Why concerned people and not Government Experts should decide on safety aspects of a Nuclear plant?

Prof.T.Shivaji Rao
Director, Centre for Environmental Studies,
Gitam University,
Visakhapatnam-530 045

Man has three basic needs, namely survival, development and self-fulfilment. While the last objective is satisfied through spiritual means, the first two being material needs require food, shelter, some conveniences, comforts and leisure that can be met through development programmes. As the rich people are used to invest enormous energy for the economic growth and prosperity, less than one-third of the global population in the industrialized countries are using seven-eighths of the world’s energy resources. The ever increasing dependence on large quantities of energy is constantly changing the life-styles and human values in very country. While the developmental needs of the common people in the rich countries and the rich people in the poor countries are based on high levels of energy consumption, the problems of millions of poor people continue to be primarily those of “survival”

While aping the westerns and adopting their economic and industrial values the poor countries are guided by the western beliefs that “growth” is “Progress” and that progress can be achieved only through increased energy. Such energy use is considered as a means to happiness. But happiness is proportional to increased energy use, leading to greater material property only upto a certain point and thereafter it falls down with higher levels of energy utilization. The increasing levels of unhappiness as reflected in abnormal rates of divorce, depressions, suicides, social unrest and mental ill-health in countries like USA and Sweden would testify to this truth. Simple living and high thinking promotes environmental conservation and happy life.


In order to understand radioactive pollution, some basic terms must be explained. The atom, the smallest unit f an element consists f a nucleus (containing protons and neutrons) which is encircled by electrons. When the nucleus disintegrates or decays radio-activity is set free, with the nuclear emission producing alpha and beta particles and gamma rays which ionize the atoms of any substance through which they pass. Such ionization causes a chain reaction that damages the penetrated substances such as human cells.

In nature there are some elements like Radium which are so unstable that they give off radio-activity even without any external force. Radium (Ra) for example emits alpha and beta particles and gamma rays and disintegrates step by step through the stable atom of lead (P). On the other hand, potentially any element can be converted by force into another one by rearranging the atomic components. During such conversion from unstable to stable elements, enormous amounts of heat is released from Uranium and the same is used to produce steam and electricity. In this process a few neutrons and other radio-active substances are also released. These radio-nucleides which escape into human environment cause pollution problems. These Radioactive wastes from fission processes n rectors e dumped into the only way to make the radio-nucleides least harmful is to enable them disintegrate naturally until a stable element is produced. As a thumb-rule, the radio activity of an element is usually expected to disappear after an equivalent time period of about ten times its half-life when its radio-activity reaches 0.1percent of its original value. For instance a millionth of a gram of plutonium gives lung cancer and since its half life is 25,000years, it remains highly toxic for at least 2,50,000years. According to some experts, the natural radio-activity is neither physiologically nor biologically safe and any increase above the back-ground radiation will increase the number of persons affected by genetic defects.

Radiation Units:

1. Roentgen, the unit of radiation exposure, is a measure of the extent of ionization that can be produced by gamma rays or X-rays. It is the quantity of gamma rays required to produced electrons carrying one electrostatic unit of charge in one centimeter cube of dry air at standard temperature and pressure.

2. Rad, the radiation absorbed dose is defined as the amount of radiation that leads to the deposition of one-hundredth Joule of energy Per Kilogram (100ergs per gram) of the absorbing material. Gray is defined as the absorption of one joule of energy per kilo-gram of material and is equal to 100 rads.

