Nuclear energy to fuel Indian Railways in future?

Forget missiles and rockets, nuclear energy could soon be fuelling your local and long distance trains, if things go as planned. The Indian Railways (IR) is toying with the idea of using nuclear power to compliment their power system, and is in talks with the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) as well.

On September 13, the members from Railway Board, headed by Member Electrical Kul Bhushan, had a meeting with DAE officials. Sources in the railways said that they are keen on setting up a nuclear power plant in the future. “We want to look at the option of using nuclear power for our railway system and so discussed with DAE the construction of an exclusive nuclear plant in the future,” said a senior railway official.

The government is already facing vehement opposition from locals and anti-nuclear activists over land acquisition and the possible ill-effects of two major nuclear plants at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra and Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

The DAE has the authority to set up nuclear plants for the railways to generate power for its trains. Railway officials added that the nuclear plant could be set up in any state of India. In Mumbai, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) operates nuclear plants.

At present, railway lines across the country get their supply of electricity from a national grid where generated power is first pooled in and then distributed among different states. For nuclear energy to fuel trains, a separate grid has to be set up especially for the railways.

“Once the power is generated, it can be distributed through substations of Indian Railways which would then feed overhead cables that supplies electricity to trains,” explained a senior railway official, admitting that the cost of setting up these nuclear power plants and establishing an isolated, independent system would incur heavy costs.

SK Malhotra, head of the public awareness in DAE, said, “The railways has shown interest in a dedicated power plant. There have been meetings but no MoU has been signed yet. Sources claimed that they are presently checking the possibility of an in-principal agreement between the two and are identifying a suitable location for the plant.