Response to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s statement on 23-2-2012 on NGOs’ protests against genetic crops and Kudankulam nuclear power project.

Dr. E.A.S.Sarma

Former Union Power Secretary

Prof. T. Shivaji Rao
Director, Environment, GITAM University

It is reported in the Press today that Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, while criticising NGOs for protests against the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam placed the blame on their receiving support from abroad for stalling development in India.

It is further reported that he even went to the extent of making a sweeping statement that “the thinking segment of our population certainly is supportive of nuclear energy”.

If the above reports are true, we feel that the statements by the Prime Minister are ill-advised, devoid of a realistic appreciation of the ground realities and a lack of appreciation of the genuine public concern over the potential dangers of nuclear technology as reflected by the catastrophic explosions in the reactors at Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima 2011 with the damaging costs of Fukushima accident placed at more than US$16 billion and interdiction of vast stretches of lands for several decades . He should realise that these concerns arose only after millions of Indians watched on their TV screens, the traumatic nuclear disaster at Fukushima last year which made the thinking Chancellor of Germany to confirm that nuclear safety is a myth after discussions with the experts and ordered for phasing out of all the reactors in Germany by resorting to implementation of alternative energy sources. To brush aside such public concerns through a simplistic statement based on unscientific impressions and inappropriate briefing by DAE is to close one’s eyes to the harsh reality of the most expensive and highly hazardous nuclear power and its inherent risks to mankind and natural ecological systems all over the world.

The Foreign Hand?

To say that the minority that supports nuclear energy is the only “thinking segment” of the population is to belittle the inherent intellect of the majority of the society whose consent has not been taken for enacting an anti-peoples law on nuclear liability which is intended to help the foreign suppliers of nuclear reactors by transferring the economic burden of compensating the victims of a nuclear accident over the poor Indians whose consent has not been taken for such a major decision affecting their health and economy. This also amounts to belittle and blunt the voice of dissent in a democracy like ours.

The people of this country are fully aware of how the UPA government bowed down to foreign pressures to sign one-sided bilateral nuclear deals with the western countries to further the latter’s commercial interests. By doing this, the government has jeopardised the energy security of the country by forcing India to depend permanently on imported nuclear reactors and imported fuel. Further, it is under pressure from the western MNCs that the government has enacted the Civil Nuclear Liability law that imposed a ridiculously low cap on the accident liability that can be passed on to the foreign reactor suppliers. As if this is insufficient, the government went one step further to frame rules ultra vires the law to further limit the liability that the foreign reactor suppliers should bear.

The Prime Minister may have realised by now that the Fukushima accident has already cost the Japanese tax payer US$ 16 billion and the liability is likely to increase further in the coming months, whereas the Indian Civil Nuclear Liability law that has been enacted at his behest places a ceiling of only Rs.1,500 crores (equivalent to US$ 300 million) on what India can claim from the foreign reactor suppliers, in the event of a similar accident. The nuclear reactor suppliers in United States do not believe in the safety of their own reactors and hence are not in a position to convince the American insurance companies to provide them with insurance to cover the costs of paying the compensation to the victims of a nuclear accident and hence have influenced the US Government to legislate the Price-Anderson Act which pays to the victims about $12 billion as compensation and the US Government will ultimately have to pay additional amount from the national budget and thereby pass on the burden over to the heads of the poor tax payers. Thus when the nuclear safety is not believed by the very manufacturers, how can any thinking Indian Prime Minister unhesitatingly accept the wrong advice being given to him by the ecologically ill-informed experts of the Department of Atomic Energy on matters of nuclear safety as envisaged by the experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Without placing the detailed environmental impact analysis reports and the risk analysis reports of Kudankulam nuclear plant before the intellectuals and the general public of the region, how can the Prime Minister blame that some vested interests are agitating against the nuclear plant while the concerned activists themselves are fighting for public safety to ensure their right to life and the right to livelihood which are being threatened by the ill-conceived location of hazardous major nuclear reactors in a vulnerable area around Kudankulam? The common people have abundant commonsense and hence they can rightly judge what is the right method of development as distinguished by a wrong method of development that either contributes to their wellbeing or destroys their livelihood and they alone should make the proper choice.

To say that the “thinking segment” of the people support nuclear energy betrays a lack of application of mind on the part of those that have briefed the Prime Minister on the subject. The Prime Minister should know that Germany where 26% of the electricity is from nuclear plants has decided to move away from it within a decade in favour of renewable energy sources, whereas in India, nuclear plants hardly contribute 2.5% of electricity and the country is endowed with solar and other renewable sources of energy several times more than Germany. The right thinking intellectuals of India know that of the total electricity produced in India, 64% is based on thermal sources like coal, natural gas, oil, 23% from hydro-power and 10% from renewable energy sources while nuclear plants contribute a very insignificant share of energy as pointed above. While nuclear energy is the riskiest form of energy due to its highest environmentally damaging impacts that last for centuries in addition to interdiction of vast lands virtually converting them into nuclear burial fields, the alternative sources of energy are not only economical but some of them are also more eco-friendly and far less hazardous than nuclear power. The risks of nuclear power can be understood by the ill-advised leaders only if they consult genuine political leaders, within and outside the country. They can take a cue from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel in taking a people-friendly, sustainable decision on energy. They can emulate Mamta Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal who has refused to fall prey to nuclear power, as advised by her own right thinking experts. The Chief Minister of West Bengal has rightly questioned the location of a nuclear power plant in her State as she could feel the pulse of the people better and respect the democratic traditions of the country! Instead of issuing inappropriate statements as now purportedly given by the Prime Minister, our leaders should sit back for a while and introspect on how we should shape our long-term energy policy that ensures safety, environmental harmony and long-tern sustainability.

We hope that Dr. Manmohan Singh reviews what he has stated and constitute a credible group of thinkers, independent of DAE, to examine this and come up with a durable set of guidelines on how we should formulate our long-term energy policy. Knee-jerk reactions to passing incidents cannot lay the foundation for a long-term vision for ensuring sustainable development of the States and the nation in the interests of the present and future generations, as envisaged by the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhiji.