The nuclear option for emerging markets

March 7, 2014

Last year, greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high of 39 billion tons. Emissions actually dropped in the United States and Europe, but substantial increases in China and India more than erased this bit of good news.

That is all the more reason to focus on innovative solutions that slow the growth in emissions from emerging markets.

The U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal is one such solution.

The key principles of this agreement were signed by President George W. Bush and Prime Minster Manmohan Singh eight years ago this week. The deal brought India’s civilian nuclear program under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection regime. In return, Washington removed sanctions and permitted India to build nuclear power plants with foreign help. Most of the discussion leading up to the deal has focused on its potential effect on non-proliferation treaties and on the partnership between the U.S. and India.

The deal’s most lasting effect, however, may well be its role in reducing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, while giving India the electricity it desperately needs.

India is growing rapidly. In recent years its economy has expanded by 6 percent to 7 percent per year. This growth is exacerbating a voracious appetite for electricity that India’s bankrupt utilities are unable to satisfy. India’s electricity generation still relies almost 60 percent on coal. Blackouts are common.

Given its acute need for electricity, India has great ambitions for the civilian nuclear deal. It now plans to build new nuclear reactors with 25 gigawatts  of capacity before 2020 — enough to power four cities the size of New York. By comparison, India had only 3 gigawatts of nuclear energy in 2006.

Under the deal, Russia will build up to 18 nuclear plants in India, with France and the United States also interested.

Understandably, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan aggravated the concerns of those who are worried about potential accidents from nuclear power plants.  Germany has decided to phase out nuclear energy completely by 2022. Japan shut down its nuclear reactors after the disaster, though its new government recently announced a return to nuclear energy use. These are, however, high-income countries that don’t face the enormous energy supply-demand imbalance that India confronts.

Without additional nuclear power plants, the Indian think tank CEEW estimates that by 2095 India will produce an extra 1 billion tons of carbon per year. A frightening figure. If India chooses to abate those carbon emissions through the use of alternatives without turning to nuclear power, it would spend a full 2 percent of its gross domestic product annually to do so.

By contrast, a Stanford scientist estimated in 2006 that by increasing the production of clean nuclear energy to just 20 gigawatts, India would reduce its carbon emissions by more than 130 million tons each year. (For comparison, the full range of emission cuts planned by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol will total 200 million tons per year).

If new nuclear power reactors can be constructed with the latest safety features — and international monitoring ensures that accidents are unlikely to occur — the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal will be a massive win. This type of large-impact, bilateral initiative may help the world get around the multilateral bickering of the Kyoto process and have a lasting positive impact on the environment.


PHOTO (TOP): Police patrol on a beach near Kudankulam nuclear power project in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
PHOTO (INSERT): Smoke billows from the chimneys of a coal-burning power plant in Ulan Bator October 14, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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In the Enron era, US behavior in the foreign energy markets was so disgusting that I would recommend Indians run a hundred miles unless there is a open commitment from the US and its players to play fair. Deals go to the lowest bidder – no bribery, no death threats, no corruption, no foreign aid threats, no super-profits made by US companies – just clean business. Reuters, how do you charge for these paid op-ed pieces? Surely there should be disclosure if an op-ed is either paid for or given on some sort of quid-pro-quo basis?

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

edit: should say how MUCH do you charge.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

The greenhouse gas rises in China and India are largely incurred to build products and render services to US and European consumers.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

1.US-India nuclear deal was one of the major errors of US foreign policy in latest 50 and definitely the largest error of US foreign policy in the area of nuclear non-proliferation. Small short-term gain and huge long-term loss.
The deal was the first time Non-Proliferation Treaty was breached by any of the 5 “legal” nuclear powers.
Indian precedence will be cited in the future by: Pakistani, Iranian, Japan, Brazil, Israeli maybe even South Korean authorities when they will finally develop nuclear weapons. Again another Pandora Box opened by short-sighted inexperienced politician (Bush Junior). Earlier we had political state of ambiguity as to the new nuclear powers.
2. Errors in the article:
Ulan Bator (second picture) is the capital of Mongolia,
India has 5.3 GW of nuclear power at present and will have additional 4.3 (most lucky scenario) in 2020.
Never had reactor built faster than in 10 years.
Nuclear will not be important part of Indian power sector before 2030: lack of qualified staff, nuclear is 3 times more expensive and 2 times longer to build than coal plant.

