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Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Kakodkar, Director General of IGCAR (and other dignitaries....) Friends,
It is a pleasure to be present on this historic occasion which marks the Golden Jubilee of the Department of Atomic Energy and coinciding with the commencement of Fast Breeder Technology (FB Tech).
Our nuclear programme takes a major step forward today with launching of the commercial phase of the fast breeder programme. This is an occasion to celebrate and also to reflect on our past achievements and also to look to the future with hope, courage and confidence. The progress during past 50 years have made us proud.
Under Jawaharlal Nehru's wise leadership, India was among the first group of countries to recognize the vast potential of unlocking the powers of the atom. The Department of Atomic Energy was established in August 1954. Even prior to that, as early as 1948, steps were already afoot to develop our country's capabilities in harnessing the tremendous potential of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
In the last 50 years, we have crossed several milestones in this arduous journey. This has been a tireless quest for scientific and technological excellence some of which I would like to recall. APSARA, set up in Trombay was the first research reactor in Asia. Trombay was also the site where the first lot of fuel elements for CIRUS was fabricated. It was as early as in 1965 that the plutonium plant stated functioning. In 1974, the country conducted a peaceful nuclear explosion. In the mid-1980s, steps were taken to diversify our nuclear programme further. Some of these programmes have come to fruition today.
Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the founders of our nuclear programme. Dr. Homi Bhabha, the father of India's atomic energy programme, was a great visionary. He laid the foundations of this national treasure of self-reliant development, nurturing a whole generation of outstanding scientists and engineers. As a former Member of the Atomic Energy Commission, I remember working with Dr. Homi Sethna and Dr. Raja Ramanna who played an outstanding role in the growth and development of our atomic energy programme. I also recall with gratitude and pride the excellent contributions made by Dr. Iyengar, Dr. Srinivasa, Dr. Chidambaram and now, Dr. Kakodkar. It is therefore sad that Dr. Ramanna is not with us at this juncture when we are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the Department of Atomic Energy. I would also like to recognize the contributions of all the scientists and employees of the Department who have contributed so magnificently to the nation's achievements in this field of national endeavour.
The activities of the Department of Atomic Energy range from fundamental scientific research to developmental applications of use to the common man - in the fields of health, industry, food preservation and water desalination projects. It is a matter of deep satisfaction that our scientists have mastered practically all the aspects related to the release of nuclear energy. This has contributed to our nation's security and well being in a fundamental sense.
Energy Security is an issue of vital importance, particularly in the context of the accelerating pace of our economic growth. If we succeed in instituting an optimal mix of energy resources in which nuclear energy is an important component, we will be able to ensure our energy security. India's low per capital energy consumption currently cannot for long go hand in hand with our quest for an accelerated pace of economic growth.
Energy Security is therefore a national imperative. We must break the constraining limits of power shortages, which retard our development. Nuclear energy is not only cost effective, it is also a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. We are determined as a nation to utilize its full potential for the national good. It can also be a much needed cushion against fluctuations of prices of petroleum products.
Nuclear power today accounts for only two per cent of our overall installed capacity. We have now embarked on a major programme to generate 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power by the year 2020. By 2008, we hope to add 4000 megawatts including the two 1000-megawatt nuclear reactors coming up at Kudankutam in collaboration with the Russian Federation.
It is a matter of national pride that India has developed comprehensive capabilities in the entire gamut of fuel cycle operations. India is also among the select group of countries which have the ability to recover plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel and use it to produce power in thermal as well as in fast reactors. This path will ensure for us a large quantum of nuclear power on a sustainable basis.
Ladies and gentlemen, India is uniquely placed to utilize technologies required for launching the third stage of our nuclear power programme based on the utilization of thorium. The technology roadmap prepared by the Department of Atomic Energy for this purpose will receive our Government's fullest support. Fast breeder reactor technology is of crucial importance in enhancing our nuclear power capacity. By launching its commercial applications, we are indeed entering a new and more advanced stage of nuclear energy production, a technology mastered only by a very small group of countries.
The Department of Atomic Energy has been able to consolidate and strengthen our indigenous capabilities in the face of externally imposed limitations and constraints. These have, however, spurred us to greater levels of achievement. The founding principles of 'Atoms for Peace" were subverted by restrictions derived from an ineffective non-proliferation regime. Despite these limitations, our scientists to their great credit have excelled time and again in demonstrating our indigenous capabilities measuring to the highest standards in the global nuclear industry.
India is a responsible nuclear power. We are fully conscious of the immense responsibilities that come with the possession of advanced technologies, both civilian and strategic. While we are determined to utilize our indigenous resources and capabilities to fulfill our national interests, we are doing so in a manner that is not contrary to the larger goals of nuclear nonproliferation.
India will not be the source of proliferation of sensitive technologies. We will also ensure the safeguarding of those technologies that we already possess. We will remain faithful to this approach, as we have been for the last several decades. We have done so despite the well-known glaring examples of proliferation which have directly affected our security interests.
The limitations of the present non-proliferation regime should not be further accentuated by artificial restrictions on genuine peaceful nuclear applications. Technology denial and closing avenues for international cooperation in such an important field is tantamount to the denial of developmental benefits to millions of people, whose lives can be transformed by the utilization of nuclear energy and relevant technologies.
We call upon other advanced nuclear powers, and all those who have a stake in the future of nuclear energy, to come together for a constructive dialogue to evolve more effective measures that would stem the tide of proliferation without unduly constraining the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Constraining those who are responsible amounts, in effect, to rewarding those who are irresponsible. The international community must face up to the implications of this choice. We in India are willing to shoulder our share of international obligations provided our legitimate interests are met. India has actively embraced globalisation. There is no reason why nuclear energy production should be an exception.
These functions of the Department of Atomic Energy are closely intertwined with our nation's needs and aspirations. It is important to ensure that the nation's best scientific talent enters our research institutions, and that we develop an environment in which excellence is recognized, nurtured and rewarded. The nation expects that the Department of Atomic Energy, as one such center of excellence, will continue to be at the cutting edge of scientific pursuit, national dedication and social commitment. The nation is proud of your achievements and is grateful for your contribution. However, we have a long and arduous journey ahead of us and many milestones to cross. It is my sincere hope that the Department will live up to our expectations. In this task, the Department can count on the sustained support of our government and the people of our country.