Monday, March 12, 2012

India’s nuclear (power) woes

India’s nuclear (power) woes
What persuades me to write a piece on nuclear power is not my expertise in the field, but the anger from reading reports in the Times of India Pune edition on eminent Nuclear scientist, Homi Bhaba Chair Professor at Bhaba Atomic Research Centre, former AEC Chairman, Anil Kakodkar being threatened by a mob not to speak of the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in his speech on ‘Preparing for our secure energy future’ at Pune’s College of Engineering. The organisers of the meeting however, had Dr.Kakodkar acquiesce partially to the protestors, speaking in favour of nuclear energy, while skipping the Jaithapur project by name.
The result of the controversy, unfortunately, was that the report of the nuclear scientist’s meeting barely touched upon what eventually he spoke. Journalists savour controversies; they never show much interest in other things,  even if they are far more important. 


1.    1. The use of nuclear energy is inevitable. It remains the safest option among all the major energy forms in commercial use despite incidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl.
2.      People may have legitimate doubts and apprehensions about nuclear power projects. It is essential to clarify the issues. Much of the apprehension about nuclear power is the result of public trauma generated by catastrophe syndrome and misinformation relating to fatalities, radiation and waste-management. There is this avoidable trauma about nuclear energy and nuclear plants. But study shows that the risks with nuclear energy are the least. Where the energy source death rate per tera watt hours from sources like natural gas and oil are 4 and 36 respectively, the death rate with nuclear energy is only 0.04. 
 There are now 439 nuclear reactors in operation around the world in over 30 countries. Nuclear energy amounts for 16% of world electricity and is growing even post-Fukushima. The real risks of nuclear energy are the lowest among all energy forms. Besides, the advantage in terms of minimal effect on climate change also needs to be taken into account. Several countries are in fact opting for nuclear power plants. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s realistic estimate is that 90 new nuclear plants will be operative by 2030. The US approved two nuclear power plants in Georgia recently. UK and Finland are going the same way. China is constructing three plants while South Korea commissioned another one. The nuclear programme is credible and good all over the world.
4.       India needs to create a larger capacity for the use of all forms of energy resources, including nuclear sources. The country must focus on development of technologies for thorium and solar energy. India has a successful and largely indigenous nuclear power program and hopes to have 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
I shall get back to Jaitapur Power Project.
A 9,000 MW project to come up in Madban-Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district of Konkan region, Maharashtra is to be set up by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd in collaboration with the French company Aveva. Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh gave clearance to the Jaitapur nuclear power complex in 80 days. While doing so he claimed he had tried to balance four objectives: the amount of energy required to sustain a growth rate of nine per cent; the proportion of fuel mix; strategic diplomacy, especially after the Civilian Nuclear Deal; and the environmental concerns raised by a large number of groups. He said it was paradoxical that environmentalists were against nuclear energy, the cleanest of all.
On December 6, 2010 an agreement was signed for the construction of first set of two third-generation European Pressurized Reactors and the supply of nuclear fuel for 25 years in the presence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The JPPP had proposed to acquire 938 hectares for the 10,000 mw nuclear power project. Since the land is barren, as per provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, the farmers are eligible for Rs. 50,000 to Rs.2.5 lakh per hectare. What followed was a mix of haggling for increase of price for the land and protest against the project. In view of the massive agitation launched by local farmers, it was proposed to enhance the amount to Rs.8-10 lakh. But greed increased and so did the fury of the agitators. There is a competitive spirit here between ruling Congress-NCP alliance and local Shiv Sena MLA and hence the decision was to offer Rs.20-22 lakh/hectare. Arrey, hamara kya jatha hai? In addition, NPCIL will provide each family member a job or an additional compensation of Rs. 5 lakh. The Government of Maharashtra state completed land acquisition in January 2010, only 33 out of the 2,335 villagers have accepted compensation cheques as of November 2010.
On April 18, 2011, some 300 locals led by Shiv Sena MLA Rajan Salvi had burned machinery, electronic material and dry grass on the plateau following which police resorted to lathicharge. Subsequently, violent protests also broke out in the neighbouring fishing community of Sakhri Nate where Tabrez Sayekar, 30, was killed in police firing. As of now, there is a PIL in the Supreme Court of India seeking stay on the Jaitapur Power Project in view of seismic dangers, tsunami and what not!
Now let me go to a nuclear power project which Kerala had driven away, and Tamilnadu welcomed whole-heartedly – the Koodamkulam nuclear power project. I must add here that the  55Km coastal belt of Kerala with its radioactive (thorium-containing) sand beaches give 400millirem radiation per annum whereas an atomic power plant in a year gives only 1 milli-rem! It is curious to note that protestors  who started out on the grounds of nuclear safety abandoned it and went later to higher realms of reprocessing spent fuel and the second stage (of the nuclear programme when plutonium would be produced for Fast Breeder Reactor.  Our scientists were preparing to make the country a world leader in taking nuclear technology to the thorium reactor, because so far nuclear technology had been the domain of a few developed countries. The state government-appointed expert panel vouching for the safety of the Koodankulam nuclear plant, the agitators had little locus standi. But then it was for all to see that what was there in Kudankulam today is trouble created by the so-called international green activists and lobbyists, with some fringe groups in local politics.
Noone was therefore really astonished when the Prime Minister in an interview to the 'Science' journal had criticised NGOs that received support from abroad for leading protests against the Koodamkulam nuclear power plant. Home Minister P Chidambaram and the Minister of State V Narayanasamy separately reiterated that the protests at the Koodankulam nuclear plant were funded by foreign NGOs. On February 28, a German national, Sonnteg Reiner Hermann, close to the protest leaders was arrested from a lodge near the nuclear plant and deported for the alleged funding activities. According to Police, Sonnteg Reiner Hermann had close links to PS Udayakumar, spearheading the protests. Church groups and Islamic organisations are involved; but no Hindu organisations! Four NGOs have been officially booked for violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, because they diverted foreign funds into the protest movement. 
In a bizarre move that smacks of stupid public policy making, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently appointed longstanding votary of nuclear energy Anil Kakodkar as the head of the India’s ambitious, national solar mission.

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