Posted by Wantunbiasednew | Report as abusive

How can anyone suggest MORE nuclear power when science has not learned how to dispose of waste? Carbon emissions are much easier to control than nuclear waste, which lasts forever. Look at these recent disasters: ord-nuclear-site-wash-leaking

Posted by njglea | Report as abusive

What is happening with all the nuclear waste?

Posted by PoppaDave | Report as abusive

China, India and most other emerging economies are building coal fired electric generating stations as fast as they can get them out of the ground. In the case of China and India, they are commissioning a new plant roughly once a week. Nuclear power will not be a significant factor because of the cost. Worldwide automobile usage and the associated carbon output is growing much faster than the modest reductions available through increased fuel efficiency. There is no conceivable way that the world will reduce or for that matter, contain carbon emissions in the foreseeable future. If anthropogenic CO2 is the root cause of global warming, then the Earth is going to get much hotter. That is the unfortunate truth.

Posted by gordo53 | Report as abusive

It looks like China will lead the effort to provide power to the 3rd world and emerging economies. The USCA will only help with big oil. China is in the process of perfecting the thorium reactor. Once they do I’ll bet you see shipping fleets and power grids changing to these low cost, safe reactors.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

It is fossil fuels that have an intractable, unsolved waste problem. Nuclear waste is the most responsibly handled waste stream there is (tiny in volume, completely contained, and required to be disposed of so that there will never be any impact for as long as it remains hazardous). No other waste stream is held to anywhere near that standard, and many if not most other waste streams will represent a far larger long-term health/environmental risk.

Nobody has ever been harmed by stored nuclear waste. Also, the waste “problem” has been technically solved for a long time. It is a purely political problem. Yucca mountain was shown to meet the impeccible requirements of assuring no public health impacts for as long as the waste remains hazardous.

Nuclear power in general has had a neglible impact compared to fossil fuels. Fukushima, the only significant release of pollution in non-Soviet nuclear’s entire history is projected to have no measurable public health impact.

Meanwhile, fossil fueled power generation, and the “wastes” (toxins) it pumps directly into the environment, causes hundreds of thousands of annual deaths (~1000 every single day) along with global warming. Sounds to me like a pretty good reason to suggest more nuclear power.

Posted by JimHopf | Report as abusive

“The key principles of this agreement were signed by President George W. Bush and Prime Minster Manmohan Singh eight years ago this week.” “Under the deal, Russia will build up to 18 nuclear plants in India, with France and the United States also interested.”

Oh, great. The sole present economic benefactor will be Putin and his people, giving them a viable “veto” indefinitely on India’s power industry. What could possibly go wrong here, diplomatically? Please.

“If new nuclear power reactors can be constructed with the latest safety features — and international monitoring ensures that accidents are unlikely to occur — the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal will be a massive win.”

IF? What brain-dead nincompoop allowed such an agreement to be signed without nailing down such an essential detail as PUBLIC SAFETY? Perhaps someone secretly believes there’s too many Indians on the planet Earth?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

As one of Condoleezza Rice’s right hands, Anja Manuel was involved in bringing nuclear capability to a developing country that barely has the infrastructure to keep seasonal rainwater from flooding the streets.

As we all know, the same group also sullied the United States’ moral standing internationally through the introduction of torture as a foreign policy means. Now we are supposed to agree it was a “massive win” to bring nuclear to India? How about a similarly high-flown article about the pros and cons of torture? Perhaps that too helped reduce greenhouse emissions?

This is wrong on so many levels. Any expert in the energy industry would vehemently disagree. There are all sorts of ways of reducing greenhouse emissions. So we are going to leave this decision to some pretenders who worked in the state department a decade ago?

How ridiculous too to cite a study that claims to know it’d know how the year 2095 looks like. These people have Stanford credentials? Not in science I suppose.

Posted by jeffjo | Report as abusive