By Sankar Ray

On the issue of whether the nuclear option should be explored to meet power requirements in the future preferentially over coal-fired power generation, mandarins of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the largest Leftist party in India, are more adherents of Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost than Stalinist orthodoxy of “democratic centralism”. Nonagenarian CPI(M) polit bureau member Jyoti Basu frequently claims that his party is the most democratic and disciplined of all political parties in India and once a decision is taken following inner-party debate, every party member works for implementing the decision.

The West Bengal chief minister and CPI(M) polit bureau member Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is an unabashed proponent of nuclear option in creating additional power capacity. Speaking to The Hindu in mid-September, he said, “We just cannot avoid nuclear power“. He argued that global warming forces us to look up to ‘green power’. Coal-fired power, comprising 96 per cent of power generation in West Bengal is no green power, he felt. But interestingly, he interpreted his opinion as “technical rather than political,” although he is far away from the realm of science and technology either academically or by practical experience.

The Nuclear Power Corporation Ltd includes Haripur, a coastal village of East Medinipur district, West Bengal, among the several new nuclear power plants. Bhattacharjee went ga-ga about it along with the commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen, a CPI(M) central committee member and fully with the Chief Minister on wooing capitalists including MNCs for industrialization of the state. Which was why the CPI(M) state leadership stepped up campaign in favour of the proposed 3000 megawatt project. In the mid-1990s, there was a similar project proposed in the Sunderbans but the Left Front government had to drop it for strong protest from environmental scientists and South 24 Parganas district branch of the Paschimbanga Vijnan Mancha, state unit of CPI(M)-controlled All India People’s Science Congress.

Prof Deb Kumar Bose, ex-chairman, West Bengal State Electricity Board, and formerly professor of economics, Indian Statistical Institute, did several econometric studies on nuclear power – published in Economic and Political Weekly – and warned against nuclear power option in the 1990s too. In the end months of 2006, when Dr Bose called on a top CPI(M) PB member to reiterate his opinion, he was told that Bhattacharjee got the matter through at the state party secretariat and hence Prof Bose, a CPI(M) member, should not write or speak about the nuclear power plant.

Prabir Purakayastha, a power technologist who worked for many years in BHEL and secretary, Delhi Science Forum, a constituent of AIPSC, dished out a profoundly different viewpoint and refuted those who are arguing for nuclear option. A Delhi state committee member of the party, Purakayastha wrote a 2670-word polemical piece – The Myth of Free Nuclear Energy in CPI(M)’s central organ Peoples Democracy in its 21 October 2007 issue . The notion that nuclear power will be cheaper than coal has “layers of lies built in“, he said while admitting that “operating cost of a nuclear plant is lower than that of coal fired plants” . The cost of electricity includes capital cost too which is very high and consumers are to “pay for the capital cost of the plants also in the electricity charges , he pointed out . The cost of electricity using just the capital cost of the plant alone for imported reactors, he calculated, will be ” Rs 3.65 per unit as against the cost per unit from coal including the fuel and all other operating costs of Rs 2.20-2.60, depending on their distance from the coal mines. If we take plants at pit heads, the cost committed by Reliance for the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project is only Rs 1.19. Even after using high cost imported coal, the cost of power from the Mundra Ultra Mega Power project is Rs 2.26“, he argued.

Purakayastha questioned the notion that the operating cost of a nuclear power unit is lower than the thermal counterpart. According to the NPCL exercise, the operating cost of Kaiga unt, taking into consideration, fuel, heavy water etc is Rs 1.48 a unit. But the DSF leader wrote, adding the cost of capital, “the cost of electricity becomes Rs 5.13! This is more than twice that from coal fired plants.

CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat a few months back said at a meeting in West Bengal that nuclear power generation cost “is substantially higher than coal-based power“, citing Purakayastha’s data but subsequently, addressing a seminar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University he kept options for nuclear power generation open, as if to keep Bhattacharjee and West Bengal comrades in good humour. After all, West Bengal CPI(M) is the largest financial resource-base for AKG Bhavan, national headquarters of CPI(M).

However, till date opponents of nuclear power generation like Purakayastha have not been gagged. But the free-for-all space is wide open mocking the Stalinist pride of CPI(M) biggies from Basu to the CITU president M K Pandhe. Shyamal Chakraborty, a CC member, defended nuclear power saying, ” After all, we cannot lag behind science“. Unlike Purakayastha and like Bhattacharjee, he never had basic science subjects in his undergraduate or post-graduate classes but pretends to know science better than energy experts. Srideep Bhattacharjee, former secretary of Paschimbanga Vijnan Mancha, now a CPI(M) state committee member in a note to the state leaders strongly opposed the move towards nuclear plant, especially in the coastal zone.

Contradictions and self-contradictions (Karat’s volte face) on nuclear option in future power generation plans among CPI(M) leaders weakens the rigidities of democratic centralism, one of the principal pillars of organization among ‘Official Marxists”. Even for the CPI(M) whose founding leaders like B T Ranadive and Promode Dasgupta asked comrades to remain unflinchingly loyal to what Stalin used to do and instruct.

 

Source: http://sanhati.com/news/548/