India's Push for Technology Lures Foreign R&D Centers
About 150 of the "Fortune 500," America's largest companies, have established research and development centers in India, according to Rajagopala Chidambaram, the principal scientific adviser to the Indian government and chairman of the cabinet's Scientific Advisory Committee.
Speaking at a 20 May breakfast seminar at the AAAS, Chidambaram said his nation is determined to become a world leader in technological innovation but without losing sight of the particular needs, such as rural development, of the Indian people.
Two-thirds of the Indian population still live in small towns, Chidambaram said.
While India is encouraging foreign R&D investment, he said, it is important for there to be a mutually beneficial relationship or what he called "coherent synergy."
Chidambaram, who has played a key role in the development of the Indian nuclear program both for nuclear explosives and power reactors said his nation can never be fully developed without an expansion of electrical generating capacity that includes a substantial reliance on nuclear power.
For developed nations such as the United States, Chidambaram said, "nuclear is like icing on the cake." But for India, he said, "it is like bread and butter," a necessary staple for energy growth and independence.
When it comes to nuclear power, he said, India is not a developing nation. It already has a home-grown reactor technology using heavy water as the neutron moderator and coolant, with ambitious plans for building new power generating capacity. (Heavy water, D2O, is water in which both hydrogen atoms have been replaced with deuterium, the isotope of hydrogen containing one proton and one neutron.)
TAPP-4, India's largest indigenously designed and built power reactor, went critical on March 6. It is a pressurized heavy water reactor, or PHWR, with an output of 540 megawatts. Chidambaram said the reactor was built in just under five years from the time the first concrete was poured, comparable to the best gestation period for nuclear plants built by advanced nations.
The United States has not had a new order for a nuclear power plant since the 1970s, although there has been some renewed interest in the technology as an alternative to energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas that produce heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
Chidambaram said India expects to use nuclear power for at least 25 per cent of its electricity needs by the middle of this century versus about 3 per cent now. A pre-licensing safety appraisal is underway on an advanced heavy water reactor and construction has begun on a prototype fast breeder reactor, which is designed to produce more nuclear fuel than it consumes. Breeder reactors have been controversial internationally due to cost and safety issues. The Indian design will use liquid sodium as a coolant, a challenging technology, in which India has long experience. It has operated a Fast Breeder Test Reactor for two decades.
The prototype fast breeder will produce more fuel, plutonium and Uranium-233, than it consumes. Some countries consider breeder reactors a potential proliferation risk since plutonium can be used in nuclear weapons. But Chidambaram said sustainable development of nuclear energy is not possible without closing the nuclear fuel cycle, including reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel for use in breeder reactors.
Although India has developed its nuclear program without being a party to the international Non-Proliferation Treaty, Indian government officials say their nation has abided by the key provisions of the treaty and has been vigilant against any leakage of nuclear technology.
Regarding the safety of existing nuclear plants, Chidambaram said, "Our track record has been very good." He said some Indian nuclear plants have run in excess of 90 per cent of capacity.
In space technology, India is using satellites to provide more connectivity in rural areas, including emergency communications and telemedicine to bring better health care programs to previously isolated communities.
The government also is encouraging the upgrade of traditional water mills in rural areas to install improved hydro turbines to produce power for rural users, Chidambaram said. His office has initiated Rural Technology Action Groups or RuTAGs, to undertake a variety of projects, including assessment of water flow in hilly areas to better exploit such resources for use by villagers.
Chidambaram's office also has established a Core-Group on Automotive Research (or CAR) to promote world-class auto manufacturing technology in India for all kinds of vehicles, from two-wheelers to heavy vehicles. He said he would like to see similar advisory groups for other key areas such as information technology and nanoelectronics.
The breakfast seminar was organized by the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) and the AAAS Science and Policy Programs office, in cooperation with the Indo-U.S. Science & Technology Forum, a partnership between the U.S. and Indian governments. Norman P. Neureiter, director of CSTSP, is also Co-Chair of the Forum.
27 May 2005