3. Rem, Since alpha particles are ten times more powerful than beta particles and gamma rays, the effect of radiation dose absorbed is expressed in terms of dose equivalent for which the unit is the Rem (radiation equivalent man). The dose equivalent is also expressed in sievert, Sv (one Sievert is equal to 100 rems). (One milli-rem is one thousandth of a rem)


Among the commercial sources, electricity has been the most preferred and convenient form of energy. While the per capita consumption of electricity increased from 15 kilo-watt hours (KWH) in 1950 to 200 KWH today, the generation capacity jumped from 1700 MW to 55,000 MW, representing an increase of about 30 times with an annual compound growth rate of 10%. About 33% of the installed capacity is from hydropower, about 65% from thermal power and 2% from Nuclear power. The total hydro-potential of the country is 85,500MW at 60% load factor (equivalent to 450 TWH of annual energy). So far the hydro-power projects in operation account for only 11.3% of the total potential and the schemes under construction for another 7.3%. The hydro-power potential tapped in South, West, East, North and North-East regions stands at 57%, 34%, 24%, 17% and 2% respectively.

In order to meet the growing needs of electricity for industrial, agricultural and domestic needs, it is proposed to add to the existing capacity of 55,000 MW extra generating capacity of about 10000MW per year (i.e)38,000 MW during the 8th plan and 62,000 MW during the 9th plan so that the installed capacity reaches about 1,60,000 MW by 2000 AD. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) estimates that it would require an investment of Rs,2,00,000 crores to set up this additional capacity. According to CEA, the 38,000 MW capacity addition during the 8th plan will comprise 9,000MW hydro-power 28,000MW thermal power (including 4,600MW, oil and gas based power) and 705 MW of Nuclear power.

With regard to coal, the non-coking coal reserves are estimated at about 88,000 million tones and are primarily located in Bengal, Bihar, Central India and Andhra Pradesh. Most of the Lignite coal estimated at 3,300 million tones is located in Tamil Nadu. The annual production of coal can be increased from 150 to 250 million tones while the lignite usage can be raised to 32 million tones for power generation. The large scale reserves of natural gas can be used for power generation by setting up national gas-pipe net work. There is ample scope to set up minor and mini hydel projects f 5000 MW to serve the needs of villagers.

A survey of the power scene of the country shows that it is not difficult to meet the future needs of power. In fact CEA identified 56 sites to develop pumped storage schemes with an installed capacity of 94,000 MW. Further, a modernization scheme for 49 hydro-power stations estimated at Rs.278 crores is expected to give 500 MW of extra power. About 1100 MW gas based plants are expected to be commissioned during 7th plan. The 8th plan provides for 3900 MW from gas-based plants. Additional domestic gas may be made available for setting up an extra 4,000MW power plant capacity. Additional proposals to set up 5000 MW capacity based on imported gas may fructify during the 8th plan.


The contribution of Nuclear power may increase from the existing capacity of 1260 MW to about 2000 MW by the end of the 8th plan and may constitute only 5% of the electrical power by 2000AD. About 40% of the total energy needs of the country are met from the non-commercial sources like cow-dung, agriculture wastes, fire-wood, animal power and manual labour while the remaining 60% is met from commercial sources like coal, gas, oil and hydro-power. Electrical power which is about one-third of the commercial sources constitutes 18% of the total power and it may go upto 30% by 2000 AD. Since the Nuclear power contribution to the total energy needs of the country which is less than 1% to day may go upto 2% by 2000AD. So nuclear plants do not play a significant role in the national energy scenario. Unfortunately the vested interests are making a mountain out of a mole-hill of nuclear power by not only misleading the Prime Minister and the Members of Parliament but are also brain-washing the Chief Ministers on the economy and safety of the reactors. In trying to expand their nuclear empire, the imperialistic experts are intimidating the educated elite and the common people by proclaiming from house-tops that neglect of nuclear power is bound to lead the country to economic disaster. Chernobyl should have spelt the death of nuclear power. The Western press and Indian press propagated that the Russian model did not have the conventional barriers; but it had all the appropriate safety features and yet the accident occurred. Because of public protests against nuclear plants in their own countries, the westerners are trying their best to export the reactors to the third world countries. According to Helen caldicott since there are considerable “Kick-backs” in the nuclear deals the westerners now want this poisonous technology into the third world. In fact the reactor in Phillippines which was supplied by paying a few millions of dollars as commission as reported in the American press was ultimately shut down with out producing any power and thus became a white elephant to that country. Corruption charges have been leveled against the nuclear industry in Germany and a parliamentary committee is investigating the matter. Fortunately the Indian Nuclear Industry has been so far free from such blemishes. However, the nuclear industry has not been able to convince the people by holding public hearings on the justification for nuclear power and the methods adopted in the selection of reactors and the sites in different places in South India.


