Nuclear energy to fuel Indian Railways in the future?

Sep 18, 2013, 08:14 IST | Shashank Rao

The members of Railway Board had a meeting with Department of Atomic Energy officials recently, to discuss the construction of a dedicated nuclear power plant for the Indian Railways in future

Forget missiles and rockets, nuclear energy could soon be fuelling your local and long distance trains, if things go as planned. The Indian Railways (IR) is toying with the idea of using nuclear power to compliment their power system, and is in talks with the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) as well.

Change in the offing? At present, railway lines across the country get electricity from a national grid where generated power is first pooled in and then distributed among different states. For nuclear energy to fuel trains, a separate grid has to be set up especially for the railways. File pic

On September 13, the members from Railway Board, headed by Member Electrical Kul Bhushan, had a meeting with DAE officials. Sources in the railways said that they are keen on setting up a nuclear power plant in the future. “We want to look at the option of using nuclear power for our railway system and so discussed with DAE the construction of an exclusive nuclear plant in the future,” said a senior railway official.

The government is already facing vehement opposition from locals and anti-nuclear activists over land acquisition and the possible ill-effects of two major nuclear plants at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra and Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

The DAE has the authority to set up nuclear plants for the railways to generate power for its trains. Railway officials added that the nuclear plant could be set up in any state of India. In Mumbai, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) operates nuclear plants.

At present, railway lines across the country get their supply of electricity from a national grid where generated power is first pooled in and then distributed among different states. For nuclear energy to fuel trains, a separate grid has to be set up especially for the railways.

“Once the power is generated, it can be distributed through substations of Indian Railways which would then feed overhead cables that supplies electricity to trains,” explained a senior railway official, admitting that the cost of setting up these nuclear power plants and establishing an isolated, independent system would incur heavy costs.

SK Malhotra, head of the public awareness in DAE, said, “The railways has shown interest in a dedicated power plant. There have been meetings but no MoU has been signed yet. Sources claimed that they are presently checking the possibility of an in-principal agreement between the two and are identifying a suitable location for the plant.

Rs 8,000
The cash-strapped railways spent this amount on electricity bill in last fiscal while its diesel bill was around R15,000 crore

Did you know?
Trains, railway stations, yards, workshops and other units of the Indian Railways use electricity generated by state electricity boards. The railways in Mumbai get more than 300 megawatt from Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL) and Tata Power.

Trains in UK will run on Nuclear Power soon
According to reports, the company that runs the railway infrastructure across most of the UK will rely on nuclear power to keep the trains running on time and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, over the next decade. The privately held, government-backed rail operator – which is Britain’s single largest consumer of electricity – has struck a 10-year deal with French-owned EDF to provide the power that will enable it to expand the electrification of its lines and reduce the number of CO2-spewing diesel-powered trains that run on Network Rail’s tracks.

Experts speak
Prof Bharat Karnad, Centre for Policy Research, former Member of the Nuclear Doctrine Drafting Group
Dedicated source of power through nuclear energy is certainly a viable and wonderful solution. Until now, the Indian government has remained shortsighted and unimaginative about use of nuclear energy, due to fear of agitations

S Khened, Director, Nehru Science Centre
At a time when demand for electricity is surging even for the railways, nuclear power is good option. Normally it’s the optimal mix to obtain power from thermal (coal), nuclear, hydel (water) and solar energy. Under the present circumstances, due to constant oppositions, only four per cent of power is generated through nuclear energy. Nuclear safety mechanisms can be built while setting up these nuclear plants 

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