THE HINDU’s Bias on Koodankulam: An Open Letter

Shankar sharma

Shankar Sharma is a Power Policy Analyst.

His latest publication – a monograph on Integrated Power Policy, is strongly recommended:

He can be contacted at
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The Editor
The Hindu, Chennai

Rahul Siddharthan

Dear Sir,

This has reference to a lead article with the title ” The real questions from Kudankulam” by Rahul Siddharthan on 14th Sept . I would like to say that a holistic perspective of all-round welfare of our communities would throw up a lot of questions on the arguments made in the article.

Whereas it is clear that nuclear power technology, as any other complex technology, cannot be associated with zero probability of catastrophic failure, the society has to make a transparent assessment of its costs and benefits to our densely populated communities. Can we say that the true costs to the communities of three major failures in the history at TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima were negligible or much less than the true benefits of those nuclear power plants?

In an article “Chernobyl 25 years later: Many lessons learned” Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of USSR has this to say : Today we know that about 77,000 square miles of territory in Europe and the former Soviet Union has been contaminated with radioactive fallout, leaving long-term challenges for flora, fauna, water, the environment, and human health. Tens of billions of dollars have already been spent in trying to contain and remediate the disaster, with a new containment shell now being constructed over the 1986 sarcophagus and what’s left of the reactor. The material damage inflicted by Chernobyl, although enormous, pales in significance when compared to the ongoing human costs. The true scope of the tragedy still remains beyond comprehension and is a shocking reminder of the reality of the nuclear threat. It is also a striking symbol of modern technological risk. The closed nature and secrecy of the nuclear power industry, which had already experienced some 150 significant radiation leaks at nuclear power stations throughout the world before the Chernobyl fire, greatly contributed to the accident and response difficulties. As the global population continues to expand, and the demand for energy production grows, we must invest in alternative and more sustainable sources of energy—wind, solar, geothermal, hydro—and widespread conservation and energy efficiency initiatives as safer, more efficient, and more affordable avenues for meeting both energy demands and conserving our fragile planet.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, nearly a year after he oversaw his government’s widely criticized handling of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal has said: I would like to tell the world that we should aim for a society that can function without nuclear energy.

As per Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility “Nuclear power is neither clean, nor sustainable, nor an alternative to fossil fuels— in fact, does it add substantially to global warming.”

Can we say that these and other societal leaders such as Justice V R Krishna Iyer, Dr. A Gopalakrishan (formerly of AERB), Dr, Balaram (Director of IISc), who have all expressed grave concerns on nuclear power, are ‘educated purveyors of motivated misinformation’ as quoted in the article?

The seriousness of the opposition to the country’s nuclear plans can be seen as exemplified by a writ petition filed in India’s Supreme Court on Oct. 14, 2011 by some of India’s eminent citizens. The petition calls on the court to order a hold on nuclear construction until safety reviews and cost-benefit analyses are carried out for all proposed or existing facilities. The petitioners include E.A.S. Sarma, former power secretary; T.S.R. Subramanian, former cabinet secretary; N. Gopalaswami, former chief election commissioner; K.R. Venugopal, former secretary in the prime minister’s office, P.M. Bhargava, former member of the National Knowledge Commission and founder of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology; and Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, former chief of Naval Staff. Can we say that these societal leaders are not adequately informed?
Subsequent to Fukushima disaster Japans’ Diet constituted a 10-member Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission headed by Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, which has said in its report: “For all the extensive detail it provides, what this report cannot fully convey – especially to a global audience – is the mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster. What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan.”

Why have Germany and Japan, which had plans to increase the nuclear power production capacity to about 40% of the total in next few decades, have consciously taken a decision to move away from nuclear power? Have Australia and New Zealand, which have shunned nuclear power from the beginning have poor quality of power supply? How many nuclear reactors have been commissioned in other countries after Chernobyl disaster.

Few days ago a Japanese Cabinet panel has called for phasing out of nuclear power over the next three decades as part of an overhaul of the country’s energy policy following the Fukushima meltdowns.

If nuclear power is safe and economical, why are there no commercial insurance of those plants. Why are the suppliers of nuclear reactors (US, Russia, France) insisting on exemption from liability from damages of nuclear accident?

If such resource rich, knowledgeable and quality/safety conscious countries could not avert nuclear emergencies, can our densely populated and ill-prepared society ever hope to avert the possible human catastrophe from a nuclear mishap? Can our densely populated country afford even a minor accident, which may displace millions of people? Are such societal costs acceptable? Is nuclear power inevitable in our context?

In this background of unacceptable level of risk associated with nuclear power (where “Risk” = “probability of a nuclear accident” X “the consequences of such a failure”) as experienced at Chernobyl and Fukushima, there is an urgent need to consider rationally how essential is nuclear power for our communities.

Even after heavy investment since independence the nuclear power capacity in the country is only about 2.3% of the total installed power capacity as at the end of July 2012. If nuclear power were to become a substantial portion of the total installed power capacity, a large number of nuclear reactors have to be added. As per Department of Atomic Energy document of 2008 “A Strategy for the Growth of Electricity in India” nuclear power capacity is projected to increase to 275,000 MW by 2050. Keeping in view what has been added during the last 5 decades, this projection looks highly unrealistic; to say the least. Assuming an average size of 500 MW reactor such a total capacity would require about 550 reactors. Keeping in view the need for huge quantity of water for each reactor, it is reasonable to assume that most of the new reactors have to come up on the coast. Assuming that 2 or 4 reactors are placed in a straight line perpendicular to the coast: the distance between two nuclear power plants can only between 22 to 44 kM along the 6,000 kM of our coast line. Assuming a circular safe zone with a radius of 2 km around each reactor a total land area of approximately 6,900 Sq. kM would be needed. Is this scenario acceptable to our resource constrained communities ?

In this context it is unlikely that the nuclear power will be able to contribute substantially to the country’s power sector. Keeping in proper perspective the tiny or negligible contribution of nuclear power to the overall energy scenario, should our society take the avoidable risk of a nuclear accident? If the country were to go for a nuclear capacity of 275,000 MW the probability of a nuclear accident will increase exponentially.

The article says ‘India, and Tamil Nadu in particular, faces a severe shortfall of energy.’ If the author can only spend some time to understand the reality of the power scenario in the country, he will understand that there is huge inefficiency, incompetency and irresponsibility at all levels of the power sector. Without addressing these issues, which have been known for decades, it will be akin to trying to fill a leaking bucket. There are many benign, much cheaper and sustainable alternatives to meet the legitimate demand for electricity in the country than through the risky nuclear power.

But such an appreciation of the ground realities in power sector would require a holistic approach to the true welfare of our communities.






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