The Nuclear Energy Lobby is very powerful all over the world. In USA they are spending 7 to 8 million dollars on advertising to demand for a return to nuclear power under the threat of Ozone depletion and green-house effect due to pollution from thermal power plants. Surprisingly Dr.Hans Blix, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a speech on 26-2-1987 that “Nuclear power is an advanced and exacting technology, but there is nothing mysterious about it. Its level of safety is high and can be made even higher, and it is environmentally, benign. It would be paradoxical if the world were to reject this clean source of electricity while being unable to do away with thousands of nuclear war-heads”. But a number of Nobel Laureates like Linus pauling, George wald, Hannes Alfven and James watt and eminent scientists like Rosalie Bertel and Willian Caldicott have been strongly opposing nuclear power.

It is well known that the bombardment of Uranium fuel produces neutrons, heat energy, radio-active fission products and activation products and hence utmost care is taken to prevent this radiation from escaping into environment andharm the workers and the general public. A 1000 MW Reactor contains several thousand millions of curies of radio-activity in its core and the radiation delivered nearby could be 100 million rems per hour against 5 rems per year allowed for occupational exposure. In order to contain the radioactivity both during normal working and accident conditions, defence in depth philosophy expressed in terms of three levels of safety is adopted. The first level of safety is to design the reactor and its components so well that the good quality standards and engineering practice. Inspite of such standards, mal functions do occur. Hence the second level of safety is intended to provide protection systems that can fore-stall or cope with conceivable abnormal conditions or failures.

Finally, the third level of safety is provided through engineered safety systems so that the public is protected against a severe but highly unlikely accident. Redundancy is provided for some systems like instrumentation, shut-down control and emergency cooling so that if one of the units fails the duplicate or triplicate unit comes to the rescue. However they are subjected to common mode of failure. In order to overcome such failures diversity is provided by the use of 3 independent and different methods of achieving the objective such as maintaining the power supply or reactor shut-down during an emergency. For instance redundancy in power supply to the reactor is provided by having 5 stand-by diesel generators, each with adequate capacity to cope with a failure, and diversity is provided by ensuring power supply not only from the diesel generators but also from AC supply main and motor generators and investers fed by storage batteries. In addition to safety provisions for Emergency shut-down, core-cooling, fuel-matrix, cladding, pressure vessel and double containment, land barriers like exclusion zone, sterilized zone and out lying areas are expected to ensure that radiation dose due to accidents in the environment is within permissible limits to protect public health. Finally demographic and Meteorological analysis are made to evaluate the reactor sites to restrict the exposed population in the unlikely event of a large scale release of radio-activity.



In a 5 year unique study on the risk of chromosome damage among 115 workers, Dr.Junichi Muramoto of the Fukushima Prefectural  Environmental Medicine Research Institute, examined about a lakh of lymphocyte cells in the blood of male workers at Tokyo Electric power company, first and second nuclear reactors in Fukushima.  The Nuclear plant workers between the ages of 20 and 60 years were employed for periods ranging from 4 months to 12 years.   The chromosomes in the lymphocyte cells of a control group of 170 males in the same age group who did not work at Nuclear plants were also analysed.  The results of this latest study released in January 1989 indicate that workers who are exposed to low amounts of radiation from nuclear power plants may double their risk of developing chromosome abnormalities compared to the rest of the population.  Each cell has 46 chromosomes and each chromosome which crries the genes, is usually a cylinder with one pinched area (chromo-mere) in the middle.  In the study it was found that 137 cells had two chromo-meres while 70 had ring-shaped chromosomes.  Although the abnormal chromosomes are not carcinogenic because they die without spreading, their very presence might indicate similar abnormal configurations in the genes which are too small to be seen and the medical experts are concerned that such genes might cause cancer or other health problems!  The experts felt that the result meant that there were probably other abnormalities which would lead to sickness perhaps, of an unusual kind!

