Nuclear Unaccountability: Shankar Sharma

The civil society has been throwing up a number of credible questions like the ones posed in the recent article by Suvrat Raju and M V Ramana. The nuclear establishment has been coming up with response to them; even though they may not be satisfactory. An ordinary person may tend to agree with the response given by the establishment.The same thing has happened for the 50 odd questions officially asked of the establishment at Kudankulam. So this debate continues while the establishment keeps building the nukes. Can there be a different approach wherein the establishment gets into a position where satisfactory answers, even for an ordinary person, are not forthcoming? Can the establishment provide satisfactory answer for the following issues?

As they say “War is too important to be left to the Generals”, the decision on Nuclear Power is too critical from the perspective of the overall welfare of our communities to be decided by a handful of people in the nuclear establishment. The necessity for the active participation of all the stake holders within our society in informed decision making has become inviolable.

End this secrecy
(DNA Editorial)India’s nuclear establishment has a problem. It is a problem of credibility. And it is a problem of its own making. No one questions the brilliance or dedication of the scientists running India’s nuclear programme. No one can forget how they manfully kept both the peaceful and the military components of the programme going through several decades of international nuclear isolation.

Yet, now, when the sanctions have been lifted, India has been accepted as a nuclear power, and the government has begun to move full steam ahead to generate power from the atom to meet growing energy needs, the Department of Atomic Energy and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India are running into a rising wall of public opposition.

To be sure, the near-disaster at Fukushima, Japan, earlier this year has had a major role to play in turning people against nuclear energy. But the biggest share of the blame must lie at the doorstep of the DAE and the NPCIL. The scientists running these organisations may be the best in the business, but they are novices when it comes to the art of communication. And that is putting it mildly.

For too long has the country’s nuclear establishment functioned behind a curtain of secrecy. In the bad old days, when the world looked upon India with suspicion, the curtain had its uses. Today, when fundamental questions are being raised about the usefulness and safety of nuclear energy, to continue to hide behind the curtain smacks of stupidity and lack of self-confidence. What’s worse, this behaviour is being seen as a sign of arrogance, not the best trait when you are trying to win friends and influence people.

Questions are bound to be raised about any public programme; a sensible government tries to answer those questions in such a way that at least the majority is persuaded. Ducking questions, as DAE chairman Srikumar Banerjee and his predecessor Anil Kakodkar did at Tuesday’s face-off over Jaitapur in Mumbai, can only queer the pitch further.

Hopefully, the scientists will see the error of their ways quickly. After all, they are among India’s brightest. And the country needs all the energy it can generate.

Since the sole objective (or is it the main objective) of building a nuclear reactor in India is to generate electricity many issues of power sectors have to be addressed beyond reasonable doubt.

1. Despite huge investment in the nuclear industry since 1950s why the nuclear power capacity has not lived upto the tall claims of its Captains? Is there a case where the establishment has hyped the expectation only to get the huge funding? What is the guarantee that the same practice will not continue at humongous cost to our society?

2. In the background of the fact that USA, USSR and Japan, which are all known to be the leaders in technological issues, and which are also generally associated with high quality and safety issues, have failed to avert nuclear accidents, how can India hope to have safe/accident free operation of all the existing/proposed reactors?

3. Can we say the decision by Germany and Japan to move away from the reliance on nuclear power is ill-conceived? Have, Australia and New Zealand which have shunned nuclear power from the beginning, suffered from lack of quality electricity supply?

4. With the projected cost at Jaitapur nuclear power park (Maharastra) of about Rs 20 crore per MW, can nuclear power compare favorably with coal power (about Rs. 7 Crore/MW), OR hydro power (about Rs. 8 crores/MW) OR solar power (about Rs. 20 /MW and which is coming down steeply)? If such capital costs are more in nuclear power, why should we pursue it despite so many potential risks?

5. Are there better options to bridge the gap between demand and supply of electricity in a densely populated country such as India? Shall we not consider all the much benign options before we consider the nuclear power option, which has not gained popular acceptance even after 50 years of massive support to nuclear power in India? How muchcan we get out of the existing power infrastructure through efficiency improvement measures alone? Is this benefit not more than the total nuclear power capacity planned by 2031-32?

6. Can we afford to accept the high risks (where ‘risk’ = ‘probability of nuclear accident occurring’ X ‘consequences of such an accident’) associated with nuclear power technology? How many of us are ready to live near a nuclear power plant/ nuclear facility knowing well the credible threat of radiation leakage?

7. In the background of three major nuclear accidents, and many near misses, can we afford to ignore the “precautionary principle” as
enunciated by the international convention on bio-diversity?

8. Can we afford to ignore the caution by many reports/articles which have appeared in the media, and by leading personalities such as Michail Gorbachev, UN Secretary General, Physician for Social Responsibility, Dr. A Gopala Krishnan, Dr. Balram etc. ?

9. Whether the costs, which we need to pass on to the future generations (in safeguarding the nuclear waste/spent fuel for thousands of years), justifiable since there will be no benefits to those generations? How many times more electricity will the nuclear fuel cycle consume as compared to the electricity it can generate in its economic life cycle of about 40 years?

10. What are all the direct and indirect costs to the society of nuclear power as compared to the benefits in a poor country such as India? Are such benefits unquestionably higher than the costs? Through an objective study of Costs & Benefits Analysis, as a decision making tool, can we establish beyond reasonable doubts that every nuclear power plant in the country has more benefits than costs to the society?

11. Can the nuclear establishment in the country take the public at large for complete confidence by sharing all the relevant information?

12. Why all the stake holders are not party to the carefully considered decisions on setting up nuclear power plants?

13. Can we convincingly say that none of the provisions of our Constitution and various Acts of our Parliament will be violated by persisting with the nuclear power policy?

14. How have we taken the bitter experiences of nuclear establishment around the world into objective account while planning our own nuclear power policy?

15. Since the probability of a nuclear accident, in the entire chain of nuclear fuel cycle, is not zero why the associated insurance cover is not admissible to individuals/communities/state? Why are the nuclear suppliers insisting on passing on the liability to the operators instead of suppliers? Is the government diligent in passing the cost of a nuclear accident to its people, whereas the financial benefits of a nuclear equipment supply contract goes to a foreign supplier?

Shankar Sharma
Power Policy Analyst
Mulubagilu, Doorvasapuram Post, Thirthahally
Shimoga District, Karnataka – 577432
Phone: 08181 203 703 / 296 402 & 94482 72503

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