Dr. Dhirendra Sharma, Director of Science Policy Centre, is the author of India’s Nuclear Estate

He can be contacted at-
“Nirmal-Nilay,” Dehradun 248009. +91-9897883741
[email protected]

Today, when thousands of villagers and concerned citizens of India are sitting on fast protesting against the nuclear power, it is demeaning that the chief of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd., and the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam ( The Hindu, Special Essay, Nov. 6) said the protestors were “brainwashed by foreign interests.” In fact, it is the nuclear business in India that had been commissioned by the foreign nuclear vendors.

After Chernobyl (1986) when nuclear industry in the U.S., France and Russia were almost dead, during George Bush and Blair period sinister attempts were made to revive it. It was then that Manmohan Singh flew to Washington and said to Bush that “All India loves you Mr. President.” Soon after 40-50 American and French business men visited India, and New Delhi signed long-term nuclear MoUs, accounting for $150 billion dollars.

All these Nuclear deals were done without proper technical assessment.

We, the nation must know what are “the strategic considerations” which forced the government to clear the reactor sites without environment assessments. For, there were no expertise available in the country who could have assessed the Chernobyl factor of magnitude at Kudunakulam and Jaitapur sites. Today, there is no issue more urgent than the democratic process to govern the nuclear deals.

But Kalam’s article begins by defining “unimaginably powerful battery” inside every single atom in the universe that is “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times more powerful than the conventional fuels.” But the “peaceful” n-power process produces thousands of celsius heat out of self-sustaining destructive fission process. It is, therefore, unbecoming of the nuclear protagonists to charge the critics for “poor judgement and a deliberate act of spreading fear to compare a nuclear bomb with a nuclear plant.”

The fundamental belief that “Nuclear power is our gateway to a prosperous future” (Kalam’s title) is based on 60 years old presumption when Homi J. Bhabha believed that the Nuclear power “would be so cheap not to meter.”

Notwithstanding the Pokharan -1 and 2, the faith in nuclear power calls for serious consideration of Science Policy thinkers. For, the nuclear affairs had been kept out of the public scrutiny when critical assessment of nuclear energy is long over due in India.

History of technology records the discovery of Fire (agni) 5000 years ago when we first learnt burning forest wood. But the discovery of Coal in 1700, had helped the Industrial Revolution. In 1800 the oil-gas was discovered. And in 20th century, we tried to tame the destructive force of Atom. But during the last six decades, the fission process had demonstrated its self-destructive (sustaining) chain-reaction, with half-life of thousands of years. Still to think Nuclear Energy is the Currency of Power ( Kalam) is an irrational out-dated political reasoning.

The birth of atomic energy was for destructive purposes. The Atoms for War and the Atoms for Peace were the Siamese twins that could not be separated. Soon after Second World War, the Father of Atom Bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer had, in The Open Mind, warned against the future application of nuclear energy. We should “start with the admission that we see no clear course before us, ” had admitted Oppenheimer.

Since secrecy and non accountability rules the nuclear regime, the deaths and destructions caused by “peaceful “ nuclear activities go unreported. Dr. Richard Mould is a medical physicist, and radiation historian who served as the British technical expert to the World Health Organisation and International Atomic Energy Authority on Chernobyl Post-Accident Review meetings (Vienna, August 1986). In his volume “CHERNOBYL: The Real Story,” Mould had recorded how the nuclear plant authorities had tried to cover up the accident.

No alarm was raised in and around the plant. The contamination from the Chernobyl radioactivity was first reported, some 4000 miles away, at the Forsmark, Swedish N-plant north of Stockholm. The radioactive plume released in Chernobyl, rose to a height of 1200 metres, and flew over north European states. It was detected by the Swedish authorities who notified Gorbachev in Moscow. Gorbachev, committed to open political system (Glasnost) ordered the Russian operators to tell the truth. Otherwise, all the earlier N-accidents inside USSR were covered under the official secrecy provisions.

Every stage in life of atom, from mining to milling, processing, enrichment and fuel fabrication, fuel irradiation inside reactors, generate radioactive waste. Irradiated fuels issued from the use of nuclear energy contain transuranic elements, some of which remain radioactive, life-threatening for hundreds of years, if not thousands of years. Plutonium-239, e.g., has a half-life of 24,100 years. The fission reaction of Plutonim-238 was the basis for the atom bomb at Nagasaki in 1945, with a half-life of 86 years.