(Extract from a Japanese News paper, January 1989)


Although nuclear radiation cannot be detected by man’s physical senses it gets into the food chains and food-webs in nature and gets biologically magnified to contaminate the environment. It cannot be considered to be clean just because it cannot be seen smelled, tasted or touched by man. In fact many studies suggested increased cancer rates among workers at the American nuclear weapon facilities. In a 1984 report on excess cancer deaths, 9 out of 12 studies established the link between cancer and radiation. One study reported very high death rates from Lymphatic cancer and cancer of cervix and uterus among 19000 women who worked at the Oak-ridge nuclear reservation in Tennessee. Another study reported abnormal death rtes from Leukemia and brain cancer among male workers at the Oak-ridge: The Savannah river plant report indicated three-fold rise in leukemia deaths among certain employees. Physicians in the Hanford region documented excessive congenital mal formations among children of Handford workers. In the vicinity of the shipping port reactor, a sharp increase by 18% occurred in cancer deaths in the town of Midland. In the vicinity of Big Rock point reactor on the lake Michigan, infant mortality is some 50% higher, leukemia some 400% higher and the frequency of deformed births some 23% higher than the overall averages for the Michigan state, inspite of the fact that the official statistics show the radiation exposure levels to be well within the permissible limits. These incidents create doubts in the minds of people whether the radiation doses stipulated are really safe levels?

Infact the recent reassessment of the Japanese bomb victims has proved that cancer risk is 15 times greater than the radiation risk factors accepted by the International Committee on Radiation Protection (ICRP) in 1977. After considering the 1987 data ICRP stated that the dose limits are not important as long as the nuclear industry sticks to the ALARA principle, that is keep all radiation doses “as low as reasonable achievable”. A reduction in dose is bound to be opposed by the nuclear industry as it will make nuclear power very expensive. However the national and international organizations that specify the standards cannot remain unconcerned about these crucial problems of life and death. In Britain, the annual radiation dose limits have been revised in 1987 to 1500 milli-rems of exposure to the workers and to 50 milli-rems to the general public. In USA the dose limits were set at 25 milli-rems to the general public by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Energy Research and Development Agency has recommended for a drastic reduction to 5 milli-rems. But, if Indian authorities still exercise their option to follow the higher radiation dose limits for the general public under the cover of ICRP international standards, how can the people believe that Indian nuclear scientists have any concern for safe-guarding the health and welfare of the people and their environment?


Inspite of taking all the precautionary measures, if one were to question whether a nuclear reactor is absolutely safe, the answer must sill be in the negative as the potential hazard is still present, residing in the massive inventory of radio-active isotopes in the core. As absolute safety is thus precluded, some relative measure of safety must be evolved in order to determine whether a reactor is safe enough. The most acceptable indicator of safety is generally in the form of risk to the public as measured, for instance, in the probable number of deaths, injuries, disabilities or property-damage per year. Risk is defined as the consequential damage of an accident per unit time. For instance if there are 40,000 deaths per year due to automobile accidents in South India with a total population of 20 crores, the societal risk is 40,000 deaths per year and the average individual risk for a South Indian is 40,000/20,00,00,000 = 2 x -4/10 deaths per person per year.

If a quantitative measure of risk from an accident is assumed, then two crucial problems arise. Firstly, the actual risk resulting from a postulated accident in a reactor in a given place must be determined by scientific and engineering analysis. Secondly, the level of risk that is acceptable to the public must be determined by scientific and engineering analysis . Secondly, the level of risk that is acceptable to the public must be specified on the basis of public hearings and public policy and not on the basis of the views of vested interests who gain directly or indirectly from the nuclear industry. If the actual risk does not exceed the risk acceptable to the concerned local people, the reactor can be considered to be safe enough. If the actual risk is more than what the people can tolerate, the reactor will be treated hazardous for that region.

