The Nuclear Energy History of India

Udit Goyal
May 17, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Jawaharlal Nehru pictured in the grey suit. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Today, India is further developing its nuclear technology to increase its electricity production. The country currently obtains 3% of its electricity from nuclear reactors, but it plans to increase this to 25% by 2050. [1]


India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (Fig. 1), delivered a speech in 1948 to the General Assembly of India strongly advocating nuclear energy. The result was the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission, and later to the creation of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). [1] The DAE, after developing the first operational research reactor in 1956, then proceeded to construct and complete India's first commercial reactor, Tarapur Atomic Power Station, in 1969.

In 1968, there was a lack in nuclear development in India. This was partly due to Indias decision to not ratify the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which the 5 major powers of the world came to an agreement to cooperate in the spread of nuclear technology among themselves while disarming all the other countries including India which seemed unfair from their perspective. [1] Due to this barrier, India had to rely on domestic development for acquiring fuel, supplies, and knowledge. [1] India's nuclear program was also orchestrated exclusively by the government, creating a close connection between India's military nuclear weapons program and the commercial atomic energy program. This made many international partners nervous. [2]

India was subsequently subject to an international nuclear materials embargo in the 1970s and 1980s in response to its nuclear weapons tests. [1] Canada had given India a CIRUS research reactor and a CANDU reactor which were both intended for peaceful purposes to produce electricity, but instead, had been utilized to produce weapons grade plutonium for nuclear weapons development, thus violating the treaty between India and Canada. [3] As a result, the United States passed the Symington amendment in 1976 to limit economic and military assistance to India. [1] This was then followed up by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act, which cut off nuclear materials and fuel to India. [2]

India's nuclear development and efficiency had suffered from these actions, as its reactors underperformed by international standards. Even in 1995, India's average capacity factor for a power plant was reported at 60 percent, while the international average capacity was over 85 percent. [1]

On January 25, 2015, President Obama reached a compromise with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The new deal resolved differences over the liability of suppliers to India in the event of a nuclear accident and U.S. demands on tracking the whereabouts of material supplied to the country. [4] Obama and Modi had created an understanding of the liabilities that aiding parties had if they wished to contribute to India's nuclear goals. Also, the two leaders agreed upon a 10-year framework for defense ties and deals on cooperation. [4]


India currently has overcome their development hurdles and now has 21 nuclear reactors with 4,480 MW of installed capacity, which, in 2010, produced 2.6 percent of the country's electricity. India is planning on installing six additional reactors and another 15 units with 14,000 MW of additional capacity by 2020. [1] However, a key to India's nuclear future is in the exploration of becoming reliant upon thorium powered reactors, as thorium is an abundant resource in India. [1]

© Udit Goyal. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] B. K. Sovacool and S. V. Valentine, The National Politics of Nuclear Power: Economics, Security and Governance (Routledge, 2012).

[2] B. K. Sovacool and S. V. Valentine, "The Socio-Political Economy of Nuclear Energy in China and India," Energy 35, 3803 (2010).

[3] D. Bratt, The Politics of CANDU Exports (University of Toronto Press, 2006).

[4] D. Davis, "Thorium and Nuclear Energy in India," Physics 240, Stanford University, Winter 2015.