Nuclear Power: The Politics of Power and Control

Major General Sudhir Vombatkere

S G VombatkereMajor General S.G. Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General, Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi. He is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA, in international studies, and is a member of NAPM and PUCL. He writes on strategic and development-related issues.

Contact details:

Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd) // 475, 7th Main Road // Vijayanagar 1st Stage // Mysore – 570017

Tel:0821-2515187; E-mail: <>

Control of the nuclear fission process is the use of science and technology for political power. Electric power generated from controlled fission can be for social benefit and is thus a source of political power. Controlling the delivery of explosive power from nuclear fission is an even greater source of political power. Fortunately its use has so far been limited to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but serious threats remain. Control of nuclear fission was first developed in order to manufacture nuclear weapons. It was later adapted to naval propulsion and electric power generation.

The nuclear establishments (government-corporate nexus) in all countries have built a draconian legislative wall of secrecy around all matters nuclear. Secrecy is because of the intimate connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear power, since nuclear reactors provide the fissile material to manufacture bombs. In India, the draconian Atomic Energy Act, 1962, precludes interference with nuclear weapons, which are strategic tools that provide immense regional and international political power.

Scientists, technologists and engineers (STEs) directly or indirectly (like funded research in academic institutions) employed in the nuclear industry, are being used by the political establishment with or without their knowledge. The result is that STEs operating within the shelter of the Atomic Energy Act, selectively and unaccountably release or withhold information and knowledge fed to the public.

The central dogma of the nuclear establishment is that nuclear power is safe, clean and cheap, and is therefore the right choice for the future. In the 1950s, nuclear scientists in their euphoria and ignorance, averred that electric power from nuclear fission would be “too cheap to meter”. Today, from behind political, legislative and physical high walls and electrified fences, they aver that nuclear power is cheaper than thermal power (but withhold full details of costs), that it is clean because no unsafe (according to themselves) radiation has been reported (by themselves), and that it is safe because they have calculated (and they themselves have accepted) the low probability of serious nuclear accident. These self-certifying averments are being cogently questioned and systematically demolished by the discerning public, especially following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

nuclear_illusThe design of nuclear power reactors since the mid-20th Century has improved in some ways, but with significantly increased first-cost. However, accident risk and liability, routine radioactive releases and safe waste-storage, and the enormous capital, operating, waste-storage and decommissioning costs, remain matters for stone-walling, untruths and half-truths. In this atmosphere of secrecy and unaccountability, scientific and technical obfuscation is rampant. Since the nuclear establishment is not subject to the normal checks and balances of democratic governance and has a huge budget, massive financial and material corruption cannot be ruled out. All these militate against public health and safety, and other social costs.

Scientific dissent or social concerns regarding safety, health, cost and population displacement are either ignored or rubbished, or action is taken against people who ask awkward questions. Protestors, even peaceful protestors, are dealt with by politically-authorized techno-bureaucratic power of police lathi-gun and false cases. Protestors are charged with sedition and “waging war against the state”. This is how the nuclear establishment protects its turf. The irony is that these are the ways of democratically elected governments operating under the Constitution of India. There is a disconnect between the socio-political and the economic-political functions of central and state executives, myopic legislators are engaged in petty politicking and one-upmanship, and when not complicit, the judiciary is asleep in its ivory tower. Thus the people are failed by the pillars of their own Constitution.

The nuclear establishment is closely associated with aerospace research, missile technology and remote sensing, all within the enabling envelope of computer science and information technology. This sci-tech confluence is aimed at strategic power that flows out of possessing nuclear weapons and credible capability for their delivery on targets.

Nuclear power is thus within the core area of the politics of power and control. Also within the core area are food, water and IT – food, by introduction of genetic modification in the name of bio-technology to control seed and crops; water, by mega dam-canal projects to control water; and IT, by enabling biometric identification for population surveillance and control, and exercising power over providing government benefits and services. These undemocratic controls are being resisted just as nuclear power is being resisted by people on-the-ground supported by scientists and intellectuals, so that democratic political power may flow to ordinary citizens rather than to corporate persons and the wealthy, and We the People may enjoy real democracy with peace and social justice.

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