29th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference, London -Energy Justice and Social Licensing Discussion

Prof Prabhat Ranjan’s talk at 29th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference, London on “Energy Justice and Social Licensing”

Video of the talk

Transcript of the talk


ARTURO(Moderator):

So I’ll move us to a global context. You gave a really great introduction of in the US what’s being done.

And I’d like to pass this next question to Prabhat. Prabhat, as the fusion ecosystem moved towards the fusion pilot plants and commercialization, what concerns do you see regarding the global south’s role in the process? And what opportunities do you envision in this process?

PRABHAT RANJAN(Panelist):

Thank you. Global South is not only a geographical concept. It’s also an economic concept. And that economic concept keeps changing. And the countries that are part of the global south are not really fixed. Today, if I take from Steve’s talk, he talked about the industrial revolution. If I see economy before that, from 1st AD to 1800 AD, it was India and China, which was producing maximum 20 % to 30 % of global manufacturing was happening in India and China. It was industrial revolution which changed the games. And things moved to global north at that time. And the countries like India became poorer in that process.

When I look at the nuclear fusion in that context, two or three things are happening. One is that even countries like the US have responded to investment in nuclear fusion when there is a crisis. In 1970s, there was a fossil fuel crisis. And the US invested in a major way. And this has seen ups and downs as we have gone along.

If I look at nuclear fusion and the conference here, there are two thought processes. One is that comes through ITER, looking at the progress of ITER, which seems to be making progress, but it still seems quite far away. We’re not yet clear when we can see energy through that process. Second is a very optimistic scenario where a large number of private companies have come forward with billions of dollars of investment. And also scientific progress we have seen in Tokamaks, in NIF, and so on and so forth. So all of this is a hopeful thing.

If I look at from India’s point of view, India is right now in a very interesting phase. We are the largest population in the world right now. I think we just crossed China sometime back. We are the fastest growing economy among large countries. I’m expecting that in next three, four years, we will be the third largest economy. And probably by 2050, maybe the first or second economy in the world. I was expecting China to be first, but now I’m seeing signs that India will become first. Now at this stage, India’s looking at nuclear fusion is a very one -sided view. India is participating in the ITER project. A good amount of money is going from India’s perspective because India’s budget is relatively lower.

And so they expect that they are doing everything that is needed for nuclear fusion. Now all other countries who are part of ITER also have an equivalent national project, which can take the technology coming out of ITER into their national programs. In India, the last machine we planned was in the 90s when I was there as part of the superconducting machine. After that, no new machines have been planned. One old machine has been upgraded a few years back.

So there’s not enough focus on nuclear fusion while change is happening around the globe. The word nuclear is being interpreted to mean fission. There’s no difference between nuclear fusion and fission. So for all the policymakers word “nuclear” means nuclear fission only. This has led to the nuclear policy, which is completely focused on fission.

So as a private entity, you’re not allowed to work on nuclear for energy purpose. And fusion is embedded into that. So there’s no separate distinction. But other countries like UK and USA and recently, California has come out very strongly in this saying that nuclear fusion and fission are separate.

So right now, I’m finding it very difficult to convince the government to separate out between fusion and fission, which is very, very important. When they come to social licensing, that’s important equally because the public opinion is, again, based on fission. So when somebody is setting up a plant, nuclear fission plant, they would oppose it. But they will also oppose nuclear fusion plant because they don’t distinguish between that.

So there needs to be a great effort on trying to separate these two out. And within India, of course, this is a very important part, something that I’m trying to convince people.

The other thing that is happening is that the Indian economy is growing fast. The young population, India is the largest young population in the world. The demographic dividend is there.

All the countries of the global north are suffering from an aging population. So if you talk about cooperation, there’s no other way except for people to join hands with countries like India, Brazil, and so on. And that is something I’ve noticed every now and then because a lot of global investors are coming to India right now. I’m in touch with many of them. In fact, I’m going to sign an agreement with one of them just after returning back from here. Another global company came to my university just a few days back. And they said that we are 10 years late. We should have come to India earlier. So there’s a big change that is happening. And cooperation in nuclear fusion is going to be very very important.

I was just hearing that costs of nuclear fusion as it stands now is very, very high. And many private companies are likely to shut down because of the fund shortage. And I believe that countries like India can contribute to that by providing a young and talented population. What we have seen in IT industry 20 years back. And so I believe the same thing can be done in nuclear fusion, and that will help in equity across the world.

One more issue that is there in terms of deuterium, we have the source of water. Lithium is still unevenly distributed. Recently, India discovered a large source of lithium recently. So India may be fortunate, but otherwise, lithium is being controlled by very few countries. That’s another concern that we need to thank you. I’ll stop at this point. Thank you so much.

Author: Prabhat Ranjan

Prof. Prabhat Ranjan is Vice Chancellor, D Y Patil International University, Akurdi, Pune. He was heading India's Technology Think Tank, TIFAC(tifac.org.in) as its Executive Director since April 2013 to April 2018. Earlier he was Professor at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute for Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar (DA-IICT) since 2002. He was educated in Netarhat School(near Ranchi), IIT Kharagpur and Delhi University. He received his Ph D from University of California, Berkeley where he carried our research on “Nuclear Fusion” at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory during 1983-86. He immediately returned to India after this and carried out research in Nuclear Fusion area at Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Calcutta and Institute for Plasma Research(IPR), Gandhinagar. He played a major role in India’s Nuclear Fusion program and was Project Leader of the largest operational Indian Fusion Reactor, ADITYA, at Institute for Plasma Research from 1996-2002. His current interests include applications of Wireless Sensor Network to Wildlife, Planetary Exploration (Chandrayaan mission), Nuclear Fusion, Healthcare, Agriculture etc. He has received National Science Talent Search Award, IBM Faculty Innovation Grant and HP Innovate 2009 award, NPEDP-Mphasis Universal Design Award 2012, Bihar Gaurav Samman 2012 etc.

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