NEW DELHI - India's prime minister is reasserting his country's commitment to nuclear energy. His comments come as India weighs how to reduce its massive dependence on oil imports including those from its second biggest crude oil supplier, Iran.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told parliament Wednesday that India's nuclear program will follow the highest safety standards, but it would be harmful for India's interests to give up harnessing power from nuclear plants.
Singh was answering a query on whether India will consider abandoning atomic power like Germany, which after the Fukushima disaster in Japan decided to replace nuclear energy with renewable energy.
"We must do everything in our power to ensure foolproof safety of nuclear plants, that we will never compromise, but at the same time I respectfully submit that it would be harmful for the country's interest to pass an ordinance of self-denial that we will give up the option of having nuclear power," said Singh.
Prime Minister Singh's reassertion comes as work at a new nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu state is set to begin. Environmentalists and residents have protested the Kudankulam plant following the Fukushima disaster, but the government says the first reactor will soon be operational and generate 1000 mw of power.
India plans to scale up nuclear energy to 62,000 megawatts over the next two decades. It wants nuclear energy to meet 25 percent of its needs by 2050 compared to a current level of only three percent.
Analysts say the need to have a domestically-produced reliable source of power is particularly attractive as India faces several challenges in meeting its energy needs.
India is currently under pressure from Washington to scale back oil imports from Iran, the country's second biggest supplier of crude. On Tuesday, India said it will reduce oil imports from Iran by 11 percent during the coming year, although officials have denied that they are motivated by U.S. pressure.
India's currency has also hit an all-time low against the dollar making oil imports expensive.
Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told parliament on Wednesday that spiraling oil prices make it imperative for India to reduce its dependence on oil imports.
"Petroleum prices are increasing by leaps and bounds," said Mukherjee. "I have asked the oil experts that whether we can reduce our import requirement, whether the country is in a position to import 170 million tons if prices go up unchecked."
India says it is trying to diversify its sources of crude oil imports.