The nuclear legacy trap: risk and costs of nuclear power

Major-General Vinod Saighal | The Statesman

The Heaven’s vengeance is slow but sure’. – Ancient philosopher Laozi

‘We are but transient passengers on this planet Earth. It does not belong to us. We are not free to doom generations yet unborn. We are not at liberty to erase humanity’s past or dim its future. Social systems do not endure for eternity. Only life can lay claim to uninterrupted continuity. This continuity is sacred.”

Debris in Fukushima after the accident in 2011

To date, sufficient thought does not seem to have been given to the legacy factor of nuclear reactors being built. As Sir James Goldsmith lay dying from the effects of pancreatic cancer at a farmhouse in Southern Spain around 1997, he sent the author his book The Trap. In it he cautions the current generation of the legacy that they would be bequeathing coming generations when the nuclear reactors being built are to be entombed. He reckoned the cost factor would be a multiple of the cost to build the reactors. Today there are 30 countries worldwide that are operating over 450 nuclear reactors for electricity generation and 60 new nuclear plants are under construction in 15 countries. Nuclear power plants provided 11 per cent of the world’s electricity production in 2014.

Seeing that an average-sized nuclear plant costs around 5-6 billion dollars to build, the total cost of decommissioning and entombment in the next 50 to 100 years could turn out to be several trillion dollars. This is a very conservative estimate seeing that Fukushima is likely to ultimately cost the Japanese government around 180 billion dollars and counting before they make it safe. There is still a big IF. Japan’s government has admitted that the process of removing the irradiated core from the three crippled reactors will take at least forty years; these figures are beyond comprehension.

The radiation effects of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant triple meltdowns are felt worldwide, whether lodged in sea life or in humans, it cumulates over time. The impact is now slowly grinding away only to show its true colours at some unpredictable date in the future. That’s how radiation works, slow but assuredly destructive, which serves to identify its risks, meaning one nuke meltdown has the impact over decades, of a 1,000 regular industrial accidents, maybe more. Not many in the world seem to be worried about the legacy costs for the coming generations. Besides the radiation that would have engulfed the world due to several mishaps till then they are being saddled with crippling costs that could only further cripple them mentally and physically.

Chernobyl provides a perfect case study of radiation-caused deaths of workers with a direct link, “liquidators,” exposed to the Chernobyl radiation (1986), keeping in mind that radiation takes several years to show up as cancer and other severe ailments: By 2001, of 800,000 healthy Russian and Ukrainian liquidators (with an average age of 33 years) sent to decontaminate, isolate and stabilise the reactor, 10 per cent had died and 30 per cent were disabled. By 2009, 120,000 liquidators had died, and an epidemic of chronic illness and genetic and perigenetic damage in nuclear workers’ descendants appeared (this is predicted to increase over subsequent generations). The full extent of the damage will not be understood until the fifth generation of descendants. By the mid-2000s, 985,000 additional deaths between 1986 and 2004 across Europe were estimated as a direct result of radiation exposure from Chernobyl.

Chernobyl likely foreshadows a dismal future for those exposed to Fukushima radiation whether residents, workers, or untold recipients throughout the extent of flowing seas, which is universal. For an example of how radiation devastates human bodies generation by generation, consider this. There are 2,397,863 people registered with Ukraine’s health ministry to receive ongoing Chernobyl-related health care. Of these, 453,391 are children — none born at the time of the accident. Their parents were children in 1986. These children have a range of illnesses: respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, eye diseases, blood diseases, cancer, congenital malformations, genetic abnormalities and trauma.

There is more to come. To the above must be added the costs of decommissioning 15,000 nuclear weapons or whatever remains after Armageddon, which seems the most likely option the way those who hold the destiny of the world in their hands are leading the world. There is an urgent need to highlight the consequences of the Nuclear Trap and the legacy quest for successor generations. As so many new nuclear reactors have been built since and many more under construction it is strongly recommended that the book is studied by all governments, nuclear advisers and experts. It will be a wake-up call people for all those going in for new reactors and unknowingly – or uncaringly – destroying the future for coming generations. In 1985, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War received the Nobel Peace Prize. IPPNW had been founded in 1980 by six physicians, three from the Soviet Union and three from the United States. Today, the organisation has wide membership among the world’s physicians. Professor Bernard Lowen of the Harvard School of Public Health, one of the founders of IPPNW, said in a recent speech:

“…No public health hazard ever faced by humankind equals the threat of nukes to make this planet uninhabitable… Modern medicine has nothing to offer, not even a token benefit, in the event of nuclear war…”

The historic 122 nation treaty on the abolition of nuclear weapons was signed last July at the UN.

Not long before he died Stephen Hawking world-renowned author of “A Brief History of Time” in an interview opined that unless humanity changed course the end could come as soon as twenty years. The cause of the final cataclysm would either be climate change and global warming or nuclear exchange, more likely the latter.


The writer, a retired Major-General of the Indian Army, is the author of Third Millennium Equipoise.

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