In USA a risk of -6/10 deaths per person per year is considered negligible while a risk of -3/10 is unacceptable. Although the number of deaths may be identical, people tolerate deaths due to dam failure or aeroplane crashes but not deaths from several small automobile accidents. Chernobyl accident is not acceptable to the people because it caused panic not only due to a few deaths but also due to interdiction of land for many years and the fear of genetic damage and cancer for decades to come.


For making a probabilistic safety assessment of a nuclear plant for a specified location, an estimate of the socio-economic consequences due to an unlikely severe accident must be made in 2 steps. Firstly, the magnitude and nature of release of toxic radio-isotopes into the environment, known as, the “source term” must be determined. Secondly, the source term must be used in modeling the atmospheric dispersion of radio-activity under different stability conditions and the consequent impact in terms of health effects on people and damage to agriculture and animal husbandry, houses and properties must be assessed. Even for reactor designs with strong containment structures, some kinds of accidents which can by-pass the containment occur. In case of Chernobyl with the sudden failure of the first 3 barriers, namely the fuel-matrix, cladding and cooling system and the absence of a strong containment, the radio-isotopes immediately escaped into the environment, and the emission continued for 10 days. In case of Three Mile Island, the 3 barriers failed on a longer time scale of 3 hours while the containment retained all but a trace of radio-activity that escaped from the core for a short duration.

For calculating the consequences of an accident for a 1100 MW pressurized water reactor at size-well in England, the WEsting house corporation and the British authorities considered the source terms for containment by-pass for the maximum release of radio-isotopes from the core of the reactor. They used the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) “MARC” suite of programmes for the atmospheric dispersion modeling. Under the worst conditions, this model predicts that people have to be evacuated upto 140 to 170km from the reactor. The damage due to an accident has been estimated at 2400 million pounds inclusive of health and housing costs, losses in agriculture and non-agriculture fields, cleaning and decommissioning expenses and supplementary costs of alternate power supply etc. This accident scenario is superimposed over the nuclear plant sites at Koodankulam, Kaiga and Nagarjuna Sagar to predict the socio-economic consequences of nuclear accidents. Similar studies on socio-economic consequences of postulated accidents at nuclear plant sites were made by different experts to determine the suitable location. For instance a British expert, Farmer, chose a source term of 5 million curies of Iodine-131 for a 10% core release and predicted high contamination upto 160km. from the reactor. Beattie and Bell used a release of one million curies of Iodine-131 and predicted high contamination upto 144km. from the reactor. Gomberg, an American expert considered the maximum core release under atmospheric inversion conditions and predicted very high levels of radio-active contamination upto 128km from the reactor. All these studies indicate that accident scenario for the 1100 MW Size-well reactor can be used to predict the socio-economic consequences of a nuclear accident for the different sites at Kaiga, Koodankulam and Nagarjuna sagar to determine their suitability for establishing the proposed nuclear plants.


In order to decide whether a nuclear reactor is safe enough one has a to establish the safety goals first. In the decision making process one should include every concerned person including the reactor designer, the control room operator, the plant manager, the industrial worker, the environmentalists, the responsible ministers, the members of Parliament, state legislators, representatives of local bodies and the general public. Even though the legal responsibility for the plant safety rests with the industry, all the above mentioned persons are part of a chain of accountability and can make decisions that influence the safety of the reactor. Under the circumstances, the nature of safety goals and consequently the kinds of scientific and technical information required to assess whether the safety goals have been met depend on who is making the decision and to protect whose interests?

