India sets out climate commitments, ponders SMRs

09 August 2022

Days after India's cabinet approved its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, a member of the government's NITI Aayog policy think-tank has called for the country to focus on small modular reactors to help meet its energy needs.

The NDC formalises the pledges outlined by Narendra Modi at the COP26 summit in November 2021 (Image: PM of India)

The cabinet approval was announced on 3 August and translates the Panchamrit - five pledges on carbon reductions announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his National Statement to the November 2021 COP26 climate conference - into India's formal climate targets. It updates India's previous NDC, which was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in October 2015, and, according to the government, is a step towards achieving India's long- term goal of reaching net-zero by 2070.

NDCs are national plans that set out the climate actions, including climate related targets, policies and mitigation measures, that governments aim to implement in response to climate change. Parties to the Paris Agreement on climate change are required to update NDCs every five years.

Under the updated NDC, India has committed to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45% from 2005 levels, and to achieve "about 50%" of its cumulative installed electric capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources, by 2030. This is an increase from the previous NDC, which targeted 40% of installed capacity from non-fossil sources and the reduction of emissions intensity of GDP by 33-35% on the same timescale.

The updated NDC reaffirms India's "commitment to work towards a low carbon emission pathway, while simultaneously endeavouring to achieve sustainable development goals", but does not bind India to any sector-specific mitigation obligation or action. "India's goal is to reduce overall emission intensity and improve energy efficiency of its economy over time and at the same time protecting the vulnerable sectors of economy and segments of our society," the government said.

India's climate actions have so far been largely financed from domestic resources, but it will "also require its due share" from international financial resources and technological support - part of the commitments and responsibilities of developed countries under the Paris Agreement - to reach its targets, it said.

SMRs in the fleet

India currently has 22 operating nuclear reactors, totalling some 6795 MWe of capacity. A further eight units, totalling just over 6000 MWe, are under construction, and the Indian government is committed to growing nuclear capacity as part of its massive infrastructure development programme. Small modular reactors (SMRs) do not currently feature in those plans, but NITI Aayog member VK Saraswat said the government should look to SMRs.

"We are suggesting that in future we should go for small modular reactors which will be able to meet this (energy) requirements in a distributed manner," he told Press Trust of India. "And we are also thinking that it will be the best approach for replacing the aging thermal power plants."

Saraswat also called for "fleet mode" nuclear power plant projects to be accelerated to meet baseload power needs. Building reactors in this way is expected to cut costs and construction times. India has previously announced plans for fleet-mode construction of ten domestically designed 700 MWe pressurised heavy water reactors, with construction due to begin on the first units, at Kaiga in Karnataka, in 2023.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News