Nivedita Menon’s take on an exchange between Rahul Siddharthan and Madhumita Dutta in The Hindu [via Kafila]

Taking the debate on nuclear energy forward (after the wonderful review of MV Ramana’s book by Nityanand Jayaraman), here’s an exchange between Rahul Siddharthan and Madhumita Dutta in The Hindu in September 2012, Siddharthan advocating nuclear power, Dutta pointing to its utter indefensibility. 


Jal satyagraha at Kudankulam in September 2012

Dutta says, in her response to Siddharthans initial article:

In the case of Kudankulam, the fisherfolk have been…asking to see the disaster management plan which, till date, remains a secret, even under the Right to Information Act. Given the inherent uncertainties of natural disasters, questions about preparedness to mitigate impact of calamities such as tsunami waves of higher magnitude are being asked. An inadequate reserve of fresh water for cooling as well as a lack of back up electricity are concerns that have been raised by people and their expert committee many times but consistently dodged by the government and officials of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. Secrecy shrouds the fate of the radioactive spent fuel, its reprocessing and transportation. All these questions and more remain unanswered. 

As the initiator of the exchange, Siddharthan had the last word:

Ms Dutta’s points about the necessity of transparency and availability of information are valid, and I made those points myself. It is in the Department of Atomic Energy’s own interest to make as much information available about Kudankulam as possible. 

So, Mr Siddharthan, a few simple questions:

You don’t think this information should have been made available long before (long, long before!)  the lives, habitats and livelihoods of the people of Koodankulam were uprooted by the construction of the plant and its operationalizing?

You don’t think the people of Koodankulam should have had the option of making an informed choice – who knows, they may have been entirely persuaded by solid information about the absolute safety of the plant and its disaster-preparedness?

You dont think there is a reason why this information is still not made available to the affected populations, despite its being “in the DAE’s interest”?

Perhaps after all, it would not be in the DAE’s interest to reveal the information, if indeed, any studies have been done at all?

And who or what is the shadowy DAE, which apparently has an interest of its own, separate from and independent of, the interests of the citizens of Koodankulam?

Another casual claim made by Siddharthan in his response is that “nobody died from radiation exposure in Fukushima”.

Not yet. But  a minimum of 1300 could die from radiation effects,  an extremely conservative estimate according to the co-author of the study in an interview to Japan Real Time:

“The whole 15 to 1,300 range is probably in reality, in my personal opinion, a conservative number. I certainly wouldn’t go lower than that,” Mark Z. Jacobson, co-author of the study and an environmental engineer at Stanford, told JRT in an interview.

In the study, which was published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science this week, the scientists’ best estimate within the range was that the radiation would eventually be responsible for 130 deaths and 180 cancer cases.

Mr. Jacobson described those figures as “very conservative,” especially once non-cancer related illnesses such as cardiovascular and respiratory ailments are considered. “In fact there is a huge health effect from particles, but we didn’t even calculate those effects,” said Mr. Jacobson, who has researched the health impact of other environmental pollutants prior to this study.

And how about genetic mutations in butterflies?

Genetic mutations have been found in three generations of butterflies living near Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. The gruesome discovery has led scientists to fear that the leaking radiation could affect other species…

Though the insects were mated in a lab well outside the fallout zone, about 18 per cent of their offspring displayed similar problems, said Joji Otaki, an associate professor at Ryukyu University in Okinawa, in southwestern Japan.

That figure rose to 34 per cent in the third generation of butterflies – even though one parent from each coupling was from a group unaffected by radiation.

A mere 1300 people? And mutant butterflies? Bah, I imagine Mr Siddharthan scoffing.  He’s a very brave man, you see. I know because he said so in his response:

Clearly some people find the record of nuclear power terrifying, but I am not one of them.

Let’s hope one of those 1300 is not someone he knows, or loves; let’s hope that butterfly with the crippled wing does not presage crippled babies, and that nobody he knows or loves will bear that child. I sincerely hope this for him.

But Mr Siddharthan, what about ordinary mortals who are terrified by the established record of nuclear safety; by information about the dangers of nuclear energy, death being in fact the most knowable and indeed, the most bearable of them? What to do about foolish people who do not measure disaster in terms of numbers of human lives lost – for whom even one death is one too many?

“Ha-ha”, I imagine Mr S saying. “They lose.”