Technology is never a guarantee to safety: the case of India’s navy submarines and lesson for nuclear expansion

Anuj Wankhede

Anuj is a Masters in Management Studies, an avid environmentalist who believes that bigger the problem, bigger the opportunity.

He can be reached at benchmark.anuj (at)

Technology is never a guarantee to safety – Part 3

Earlier, I wrote a two part series (here and here) on how Technology is never a guarantee to safety. Today, I write the third part as I am even more pained by the recent happenings with the Indian Navy submarines. I spoke of the Russian built MIG 21 disasters and how they have been come to be called “flying coffins” and “widow makers” due to their frequent crashes (Jaguars and Sukhoi too have been failing repeatedly).

The trigger for writing this part is because the recent submarine tragedies in India, the resignation of Navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi which represent the rot that has crept into all sectors under government control.

INS-sindhurakshak-explosion-295We all expect that India has the “best technology” for the Indian defense forces. Much money has been spent for the modernization of the Air force and Navy (besides for the army). But, what have been the returns for the country? And how can we trust these bungling politicians and bureaucrats to take care of the Indian nuclear program which will put millions of people at risk?

How can we place a dangerous nuclear technology into the hands of incompetent people?

Sample this: The Navy’s case for six new stealth submarines called ‘Project-75India’, valued upwards of Rs 50,000 crore, got the “acceptance of necessity” way back in November 2007. Since then, defence minister A K Antony has set up at least three committees to examine issues related to the project, showing no sense of urgency, with Admiral Joshi time and again being forced to sound an alarm over the huge delay in the project. (ToI Feb 28, 2014)

INS-2There is no sense of urgency towards maintenance or servicing in any Government program even if it is critical for the nation. Hence, we have choppers and aircrafts crashing and submarines like INS Sindhurakshak sank, INS Sindhuratna has fires on board, and one wonders whether we are in safe hands with our civil / military installations.

It is time to do a rethink on the abilities of the Government of India to protect its own assets despite spending tens of thousands of crore rupees towards repairs, retrofits and other jargon used by these bureaucrats – possibly to order spares and make money out of placing these orders with foreign companies.

What is also notable is that both the submarines which had these unknown / unforeseen and as yet unexplained “accidents” were Russian made/fabricated and repaired/maintained as are the Russian made MIG 21’s.

Today, the government of India is proudly proclaiming that the nuclear power plants at Koodankulam are being built by the Russians – a total of 4 plants will be set up by the Russians. Are we in safe hands of such a country whose technology cannot even guarantee the safety of recently delivered submarines to India?

The Russian track record on safety is extremely patchy – and this is being charitable to them.

Who does not remember Chernobyl in Russia which was the worlds’ worst nuclear accident killing and maiming thousnds of people for decades?

But not many would know about another and equally (if not worse) fatal incident in Mayak which occurred in 1957 but was kept hidden behind the iron curtain for almost 30 long years. The Mayak incident is classified on Level 6 of the INES scale (International Nuclear Event Scale) as it spewed out almost 100 tonnes out radioactive materials ostensibly due to the poor maintenance of the plant. Today, large parts around the Mayak complex are still irradiated and people are suffering from radiation damages.

Kursk_wreckTo take another example of the Russian negligence, one has to look at the sinking of their own submarine Kursk (K141) in the year 2000 killing all 118 sailors aboard this nuclear powered submarine. Even after the Americans and the British offered help in rescuing the submarine, Russia refused any assistance and allowed the crew to die undersea even as Russian president Valdimir Putin stayed on a sea side resort on vacation for five days while the tragedy was unfolding!!

That in short, is a snapshot of the Russian view towards safety, maintenance and care towards people.

The over reliance on the Russians does not bode well for India as this dependence on a corrupt industry in that country cuts corners at every stage to earn more profits. Zio Polodoask which supplied critical parts for the Kudankulam nuclear plant 1 is in deep trouble for supplying shoddy and sub standard components.

India already has its whole fleet of Sindhughosh Class submarines (10) and the Akula Class nuclear powered submarines supplied and spares and maintenance from Russia. How can Indians (particularly those who will be directly affected by these nuclear deals) feel safe with a country whose only sole interest is in supplying shoddy equipment and earn quid pro quos for its own sub standard industry?

Indians need to introspect and question the reality of having Russia as a partner for its defense and nuclear deals because the Russian technology is not only out dated, but is ill maintained, corrupt and of suspect quality. The sooner India moves away from the dubious deals Russia is attempting to sign for Kudankulam plants 3 and 4 is better for India. It is little wonder that the Russian government is trying with all its might to avoid the Indian nuclear liability laws because they know very well that their technology is suspect.

Even otherwise, technology is NEVER a guarantee for safety – Especially, suspect technology from a suspect country.

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