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The Mongoose and the Snake

By Margaret Harding, Columnist

January 31 2013

This is the second and final article in a two-part series by FCW Columnist Margaret Harding on her once-in-a-lifetime trip to India last October. In it, Margaret uses the famous Indian allegory about the mongoose and the cobra. Here nuclear energy (the mongoose) will help India kill the lack of adequate baseload electricity (the cobra) holding back India’s future. The column was originally published in FCW #494, Oct. 25, 2012.

If you read Rudyard Kipling, you may remember that several of his stories talk about mongooses and snakes. The mongoose is the protector of the property and would take on even the most dangerous snake (the cobra) in defense of the people and property in his territory. Thus the little mongoose is the hero of the story, and the snake is usually the villain.

Last week I wrote about the need for electricity generation in India (FCW #493, Oct. 18). In summary, for India to achieve 50% of U.S. per capita consumption, it would need to install generating capacity of 8 TWhr of energy.

Think about that number. That is DOUBLE current U.S. generation and it provides India with only ½ of the consumption per capita.

This overwhelming need for expanding electricity generation is a cobra poisoning India’s ability to compete internationally. The fundamental lack of energy restricts that country’s ability to develop manufacturing and slows economic growth.

There is significant drive to improve the standard of living for all of India, and to do so requires access to inexpensive and reliable electricity. This snake is coiled around India’s future and holding back the world’s largest democracy.

To expand requires literally hundreds of gigawatts of generation. India is taking an “all-of-the-above strategy” and installing whatever generation it can as quickly as it can. However, the country is aware of and sensitive to the need to consider the potential impact of CO2 in the atmosphere.

In addition, because India’s native coal is of relatively poor quality, the overall impact on particulates and other noxious pollutants is one that cannot be ignored. Thus, India is trying to move away from coal and toward more environmentally friendly sources of electricity generation.

Like the U.S. India has largely dammed the best sites for electricity generation. There are more, but environmentalists have halted construction due to the impacts on local eco-systems. The government is also pursuing biogas and biomaterials from landfills and other sources. It is a limited source, but one Mumbai is rightly exploiting.

Wind and solar generation is more controversial. India is pursuing both, but each requires large amounts of land to generate significant electricity. Analysis shows that India’s population density is roughly 10 times that of the U.S.

Every time the government is required to take land to use for these purposes, significant population displacement and potential harm is created. People living on the edge frequently fall off the cliff when uprooted. Although wind purports to be dual use, I think most would agree that living beneath a wind turbine is not a viable option.

Nuclear by its very concentration becomes a vital source of energy. Large quantities of electricity can be generated on relatively small footprints of land.

In addition, the current arrangements provide significant benefits to the local population in terms of reliable electricity and the influx of an educated work force, better schools and hospitals. All of which bring prosperity to the region. It is the mongoose that will help devour the snake.

However, this little mongoose is at risk. Outsiders and agitators have begun to instill fear into the local population. Delaying tactics serve also to delay benefits. This causes further unrest and frustration which fuels protests and further delay.

These same people have used the terrible 1984 events at Bhopal to create mistrust of outside companies helping India expand their nuclear program with the latest technologies that improve safety and simplify operation.

If India allows such tactics to move it away from nuclear power, it will inevitably increase the use of coal, which will kill thousands. Countries downwind of India will also suffer from increased air pollution, as will the entire planet from the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The increased costs will slow expansion of access to electricity, relegating millions of India’s citizens to a lack of electricity, clean water, and opportunity.

We in the U.S. nuclear industry must continue to work to find ways to help India develop its nuclear capacity safely, to provide clean reliable electricity, and therefore to bring more prosperity, improved living conditions, and more opportunity to India’s population. In other words, we need to help the mongoose kill the snake.


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