Environmental Challenges of Climate-Nuclear Fusion: A Case Study of India

By Badrinarayana, Deepa | UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview
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Environmental Challenges of Climate-Nuclear Fusion: A Case Study of India


Badrinarayana, Deepa, UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


  I.  INTRODUCTION
 II.  NUCLEAR ENERGY USE WAS A CONTENTIOUS
     PUBLIC ISSUE BEFORE CLIMATE CHANGE
     EMERGED AS A PROBLEM
III. INCLUSION OF NUCLEAR ENERGY IN
     INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE AGREEMENTS REMAINS
     CONTENTIOUS
 IV.  CLIMATE CHANGE HAS NEVERTHELESS REVIVED
     THE CIVILIAN NUCLEAR ENERGY OPTION
  V. THE FOUNDATION FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY HAS
     BEEN LAID: INDIA AS AN EXAMPLE
 VI. ENGAGING INDIA IN NUCLEAR ENERGY SHOWS
     LOCAL AND GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL
     PROBLEMS
     A. Increasing Nuclear Energy Will Not Solve
        India's Short Term Emissions Problem Because
        of Domestic and International Regulatory and
        Administrative Uncertainties

     B. Transferring Nuclear Technology to India Sets
        the Stage for Future Environmental Issues
VII. CONCLUSION: ACKNOWLEDGING AND ADDRESSING
     THE CLIMATE-NUCLEAR LINK

I. INTRODUCTION

Climate change is launching a nuclear energy future because nuclear power generation produces low greenhouse gas emissions. (1) Nations are therefore reviewing their nuclear energy portfolio and expanding international cooperation on civilian nuclear energy. (2) India is a notable example. Recognizing India's energy demands and the climate mitigation problems associated with fossil fuel use, the Nuclear Supplier's Group, at the behest of the United States, removed nuclear trade sanctions imposed on India. (3) India has subsequently been negotiating and signing numerous bilateral agreements aimed at expanding its domestic nuclear power generation facility. (4) The apparent advantages of nuclear energy in mitigating climate change are however significantly marred by international and domestic regulatory and governance gaps in assessing and managing the environmental impacts of nuclear energy. (5)

Although partially promoted to mitigate climate change, nuclear technology is not featured as an energy alternative in international climate treaties because of persisting environmental, safety, and cost concerns. (6) The Indian government's assessment of the legal framework to manage environmental and safety impacts of nuclear expansion, including waste management, does not match its alacrity in concluding nuclear agreements. (7)

In this article it is argued that India's nuclear policy represents an upcoming challenge to environmental law for two reasons. First, it shows that the international community's support for India's civilian nuclear program, despite the exclusion of nuclear energy for safety, security, and cost reasons, will not yield timely emissions reduction benefits because of sketchy international and domestic energy policy and poorly aligned emissions reduction and energy diversification goals. Second, the expansion of India's civilian nuclear program demonstrates that nations have given scant attention to developing an adequate legal framework for managing serious associated environmental problems such as waste management, siting, and liability. Without a comprehensive and cohesive international regime on nuclear energy, these issues present serious environmental concerns both locally and globally.

This case study demonstrates that a meaningful strategy to mitigate climate change must, without exacerbating other environmental problems, align national and international law and policy on three indivisible aspects of the problem: emissions, energy, and economics. The current approach to climate mitigation focuses primarily on emissions reduction goals, which may actually drive nations to pursue environmentally detrimental energy alternatives such as nuclear energy. This reality cannot be wished away by excluding a particular type of energy from the climate treaties. Instead, nations may have to take a more stringent approach and establish a climate assessment system under which certain types of energy will be phased out. A mechanism to simultaneously assess the environmental impacts of energy alternatives such as nuclear power must also be considered to ensure that alternatives achieve the requisite steep emissions cuts.

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