A decision maker may protect his personal interests, those of his industry or its associate research or contract companies, his local community, region or state or indeed the international interest. If the person hails from the region where the reactors are to be established he may evaluate the societal risks and fight against its location in that region based on the impact on local environment. If he is a contractor, land-lord, business man or scientist who seeks favours from the proponents of the reactors, he will always welcome the project as a promoter of economic prosperity. If he is a scientist or engineer who is directly employed by the industry or its associated organizations he will always argue in favour of the industry, in anticipation of quick promotions consequent to his industry’s growth or employment after retirement as a consultant to one of the research centres that can be floated by the private firms that reap the benefits through the growth of the industry. If he is a politician who intends to get re-elected to the seat of power, he will be influenced by the vested interests who help him even to get through the elections. If he is an environmentalist, he will prepare the environment impact and risk analysis reports and places them before the public to educate them on the advantages and disadvantages of the project in the long-run. If he is a social worker, he will educate the people to enable them to take a proper stand in the decision-making process. Thus different persons take different stands based on their own interests.

In the aftermath of Chernobyl Prof.Alwin Weinberg reiterated the stand of Lilienthal that all the existing reactors are inherently unsafe. More than 200 reactors are reported to have been cancelled or deferred in USA and Europe. Even the communist and socialist parties in most European states resolved to oppose nuclear power. France is reported to have suffered losses upto $300 million during 1988 and accumulated debts of $38,000 on account of their nuclear energy policy. Although international exports like Edward Teller and Shakarov suggested that nuclear reactors should be located under-ground for public safety, the Indian experts are not caring for such advice. As the peoples’ right to know is curbed under the Atomic Energy Act,1962 they can not participate in the debates on the siting and safety of nuclear plants. In order to enable the people to get some basic knowledge about some aspects of environmental and risk analysis for the reactor sites proposed at Koodamkulam, Kaiga and Nagarjuna Sagar, an attempt is made to present the relevant information in a brief and precise manner.

Inefficiency Leads to Closure of Reactor

The Peach Bottom reactor-2 under the Philadelphia Electric co; of USA was ordered to be shut down by the NRC on 31-3-1987on the allegation that the plant operators were sleeping during one of the shifts.  An enquiry conducted by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations on the working of the plant revealed:-

i)         The control room was not manned many times as required by the technical specifications.

ii)       On one occasion there was only one person in the control room when the units were working

iii)      On another occasion all the persons in the control room were sleeping.

iv)     Licensed operators were often playing video games in the computer and the control rooms

v)       Operators were engaging themselves in paper ball and rubber band fights in the control room.

vi)     While a supervisor from General Electric Co; was not permitted into the control   area, an inspector was kicked out of the control room by operators.

vii)     Reading of Non-technical literature was wide-spread.

viii)  Operators developed hostile attitude towards management.

ix)     Operators treated plant procedures as mere guide-lines.

The management at all levels down-played, rejected or ignored the problems.  Problems were not reported to the top bosses and even those reported were not dealt with effectively.  Since the problems at the Peach Bottom plant are the direct result of the low standard and lack of accountability among the management personnel with corporate culture at the root of all the difficulties, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered for its closure.  Oyster creek plant was subjected to closure due to violations by operators!


Decide to Act!

“It’s taken billions of years for us to evolve and we’re capable of such great love and fantastic relationships and great creativity and fantastic art.  We are a magnificient  species.  Yet we’re so smart, we’ve learned how to wipe out the whole of life on earth.  And we seem to be heading in that direction, like lemmings.

We are the curators of life on earth.  We hold it in the palm of our hand.  We’re at the crossroads of time, right now.  If nuclear power plants proliferate in this country (USA) and throughout the world, so will nuclear weapons, we won’t survive.  Neither will the animals and plants, because what radiation does to us, it does to them: it gives them cancers and produces deformities in them.

So you see, it is imperative that we rise up, each one of us, and take the load on our own shoulders – and not just with money (which is important) because that won’t do.  That’s not enough.  We all have to do what I did in Australia and say, “I have to take this responsibility”  We’ve got to rise up for our children and save the human race.

So you’ve got to teach people the facts.  I find that once people understand what is happening to their world, they decide to act.  It’s no use immunizing your kids, giving them a good education, loving them when they probably haven’t got a future.  It’s our total responsibility, as parents and-grandparents, to allow our children and our grand-children and our descendants to have the potential of a fruitful and full life.

                                                                                                 — Helen Caldicott




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