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Nuking Indian democracy

Monday, 1 October 2012 - 9:30am IST | Agency: dna

Scientists in the DAE are doing a great disservice to the nation as well as to the cause of science with their bald statements that all is well with the nuclear installations and nuclear power plants in India

The Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu has become the Oracle of Delphi to reveal the future of India. It has also become a touchstone to know the worth of Indian democracy.

The crude and cruel ways deployed by the Central and state governments to contain the people expressing in an entirely democratic way their opposition to the Kudankulam nuclear power reactors and also the ease with which false and frivolous criminal cases as well as serious sedition charges have been instituted against them would show that the people in power are too preoccupied with politics and pressing problems to grasp the perils of nuclear power plants in the long run.

If India continues to climb on the curve of nuclear power growth, it is bound to face the problems Japan is now facing after Fukushima Diaiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011. Japan now finds it difficult to climb down on the nuclear power.

Japan finds it too expensive and, in a way, impossible to clean up the radiation contaminated soil, forests and water caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The hardships to the displaced people will continue for years together. Even after a few decades, people cannot return to their homes located up to more than ten kilometre radius from the stricken Fukushima nuclear complex. Lives of people are severely disrupted. Food chain is affected, and underwater belt is contaminated. Groundwater with caesium at 9 times the government’s limit has been found in Fukushima. Scientists detected radioactive caesium at 10 times above normal levels at 800 km away from Fukushima. The decommissioning of nuclear reactors would greatly increase the problem of long-term storage, which has not been resolved so far by any country, including Japan, which has to take care of 50 years of spent fuel.

A thing to be noted is, compared to the investment and commitment Japan made in nuclear power, India is at best at the starting point. Prior to Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, Japan had about 30% of its electricity from nuclear fuels, while India generates even now only about 3% from nuclear fuels. Therefore, it is prudent for India to stop building any more nuclear power plants and concentrate on renewable energies as Germany and Japan are doing now. Fukushima opened the eyes of people worldwide. Kudankulam should open the eyes of Indian people and Indian planners of electrical power.

The truth is the global nuclear power corporate sector is as powerful as the global oil corporate sector, and more sophisticated in enticing the leaders of the developed countries like Japan and developing countries like India. The pressure the Japanese government is now facing from the powerful global nuclear power corporate sector to restart the shut-down nuclear reactors in Japan against the wishes of the Japanese people should be an eye-opener to the Indian government as to what it is going to face if India becomes a market place for nuclear power plants against the wishes of the Indian people. Ordinary people in Kudankulam and Idinthakarai and other nearby villages are sacrificing their lives to help the Indian government to open its eyes.

Nuclear scientists in the department of atomic energy (DAE) should come forward for an open public debate. These scientists are doing a great disservice to the nation as well as to the cause of science in India with their bald statements that all is well with the nuclear installations and nuclear power plants in India. Many things are not revealed to the Indian public. Media, print and electronic, is yet to demonstrate its skills to unearth the mismanagement in DAE. The prime minister and the chief ministers of states craving for nuclear power plants are all ill-informed and insufficiently informed on the injury and loss in store for the nation in the long run from opting for nuclear power plants and neglecting renewable energy sources such as small and medium hydro power plants, solar, wind, biomass and biogas, geothermal and energy saving.

Global nuclear power corporate sector has become restless after Japan announced its new nuclear power policy. The determined and sustained opposition of Japanese people to nuclear power has compelled the present government of Japan, headed by prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, to declare a new energy policy 18 months after the earthquake and tsunami devastated Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011, triggering meltdowns, spewing radiation and forcing some 160,000 people to flee.

Salient points of the new energy policy of Japan are: Limit the life of the nuclear reactors to 40 years, stop building new nuclear power plants, phase out nuclear power by 2030 and restart the shut-down nuclear reactors only if the nuclear regulator permits. Thus, Japan joins countries such as Germany and Switzerland in turning away from nuclear power. In abandoning nuclear power, Japan aims to triple the share of renewable power to 30% of its energy mix.

Whether it is a political statement or a real zero nuclear energy option by Japan, time alone will show. But there is an immediate reaction from the United States, France and Britain expressing concerns over the zero nuclear energy option of Japan because they all make money from Japan’s nuclear industry. An added concern of France and Britain is that Japan may refuse to take back spent fuel that was sent from Japan to France and Britain for reprocessing. The dealings connected with reprocessing are quite tricky. Japan at present holds 70 tonnes of high grade plutonium.

Without their nuclear power reactors, Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Co., Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Japan Atomic Power Co. would all go bankrupt. Therefore, the “big business” has already termed the new energy policy of Japan as anti-industry. In the days to come, if the new energy policy is diluted, the agitating Japanese public will raise the slogan of ‘anti-people’ and if the new energy policy is strictly implemented the “big business” will air the slogan of ‘anti-business’. The resulting public debate is bound to work on democratic Japan to gravitate much faster towards renewable energies and energy saving methods. In all this there is a lesson for democratic India.

In its efforts to phase out nuclear power after last year’s Fukushima disaster, Japan has by now approved more than 33,000 renewable energy projects that can receive subsidies under a new energy law that took effect on July 1, 2012. These projects include solar, wind, small hydro and geo-thermal.

Germany is one of the pioneers in the global switch to renewable energies.

One-fourth of German electricity was furnished by renewable energies in the first six months of this year (2012). Based on calculations from the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, water, wind, biomass and photovoltaic power plants produced 67.9 billion kilowatt hours of electricity between January and June, 2012. That represents a 25.1% share of German electricity consumption.

This has shown the way to Japan, which plans to make up its 30% nuclear electricity deficit from out of renewable energies. Certainly, India can plan to have the present 3 or 4% of its nuclear electricity from out of renewable energies and become completely free from nuclear electricity. Systematic expansion of renewable energy will not only be good from an environmental point of view, but also in terms of innovation, growth and employment.

Three Japanese anti-nuclear activists who came to India to share their experiences and understanding of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in their country and also to express their solidarity with the people who are continuing their democratic opposition to Kudankulam nuclear plant were not allowed to step out of the Chennai airport and were deported on September 25, 2012. This is yet another instance to show that Indian democracy is getting derailed on account of the desire to make India a market place for nuclear power plants.

The writer is former Indian Navy Captain with PhD in nuclear technology from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

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