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
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. …