NUCLEAR LITERACY VITAL
By Proloy Bagchi
New Delhi, May 18, 2011
A major national daily in its editorial the other day said
that India needs to enhance its “nuclear literacy”. The
comment, apparently, was made in the context of opposition by
the villagers and environmentalists to the proposed nuclear
park in Jaitapur, Maharashtra. Yes, we in this country are not
really ‘nuclear literate’. People might know about nuclear
bombs but they do not know much about nuclear power.
However, by contrast, the Japanese have a high level of
“literacy” in nuclear power – with about 30% of their power
being generated (before Fukushima) by about 55 nuclear power
plants. And, yet a few weeks ago, after Fukushima, there was a
massive demonstration in Tokyo against nuclear power plants.
About 5000 demonstrators including the young and families
worried about the future of their children, marched through
Central Tokyo carrying placards that said “Bye bye Genpatsu”
(Goodbye nuclear power) demanding an end to nuclear power and
a switch to alternative energy. Were they “nuclear
Likewise, what would one call the Germans who get almost 25%
of their energy requirements from 40 to 50 years old nuclear
power plants? On 15 March last, post Fukushima, German
Chancellor Angela Merkel once an active proponent of nuclear
power, announced shut down of nuclear reactors that went on
line before 1981. Later in the month, Germany stood witness to
the largest anti-nuclear demonstration ever held in the
country whereby over 250,000 protested, “Heed Fukushima, shut
off all nuclear plants”.
France, second to the US in nuclear power and meeting about
80% of its electricity demand from this source, has, of late,
seen demonstrations and protests, even demands for a
referendum to decide whether or not the country should stop
producing nuclear power.
Italy has also banned nuclear power and has been nuclear-free
since the 1986 Chernobyl accident when it dismantled all its
nuclear power plants. Importantly, it was in the process of
re-evaluating building of such plants when Fukushima happened.
Switzerland, too, has given up plans to upgrade its aging
nuclear power plants. On the premise that “security and
wellbeing” of its people is an absolute priority. Are they all
ignorant about nuclear power?
However, in India things are different. Here we do not learn
from what happens around us. We seem to strike our own lonely
path even if that happens to lead us to disaster. As some hack
once said, we seem to go to the very edge before we step back.
That seems to be in our psyche.
Indeed, Jaitapur is no different! Even after Fukushima the
environmentalists who oppose the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear
Power Park (JNPP) are branded “green fanatics” and “myopic”
and the protesting farmers and fishermen who are likely to
lose their livelihoods because of the Park are called
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) has
proposed to set up the JNPP on the Madban plateau (which is
next to the ancient port of Jaitapur) in Ratnagiri district
with six reactors, each capable of producing 1650 MW. Billed
to be one of the largest in the world, the Park, when
commissioned, is expected to produce 9900 MW of electricity.
The NPCIL has signed an agreement with the French company
AREVA for establishing the Park which will initially have two
1650 MW units. The Madban plateau in the scenic Konkan region
of Maharashtra, contrary to what Government reports say, has
green forests along the hill slopes. The area’s thick
mangroves along the creek waters are rich in marine life.
They, together, form an integrated and unique eco-system,
supporting wide variety of flora and fauna.
Things have become more difficult for the protesters as the
entire issue has now been politicised. The Shiva Sena has
muscled its way into the melee and, in the process, its
confrontation with the Government has already claimed the life
of a fisherman. The Sena’s unwelcome participation has
stiffened the attitude of the ruling Congress-led UPA
Government at the Centre.
No wonder, the sensible Environment Minister, who had earlier
put the Jaitapur proposal on ice until safety concerns were
addressed, has had to relent, as pausing the project would not
be politically sound. The Congress-ruled State Government has
“taken up cudgels against the ‘imported (read Shiva Sena)
It’s a pity that such a grave matter which should be of
serious concern to the region and country, in the event of an
accident, is being bulldozed through for considerations that
are purely political. Nonetheless, thanks to Fukushima, the
Centre is considering certain reforms among which are the
creation of an independent and autonomous nuclear regulatory
authority, making public the reports of the reviews of nuclear
reactors conducted after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl
accidents as also of the one that will be submitted by the
panel constituted post Fukushima and conduct of safety audits
by the Operational Safety Review Team of the International
Atomic Energy Agency.
But environmental and safety considerations of Jaitapur
remain. Apart from people’s livelihood, the environmental
damage that would be caused to the unique eco-system is likely
to be colossal. Studies by the Bombay Natural History Society
testify this. The delectable, juicy, meaty and sweet
internationally famous Alphonso mango and cashew orchards
along-with fishermen’s sizable catches of mackerel, prawns,
pomfret and oysters might come under threat of serious damage.
Notwithstanding the safety compensations proposed for the
reactors in JNPP.
Besides, the National Oceanography Institute, Goa, has
indicated that nuclear power plants at Jaitapur are not
advisable as it falls in an earthquake-prone zone. In fact,
with the kind of shambolic disaster management system that we
have, one wonders whether India would be able to deal
effectively with a nuclear catastrophe. Even the French feel
“when there is a major natural disaster, all the so-called
safety measures (in nuclear power plants) fail in countries
with greatest technical know-how.”
Worse, the Government has opted for JNPP the European Pressure
Reactors (EPRs) of the French company AREVA which are yet to
become functional anywhere in the world. In Finland and France
design and safety issues have led, apart from delays, to cost
escalation of these reactors to the extent of 50%. The EPR
technology is still untested. We have, however, bargained for
Also, after taking into account the safeguards costs against
accidents, terror attacks and environmental degradation the
power generated by them, might make it unaffordable.
Furthermore, not included in these are the costs of eventual
disposal of nuclear wastes for which a suitable burial place
in the earth would need to be identified. The US is yet to
find one in its vast territories.
Clearly, while the need indicated for enhanced “nuclear
literacy” is unexceptionable there is no gainsaying that
considering all factors, nuclear power is not for us, as also
for others, even First World countries. Thus, we need to look
for alternative cheaper, greener and less hazardous sources of
energy. ----- INFA
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)