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Nuclear power at the nucleus

Among the significant achievements of Dr Manmohan Singh was his signing a nuclear power development deal with US President George Bush. I covered the meeting and was quite impressed with the spate of deals including co-operation in agriculture and higher education. Sadly, the Communist Party(Marxist) which was part of UPA I coalition, effectively blocked progress in these. Dr Singh risked his all and succeeded in passing the bill relating  the nuclear deal. However, sadly, the pulls and pressures of coalition, succession of scams and protests by sundry groups stalled any worthwhile progress. The failure of the UPA government to convince states, including Maharashtra ruled by the Congress-NCP, was costly. 
Luckily, after BJP returned to power with a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha, the imperative to build power capacity in quick time and the belief of the new government in nuclear power have helped get the focus again on this issue. Narendra Modi has been pursuing this with vigour. He took up the matter in his visits to Australia, Japan, France and Canada which have strong capabilities in this technology. In a recent visit to India, foreign minister Julie Bishop of Australia  indicated positive signs on uranium supplies. In France, Modi worked to activate the Jaitapur Nuclear Plant in Maharashtra. Canada has agreed on setting up a nuclear power plant with assured supply of uranium for five years.  Russia agreeing to add 2 x 1000 MW sets at Koodankulam is another  welcome augury. Earlier during the visit of US President Obama in January 2015 Modi had worked on progress on this subject. 
Such persistent efforts show the promise of giving a big push to the development of clean nuclear power. For decades, India has been dreaming of creating large capacity in this sector. The approach of the NDA II government has been pragmatic and seeks to address the concerns on liability. The offer to provide for insurance cover seems to have worked well. The consistent efforts may see handsome investments and large additions to power capacity over the next 5-10 years. Congress should take comfort over the bold initiative of Manmohan Singh a decade ago and should extend unstinted cooperation. 
Power Minister Piyush Goyal has been working on a multi-pronged approach: clearing several thermal projects that had got stuck on coal linkages and environmental issues and in opting to go for more ultra-mega power projects. However, several power utilities in states like TANGEDCO in Tamil Nadu are reeling under huge debts. Their plight needs to be addressed by imaginative plans to write off a good portion of these to re-rail them on profitable course. 
With the not-so-healthy financial position of the states, electricity generation companies cannot expect much budget support from the respective governments. 


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