Amending nuclear law to spur ‘pink’ hydrogen generation

News Excerpt:

India is in talks with large domestic companies to invest in the regulated nuclear sector, including promoting clean power.

Pink Hydrogen

  • It is made using renewable energy to electrolyse water while emitting zero carbon dioxide.
  • Pink hydrogen is a promising replacement for fossil fuels in the cement industry, steel industry, aviation, and heavy transportation, as it can be used as a feedstock and energy source with no greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Nuclear power offers significant advantages for pink hydrogen production, including reducing production costs and emissions, making it a sustainable and more cost-effective alternative to conventional methods.

Important Points:

  • The Atomic Energy Act, 1962, restricts private ownership of nuclear plants. The central government holds the power to produce, develop, use and dispose of ‘atomic energy’. 
    • After legislative amendments, such powers can be exercised through any authority/corporation established by the government in which the former holds at least 51 percent of the paid-up share capital. 
  • The amended Atomic Energy Act also allows the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) to form joint ventures with other public sector units to secure funding for new projects. 
    • This does not extend to private or foreign companies. 
    • However, private companies may participate in certain related activities, including supply of components and reactors. 
    • They may contribute via financing, project development and equipment supply. 
    • Further, they may secure a return on investment through the sale of electricity generated by such plants, while NPCIL may retain a fee for operating and maintaining facilities.

Significance of hydrogen:

  • As India’s aim to bolster nuclear capacity appears to be driven by clean energy goals, the hydrogen economy has gathered strong political patronage — especially with respect to ‘green’ hydrogen. 
  • However, nuclear power can also enable large-scale hydrogen production without emitting greenhouse gases, making it a promising alternative — including as a transition fuel — to steam-methane reforming, which has a large carbon footprint. 
    • Similar to green, ‘pink’ hydrogen is also generated through electrolysis but powered by nuclear energy. 
  • Recent studies claim that pink hydrogen facilities can achieve a high capacity factor due to the steady base load profile of nuclear power (involving both stability and density), relative to the intermittent supply from renewable sources. 
  • High temperatures from nuclear reactors may also be used in other industrial processes. 
    • Specifically, heat generated through fission (by splitting uranium atoms) can make steam for spinning turbines to produce electricity. 

Way forward:

  • Significant investments will be necessary to develop better technologies at scale. 
  • Amending the Atomic Energy Act to facilitate private investments is an idea whose time has come.
  • Future collaborations could focus on research, technology transfer, and scaling up hydrogen projects — whether green or pink.
    • After all, India’s net-zero transition will require multiple pathways — including nuclear power and renewable energy.

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