India: in denial of Fukushima

The Department of Atomic Energy in India remains in complete denial of Fukushima accident. When Fukushima was turning worse after 3/11, the top officials claimed there is no accident and it’s a normal maintenance exercise. The safety review committees constituted by the govt after Fukushima were internal and even their loose recommendations were not followed before commissioning Koodankulam last year. Many scientists including a former regulator have questioned the toothless regulatory body and shoddy safety culture. The CAG, the top auditor, also questioned the financial dependence of the regulator on the utility.

The Fukushima disaster is still ongoing after 3 years and radiation levels are putting people’s lives in danger, but the Indian govt thinks the accident is over. A union minister last August reported to the parliament that in Fukushima the possible impact on the affected population is “practically insignificant”

However, Fukushima is closely followed by communities at the ongoing grassroots protest and the anti-nuclear groups in India. The images and unfolding details animate their protests, which also stem from the concerns of their livelihoods and safety of future generations.

An insane nuclear expansion
  • Nuclear technology was central to the dream of modern India after Independence. It enjoyed public support, giving the DAE disproportionate political influence.
  • The Indian program is one of the oldest in the world, starting officially in 1948.
  • However, the performance on the nuclear power front has been really dismal. Today, it provides for just 3% of the total electricity.
  • The weapon dimension provides it the veil of secrecy and the concerns of people around existing facilities have gone unheard for decades.
  • A turning point was the nuclear deal with the US in 2005, lifting the sanctions against nuclear commerce with India which were imposed since the 1974 tests.
  • In the deal, India made advance purchase promises to buy reactors from the US, France, Russia and other countries, without any competitive bidding or cost-benefit analysis.
  • It is to fulfill those commitments to foreign governments, that the Indian govt remains in denial of Fukushima, and is imposing the reactors on its own people violently.
  • India is planning a massive expansion of nuclear energy, envisaging a 100-fold increase by the year 2052 from the current 4870 MWs.

The newly elected Indian Prime Minister would be visiting Tokyo soon to finalise a nuclear supply agreement with Japan. This deal has been long pending despite immense pressure from the nuclear industry inside Japan, and also the nuclear lobbies of the US and France, which require crucial parts from Japan.

The deal would unleash misery on the most vulnerable people in India, by aiding an anachronistic nuclear expansion. India is among very few countries in the world today to embark on such massive expansion after Fukushima. There is strong opposition at the grassroots against the proposed plants.

The Indian government has been bulldozing everything that stands in the way of implementing new reactors – undermining and diluting safety norms, curtailing transparency on nuclear-related pushing through environmental clearances at gun-point, neglecting the adverse economics of these projects, brutally crushing grassroots democratic dissent, and trying to exempt the nuclear suppliers from liability in the event of any accident. Massive grassroots protests against proposed and existing nuclear facilities are underway in several parts of India, but the government has responded with violence on innocent farmers, fisher folk, women and children. The govt has labelled anti-nuclear agitators as anti-nationals and deported foreign activists in the recent past, including some Japanese.

The deal would become the final seal of legitimacy for India’s nuclear weapons and will further fuel the nuclear arms race in South Asia. An import-based civilian nuclear industry would free up India’s domestic resources exclusively for weapons.

Concerned people in both India and Japan have been opposed to the nuclear agreement. When PM Abe visited India earlier this year, hundreds of people participated in demonstrations and poster-protest all over the country. Eminent citizens wrote letters to Mr. Abe and his wife, requesting a rethink. Simultaneous solidarity protests were staged in Tokyo and Osaka as well.

After Fukushima, it is prudent that both the countries must cooperate on renewable energy sources and alternative models of energy consumption and planning. While Japan has a historic opportunity to learn from Fukushima and lead the new energy revolution, India can aptly use the lessons and cooperation as it stands at the threshold of development where it can make real choices affecting lives of a billion people.

A resounding no to the India-Japan nuclear agreement and yes to better relations between the common people of the two countries is important for better future of the humankind.