactors. Solar, wind and tides are also sources of energy but they are like the side dishes served with the main meal. They are dilute sources of energy and unavailable for more than a few hours every day. They can take care of lights and fans but can they really support the “Make in India” campaign required to generate millions of jobs?
India’s “power problem” is extremely challenging with over 300 million people not having any access to electricity and the majority of others getting erratic power. Yet it is sheer providence that India has been endowed with two gifts which if tapped intelligently, can provide a tangible and long-lasting solution to this problem. Firstly, it is rich in thorium, which can be used as a fuel in indigenously designed nuclear power plants and secondly it has the 3rd largest pool of scientists and engineers in the world who can build these plants. As per rough calculations, the thorium deposits within the country can provide power to every nook and corner of India for the next 1000 years. As Richard Martin writes in his book “Superfuel – Thorium”, a fistful of thorium can provide electricity to the entire city of Mumbai for a whole year. Thanks to the wisdom of our nuclear fathers, India is also one of the few countries in the world (even ahead of US) which has been carrying out research and development of thorium based-plants for the past several decades. A 300 MW thorium-based plant is expected to go live at Kalapakkam within this year.
Let us look as the implications of laying the foundation of meeting India’s future power needs by thorium-based power plants. The power generation would be completely non-polluting and safe, there would be no foreign exchange outflow for super-expensive nuclear reactors or for the fuel for them, import of expensive coal would be eliminated, lakhs of railway wagons would be freed for other use since coal would not have to be transported anymore from the mines and ports to the power stations, countless highly technical jobs would be created within the country to develop, build and maintain the reactors, the power plants can be exported to over hundred countries around the world converting India from a net importer to a sought-after exporter and wiping out all our fiscal deficits forever. While these power plants are being developed and constructed, work can start in parallel on a large number of other verticals which would lead to the creation of thousands of high tech and ordinary ancillary units and generate millions of jobs with massive export potential. Let us see how to achieve all this?
In 1960, J F Kennedy gave a clarion call to the space scientists of his country to put a man on moon before the end of the decade. He set a target for his scientists and spurred them into action and the target was achieved successfully within the given time period. USA became the first country in the world to put a man on moon in 1969 and became the world leader in space technology. The research also led to the development of technology which was put to civilian use, changing human life completely. It is now the turn of PM Modi to give a similar call and fire-up our nuclear scientists and engineers to build commercial thorium reactors in the next 5 years. Let him appoint a crack team of the best scientists and engineers at the earliest to achieve this target. If we could send a spacecraft to Mars successfully in our very first attempt, we can surely build these reactors as well ourselves. This would free us from the power problem for the next 1000 years with zero dependence on foreign companies and become the world leader in providing, clean, non-polluting and safe electrical power.
Let us now look at the challenge of generating millions of meaningful jobs for our young, bright and educated youth. The following areas are very promising for which additional teams of scientists and engineers can be formed and given targets to provide nation-building solutions and products.
- Design and build world-class electrical vehicles. Petrol and diesel driven cars, trucks and public transport buses will be obsolete in a few decades and we should seize this opportunity to become world leaders in electrical vehicles. They are non-polluting, will last for at least 1000 years as plenty of power would be available and would be cheaper to use and maintain. Today, our bright engineers are getting sucked in non-engineering jobs in call centers and in service sectors like testing and maintaining software. Their talent should be utilized in developing electric vehicle technology which requires a large number hardware and software systems. The vehicles can be continuously upgraded and converted finally into driverless cars. India can become the technical and manufacturing hub for this vital sector. Several million cars, trucks and buses are required every year around the world. The job potential at various levels is simply huge.
- Most of our cities have non-existent or extremely unreliable public transport system. If a network of electric trams can be laid in each city and town, it will make local travel easy and inexpensive. It will also create thousands of direct and indirect jobs to build, maintain and drive these trams.
- In order to support these industries, we will have to give a big boost to manufacturing steel within India. Instead of exporting cheap iron ore and importing expensive steel, we can reverse the flow and set up huge steel plants within India. Power supply would not be a problem anymore and luckily we have huge deposits of iron ore for the steel plants.
- The battery industry needs a revolution with development of batteries with long-life and quick recharge capabilities. Battery technology has a tremendous scope for advancement which can be taken up by Indian scientists. Once we develop light, sturdy batteries with long life which can be used in electrical vehicles and in the millions of mobiles, tablets and all other electronic equipment, the world market for billions of batteries would open up for us. Battery charging stations for electric vehicles would have to be installed throughout India and the world, generating a huge support sector.
- Today, thousands of telecom towers consume millions of liters of imported diesel to function. If they get a steady and guaranteed power supply, their running cost will come down and they will stop polluting the environment.
- Most cities and towns have insufficient supply of clean, drinking water. We can set-up large desalination plants near the thousands of kilometers of coast that we are lucky to have. An assured supply of electrical power will make them affordable solving the water problem, once for all.
- Millions of diesel-based pumps are used in our farms to pump water from the ground. There is irregular supply of electricity and many farms are supplied with power at night. A regular supply of electric power would ensure smooth working of the pumps and save expensive diesel. Our scientists can also develop atmospheric water extractors, which can directly extract water from the atmosphere. Such devices would require a regular supply of power and use of these devices will stop the lowering of ground water, a problem faced in many parts of India. If a suitable piping system is also developed, the extracted water can be used in a drip irrigation system, eliminating the fear of drought, eliminating farmer suicides and increasing the agricultural output.
- We have a massive shortage of cold storage facilities near our farms simply because there is no power there. More than 30-35% of fruits and vegetables worth more than Rs 50000 crores are wasted annually. If a grid of thorium-based reactors is established, hundreds of cold-storage units can be setup which can work reliably, prevent this horrendous loss and bring down the prices. The electric vehicle and the battery technology can help in developing thousands of cold-storage trucks which can go village to village to buy fruits and vegetables directly from the farmer, eliminating both middlemen and wastage and reducing the farmer’s exploitation. A completely new industry can open up for the rural unemployed. The food export industry will get a boost along with enhancement of our technical capabilities and generation of thousands of jobs. The increased exports will add to our foreign exchange kitty.
- Our warehouses where grain is stored are primitive and we lose thousands of tons of food grains every year which cost lakhs of crores. A regular supply of electricity can be used to provide air-cooling to these warehouses with controlled temperature and humidity to prevent the loss. Redesigned warehouses would be a boon to our agricultural industry and later they can be exported to earn foreign exchange.
- A new industry of providing electrical “chullas” can take birth. Today, millions of rural folks use highly polluting, coal/dung based chullas. They can be replaced by cleaner, electrical chullas which will eliminate pollution and give forest conservation a boost. Cleaner environment will also improve the overall health of millions of Indians.
- We have hostile borders with our neighbors requiring continuous monitoring. We have to keep our soldiers along the border and over years we have lost many young and experienced army personnel devastating many families. Once we are assured of ample and steady power supply, we can install a network of cameras with day-night vision covering the entire border. We can also electrify the entire fence. This would create remote surveillance systems wherein the intruders can be shot down from a distance like in the drone technology, safeguarding the precious lives of our fellowmen.
It is clear that once we build indigenous thorium-based nuclear reactors and develop crucial technology in the mentioned areas, we can transform India completely, eliminate our fiscal deficit, create millions of high-tech manufacturing and support jobs, bring down inflation, improve the quality of life of every Indian and become an export powerhouse. We have been dreaming about such a life, let us do it now. All of it can be achieved within India with Indian talent without resorting to foreign dependence. We have the talent, we have the raw material and we have the scientific and engineering skills. All we need is a call by the PM and a well thought-out plan to implement it.
Pic Credit: Wiki