Misfire of BrahMos missile not cause for any specific concern: IAEA

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International nuclear watchdog IAEA has said it did not see the recent misfire of a BrahMos missile as any cause of “specific concern” and that the incident did not in any way raise questions on the safety of nuclear weapons or material in India.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Indian Express in an interview at COP27 climate change meet that the incident was not viewed as a risk and there had been no consultation with the Indian government on this issue.

On March 9, a BrahMos cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads was accidentally fired and landed well within Pakistani territory. It was not carrying any weapon, and therefore no explosion or damage was caused. In August this year, following a court of inquiry, the services of three Indian Air Force officers had been terminated for their role in the accident.

Asked specifically whether IAEA had sought any information from the Indian government on this incident, Grossi said: “No, we didn’t”. He also replied in the negative when asked whether the incident raised doubts about the safety of nuclear material in the country.

“We are constantly looking at all the situations around the world and of course we look with interest when a very important member state of the IAEA has issues. But it (the BrahMos incident) was never an issue of any specific concern for us,” Grossi said.

He said he saw a bright future for nuclear energy in India, particularly for new technologies, and was anticipating a “steep” expansion in nuclear power generation.

“I see India as a platform for new nuclear, for deployment of newer technologies. India is one of those few countries that has been steadily looking into breeders, fast reactors, into sodium reactors, into many other technologies that not many countries have been getting into. I would be particularly interested in knowing whether India would be contemplating small modular reactors as well. I haven’t seen any indication on that front so far, and I would like to discuss with the Indian government on that. I feel that India, its conditions, geography, morphology, the large distances and remote locations, lend themselves to these type of reactors. But it is a decision for the government to make, of course,” he said.

Grossi said while it was true that the nuclear industry in India was not growing at the pace many had expected it to, the acceleration could take place at any time.

“India has incredible dynamism and the technological base that will allow it to do this (accelerate the deployment of nuclear power) very quickly when a decision on this regard is taken. I can think of only a handful of countries, or even less perhaps, that have the capacity to ramp up their nuclear energy deployment at a very rapid rate,” he said.

India’s 22 operational nuclear power plants have an installed capacity of 6,780 MW, which is less than two per cent of the total installed electricity capacity of 407 GW. India has approved, and is in the process of building, ten more nuclear power plants which are expected to come online in the next five to ten years. New nuclear power plants in India have usually taken between eight and 15 years to start operations, but Grossi said this can be easily expedited.

“China is building nuclear reactors at a breathtaking pace. It resembles what we saw in America in the 1970s. There is a new nuclear power plant every five years or so. In China, some have been built even in three and a half years. Frankly, there is nothing inherent that prevents building of nuclear reactors within very reasonable time frames which matches the urgency called for by the climate change crisis. If you are talking about abating carbon dioxide completely by 2040 or 2050, you would need to build nuclear reactors at a fast pace. There are ten more reactors coming up in India in the next ten years, which is excellent,” he said.

Satheendhar Sahani

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