Radioactive emissions occurs at all different stages of the nuclear fuel cycle under normal operation and in case of incidents that are frequent, in the operation of nuclear plants. The radiated elements enter food-chain – air, water, fish, milk, meat, vegetables, affecting life cycles of all living cells in plants, birds, animals and humans.

It takes 10-15 years to build a N- power plant but the designed life of a reactor is just about fifty (40) years. Thereafter the entire structure, area, equipment and the nuclear waste pose serious engineering and financial problems for their safe-keeping for more than hundred years. In the nuclear theology, however, there is no mention who would be responsible for decommissioning and long-term safe keeping of the hazardous nuclear waste. The dismantling of nuclear facilities and in particular of nuclear reprocessing plants, pose extremely unresolved complexities. Today’s Energy policy planners must know how the next generations would cope with the useless but life threatening decommissioned nuclear plants. The foreign manufacturers and the Nuclear Corporation of India have no obligation. to pay for the cost of the waste- management for minimum of one hundred years.

Assessment of Nuclear Power is a Science Policy issue and Indian scientists are the major stakeholders here. There is no issue more urgent than the democratic control over the nuclear business that was born for destructive purposes in secrecy. There is a Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. The constitutional probity demands consultation with the national Science and Technology agencies. The constitutional process must operate to see that the political power games and the commercial vested interest – (commission) do not mortgage the life and liberties of future generations.

So, to compare the tragedy of Chernobyl nuclear accident with 50,000 annual road accidents is rather pedantic. Even when we know that death is inevitable, still we look right and left before crossing the road. The most relevant question is the reliability of the system based on uncertainty principle. From the science policy perspective, the nation must know the long-term social cost of the nuclear enterprise.

The DAE’s guidelines and the Atomic Energy Act are silent on the questions of compensation to the victims of radiation. Secrecy provisions cover all radiation causalities, when the DAE is the final authority for radiation verification. Till this day, the DAE had not acknowledged any mishaps in its nuclear facilities. It is therefore practically impossible to assess the truth –value of the claims to absolute safety in the nuclear enterprise.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report, (August, 2009) confirmed that Nuclear Power is on downward trend world wide, and all nuclear builders in the world, were facing unprecedented “financial fiasco”.

The US National Academy of Science’s Committee for Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effect of Atomic Radiation, had cautioned the world against the long-term epidemiological harmful effects.

The Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Dr. Dale Klein had confirmed that ‘there was no scope for revival of Nuclear sector in the US.’ There is shortage of more than 200,000 trained professionals but the students are not taking up nuclear engineering courses. Editor-in-Chief and Head of the Information Division of International Atomic Energy Agency Mr. Lothar Wedekind had reiterated that ‘the future of Nuclear Power is uncertain. But one thing looks clear – the next generation of (nuclear) plants will not be Made in the USA.’

When the world is moving away from the coal and oil dependency, the scientific opinion had shifted its search for alternative non-nuclear sources of Energy. 25 European states –including Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland adopted the legislation to phase out nuclear power by 2030. A few 50-60 percent completed nuclear power plants had been stopped mid-way construction.

The Kyoto Protocol on Environment had, therefore, excluded Nuclear and Coal from the futuristic energy policy. A big Russian nuclear military installation had been turned onto Space Solar Energy research.

In India, there are more than twenty nuclear facilities where workers have been exposed to high radiation doses. Cases of leukemia, bone and skin cancer have been higher than the national average among the surrounding population. There are no avenues for complain or claim for compensation. If the pro-nuclear pandits are really assured of safe Kudankulam plant, then, I suggest, the DAE should provide Life Insurance Policy against radiation hazards, 5 lakhs each to every villager living around 40 kms. radius of the nuclear plants.

Today, with a futuristic public policy perspective, the most relevant question is the reliability of the power supply system. And Alternative energy options ( Space Solar Energy) are available to us.

Energy scientists have estimated that the world wide power demand in 2030 would be 16.9 Terawatt (TW). The Sun God (Aditya) alone can provide us Safe, Free and Green energy up to 6,500 TW, Solar Power . There is no scientific necessity to bind ourselves with potentially hazardous, high cost and high risk nuclear power engineering that had demonstratively proved unreliable and potentially hazardous for future generations.