Not so clear Nuclear India

Presently, only 3% of India’s energy needs are met from nuclear sources. India plans to produce 20,000 MWe from the nuclear sector by 2020, increasing from the very low level of 3,700 MWe at present. In a Government released document it is stated that ‘Increased share of nuclear power in the Indian energy mix will diminish the reliance on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions from India.’ The same document also promotes nuclear energy as a safe and affordable source of energy. Indian polity and planners are challenged with a high demand of energy usual for a developing nation and the current global awareness of Climate Change dictates all future forms of energy to be ‘clean’ so this high demand is further challenged to be met up with non-polluting fuel having zero carbon footprints. In this juncture, the union democracy of India does not seem to share the enthusiasm expressed in the document. The nuclear energy roadmap in India is mired with apprehensions and misgivings. The recent development of Fukushima reactors fuels such confusion and lack of trust on nuclear safety as well.

For example, the Indian state of West Bengal has turned down any possibility of a nuclear power plant in Haripur in East Midnapur District, though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has signed an agreement with Russia for collaboration on setting up 5 nuclear power plants in the country. The ruling political party of West Bengal is an ally of Manmohan’s coalition Government at center and it yields sufficient political power over the central government of India – so the future of Haripur is under a big question.

Another nuclear power project, arguably world’s largest of its kind in Jaitapur of Maharashtra state comes under heated debate about nuclear safety. Following a high-level meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a government statement said that the ‘Jaitapur project would be implemented in a phased manner with two 1,650 Mw reactors to begin with.’ The statement said that a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of these reactors, to be imported from France, will be done when they become operational by 2019. In March 2011, a mammoth petition signed by eminent citizens was sent to the prime minister, calling for an independent safety review of nuclear installations in India and, pending that, a moratorium on further nuclear activities. Signatories to the petition included former Indian navy chief Lakshminarayan Ramdas, former vice- chancellor of Delhi University, Deepak Nayyar, historians Romila Thapar, Mushirul Hasan and Ramachandra Guha, economists Amit Bhaduri and Jean Dreze as well as writers Arundhati Roy and Nayantara Sehgal. Read more in IPS report here.

The general atmosphere of mistrust of the civil society regarding nuclear issues in India is not unjustified. The Fukushima spent-fuel fire and other problems shine a spotlight on the spent-fuel challenges at the sister plant in Tarapur, where the discharged fuel has been accumulating for over four decades because the US has refused to either take it or allow India to reprocess it. At the so-called Spent Fuel Storage Facility, the Tarapur spent-fuel bundles are kept under water in specially engineered bays.

This mounting, highly radioactive spent fuel poses major space problems and safety and environmental hazards that are greater than at any other plant in the world. In fact, the spent-fuel rods — unlike the reactor — have no containment structure. Yet New Delhi has shied away from exerting pressure on Washington to resolve an issue that threatens environmental and public safety in India’s commercial heartland. Read report here.

Pending Nuclear Liability Bill, Indian approach to civilian nuclear matters remained traditionally opaque. The country still does not have an independent civilian nuclear regulatory authority – the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) is just subservient to Department of Atomic Energy and is alleged to cover up nuclear safety lapses in the pretext of official secrecy act. Ex-Chairman of AERB talks candidly about the Indian policy shortcomings in the Newsclick interview here.

It looks like neither Indian Political framework nor bureaucracy is ready to handle nuclear power dilemma convincingly. This is apparent from a lack of openness is sharing information with public regarding nuclear issues. There is no clear picture before people about India’s power demand projection and the share of different sectors of clean power options. Secondly, the whole nuclear safety discussion is centered on accidents or natural disasters where as the issue of disposal of nuclear wastes is not discussed with ample clarity. From this angle, no nuclear plant is 100% safe, so it remains an informed choice of people how badly they need such power.

An average thermo-nuclear plant generates tonnes of radio-active wastes annually. Plutonium, the most common of these wastes has a half life period of 500,000 years. Considering that few grams of it accidentally released into the atmosphere can effectively kill a whole city, the nuclear power plants worldwide generate enough toxic waste to kill the whole world several times over. Dr. Fritzof Kapra asks in his book The Turning Point, ‘What moral right do we have to leave such a deadly legacy to thousands and thousands of generations?’ If we are unable to handle the morality question, at least it is imperative for us to know in sufficient detail from an independent authority about the so called ‘impeccable’ safety measures against an accidental leakage. Also, the nuclear road map for India needs to be accessible to common people.



Author: Pabitra

Pabitra is an Honors graduate in Civil Engineering from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He has specialized in the field of River Hydraulics working for more than two decades training rivers, protecting banks and beaches and fighting erosion of the river banks/beds. He has worked with Bio-Engineering models involving mangroves using them as tools for cost effective and natural means of anti-erosion technology.His work is mostly concerning the extremely morpho-dynamic Hugly estuary with Bay of Bengal In course of his work, he got exposed to indigenous people of the Sunderban wetlands, who are fighting a losing battle against aggressive Industrialization. Pabitra loves to read and write and he is full of crazy ideas. He is a Youth Leader and Adviser to Climate Himalaya. He is also a contributor member of THINK ABOUT IT platform of European Journalism Center and a winner of the recently concluded competitive blogging on Water. Pabitra believes that he has a tryst with the strange river-country south of Bengal.





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