January 17, 2014

Manmohan Singh's Nuclear Shame

On the 13th of January, 2014, our current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone for one of India’s largest nuclear power plants in Haryana amidst protests from various groups. Had logic and public opinion been something that our Prime Minister or his government respected, then AAP perhaps would not have been there in the first place. But these have not been his forte; as is well known, he neither uses his mouth (the absolute lack of communication from him), nor his ears (the disregard for public opinion). Or perhaps he has sold his soul so massively to Western interests that his skin has become far too thick for anything to affect him, including the imminent end of his official tenure.

I have been a diehard anti-nuclear energy man from day one, and wouldn’t spend too many words delving into the scary possibilities of a Japan-like natural disaster and its possible effects. But the fact is, nuclear plants can be most fragile and such incidents can have disastrous consequences. Any case of a nuclear meltdown would cause leakage of radiation, which not only can lead to an unimaginably high death toll and permanent physical and mental disorders, but in the long run can also make the vicinity uninhabitable for tens of decades. And India, which is blindly following a dream of going the nuclear way, is largely ignoring the threats that these reactors bring with themselves! I might also remind the readers that it is not that this is something new for India – in August 2010, the Journal of Contemporary Asia reported that between 1993 and 1995, more than 120 hazardous nuclear accidents took place in India. It is amazing how our shameless government seems to have forgotten the biggest disaster of all times in Indian history – the Bhopal gas tragedy! And mind you, there was nothing nuclear in that disaster! Forget everything else, if nuclear leakages can happen in developed nations like Japan, which have a focus on zero defects, then given India’s level of work ethics in general – with short cuts, corruption, fraudulent practices being more of a rule than exception – take it as good an assurance from me that in India, a nuclear disaster will happen for certain. Globally, post the Japanese disaster, Germany has suspended contracts and agreements that would have otherwise ensured an extension of their nuclear facilities, while Switzerland has, for the time being, kept aside all files meant for approval of nuclear plants.

In India, it all started with the signing of the 1-2-3 deal with the US in 2008. This deal opened up a $250 billion nuclear reactor market for India; and today we find various companies (mostly American and European) waiting to sign their contracts with India. The biggest contract that we have signed in this area is with Areva for a 9,000-MW plant at Jaitapur in the Konkan region in Maharashtra. As it is said that the devil is in the details, interestingly the Konkan coast is located in the seismic belt of the nation and is categorised as a high damage risk zone. For the record, in the last two decades, this zone has experienced a whopping number of 92 earthquakes, of which three were major, with the highest being measured at 6.3 on the Richter scale in 1993. And on top of this, we are using a very controversial and unapproved nuclear reactor for this plant. As of now, we have more than 20 nuclear reactors dotted along the coastal areas of the nation, and these may be either exposed to quakes or tsunamis.

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