Why are the USA, France, Russia… pushing for the expansion of nuclear energy in India?

Laurent Fournier

Laurent Fournier, born in Paris, architect by profession, lives in
Kolkata with his wife and their children.

Relate these 2 quotes:

1. “A nuclear reactor once started needs to be looked after to keep its safety functions going, whether it generates electricity or not. This management commitment has to last all the way up to the end of decommissioning process and also until all spent fuel is reprocessed and waste properly disposed off.”

— Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, at the Indo-French Nuclear Industry Business Meet in Mumbai on 15th October 2007 (http://www.dae.gov.in/press/chmnindofr.htm)

2. “Some people thought that the formation of the NDA* in 2005 signalled the death-knell for nuclear. But for me it wasn’t about the demise of one industry, so much as the birth of a new one.”

— Terry Gilbert, Business Development Director at Tier 1 contractor Amec Nuclear

Of the total amount spent annually on decommissioning (£2.8 billion), £80 million covers the running costs of the National Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and its internal Radioactive Waste Management Directorate. The rest is spent in the decommissioning supply chain. With 17 nuclear sites in the UK currently being decommissioned, and with more sites due to enter decommissioning in the years ahead, the market potential is huge.

* National Decommissioning Authority, UK

The elephant in the room in Dr. Anil Kakodkar’s otherwise impeccable statement, is that today, after 5 decades of nuclear industry, nobody knows exactly what to “dispose off properly” nuclear waste actually means. Despite some attempts it has never been done conclusively by any country so far, and therefore the cost remains obviously unknown. What is almost certain, on the other hand, is that money will be available, by any mean. Because when it comes to an immediate and visible threat, humans generally find the money.

Therefore, Dr. Anil Kakodkar’s statement explains Mr. Terry Gilbert’s exuberance.

According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 115 nuclear reactors presently in the process of decommissioning. Hardly a dozen of them, those which were either very small or ran for a very short time, have been completely dismantled, with their nuclear waste shifted to other, active nuclear sites where they can be stored more safely and monitored more cheaply. All the other nuclear sites are in various stages of shutdown, requiring various levels of surveillance, with an ultimate cost of decontamination remaining unknown to date.

Therefore the nuclear dismantling activity, having largely overtaken the nuclear building activity, is now threatening to overtake, within a decade or less, even the nuclear operating activity.

That is of course a good news for reducing the nuclear threat, and it is also a good news for the nuclear companies, which will get assured job for an unlimited period of time. For these companies, nuclear is a perfect business model. First, you build a nuclear plant at government’s cost and at government’s risk. Second, you decommission it, also at government’s cost and at conditions unilaterally dictated by you, and for an almost unlimited period of time, because it is at the same time an open problem technically, and a compulsory problem for survival. It’s a permanent revenue model, the dream of many companies.

However this business model is fine as long as it is widespread. You don’t want to be the only country with a burden of several dozens of nuclear sites to be looked after, because ultimately the money for it has to come from somewhere. The heavily nuclearised countries like the USA, France, Russia… would prefer others to join the club.

The temptation at this juncture is to follow the financial pyramid scheme. You know, when one promises good return to lenders, by using new lenders for reimbursing previous lenders. It works well as long as the number of new lenders keeps growing and remains higher than the number of existing lenders. And it always ends in a disaster.

Fukushima is the continuing disaster that triggered the collapse of Japan’s nuclear narrative. The Germans (and many less-nuclearised countries) were rational enough for stopping producing nuclear waste before a Fukushima happens to them. But the American, French and Russian governments are still unable to get out of their pyramid scheme, waiting for greater disasters to happen before looking squarely at reality.

The urgency for Indians, is to NOT enter the club, to not become the LAST LENDER when everyone else is scrambling, officially or unofficially, to just get out.





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