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The Case Against Nuclear Energy


 

I know the environmentalists will not be very happy with my decision, but it is foolish romance to think that India can attain high growth rate and sustain the energy needs of a 1.2 billion population
with the help of solar, wind, bio-gas and such other forms of energy. It is paradoxical that environmentalists are against nuclear energy.”

Jairam Ramesh, on his nod to the Jaitapur plant

 

It's a big experience for all of us. Though it is a rare disaster, India should learn from it. In the light of what is happening in Japan, all our planned nuclear projects should be reviewed.”

APJ Abdul Kalam

 

The Jaitapur plant is a part of the new strategic and trade alliances we are building after entering the NSG (Nuclear Supplier’s Group).”

Anil Kakodkar

 

These significant statements by three prominent Indians, during the last six months, aptly sum-up the predicament of the nation. The first defines the ambition and the development model that India's ruling elite will persevere with no matter what happens. The second expresses the anxiety and concern of an elder who knows the pitfalls and hazardous character of the technology. The third is probably a resigned acceptance of autarky undermining politico-economic ground realities that are currently shaping the destiny of the nation.

25 years after the Chernobyl core meltdown was contained, Greenpeace organized an international visit – 70 seasoned journalists from 18 countries – to Ukraine. The journalists discovered that even a quarter century after the disaster, Ukraine is still dousing the flames. Even today the Ukraine government is spending six to eight percent of its fiscal budget to cope with the consequences of the accident. Every year lakhs of Ukrainian children still need to be sent away to uncontaminated areas for at least a month, in order to allow their bodies to filter out some of the Cesium-137 that accumulates through eating everyday food. This despite, food sold in markets, being tested for radionuclide like Cesium and Strontium. Expectant mothers are still developing serious fetal abnormalities. And the mountain of concrete hastily piled on to the reactor when the accident occurred, is inching towards a collapse because underneath it lies an extremely radioactive mass.

Chernobyl was a huge complex; it had an installed capacity = 4,000 MW. Jaitapur dreams bigger; it will be 9,900 MW. An individual reactor in Jaitapur is planned to be 1,650 MW. Chernobyl was smaller, a mere 1,000MW per reactor. Until 26th April, 1986 and 11th March, 2011 Chernobyl and Fukushima were known to be safe. Until something as bad happens, Jaitapur will continue to be talked off as safe.

Maharashtra is half the area and it houses 2.5 times as many people, as Ukraine. The Chernobyl disaster affected most of Ukraine and a good part of Belarus. Its radiation cloud flew as far as Norway. In 2006, the Ukrainian Health Minister reported that more than 24 lakh Ukrainians, including 428,000 children, still suffer from health problems related to the catastrophe (more than 5% of the population). Densely populated India has qualitatively inferior health care and social security networks than what the Ukrainians had to protect themselves.

India's currently installed nuclear capacity is 4,391MW. It plans to increase it to 63,000 MW by 2032. What are the chances that a nuclear disaster could occur in India?

Incidentally the USA, which houses 104 out of the 442 nuclear reactors in the world, is not ready to buy the Avera reactors that will be installed at Jaitapur. It considers the design unsafe. On 4th April, 2011 the German secretary of state for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Jürgen Becker announced that Germany will shut down all its nuclear power stations by the end of the present decade. Without being explicit about it, the German government is inadvertently accepting the anti-nuke position that no nuclear reactor design of any kind is safe.

Neeraj Jain, an anti-nuke activist for the 'Kokan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti' argues that the dangers are not limited to big accidents like the Fukushima or Three Mile Island or Chernobyl disasters. Smaller accidents that were big enough to kill and maim workers, Neeraj believes, have happened at all nuclear plants at sometime or the other; although such events generally do not get reported because these plants also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons that national governments are not interested in talking about. Circumstantial evidence lends credibility to such anti-nuke believes. Isn't it amazing that insurance companies do not want to insure against nuclear accidents. Being astute business entities, they do not want to risk their money based on some professor's calculations claiming the risk is low.Even if a nuclear power plant were to work out its life without the smallest of accidents occurring, nuclear energy would still be a dangerous option. The whole process involved in producing nuclear energy, beginning with the mining of suitable ores and ending with the production of heat in a controlled way inside a nuclear reactor, calls for the step by step concentration of radioactive materials. Apart from extremely important by-products such as Plutonium, that get used for making atomic weapons of mass destruction, the process generates wastes. These waste products are radioactive. They eventually decay into non-radioactive elements, but that may take millions of years. Till then they need to buried deep inside the earth beneath geological formations or ejected into outer space. Nobody is willing to make huge additional expenditures for this purpose, so the wastes get piled up somewhere. These hazardous piles keep crippling/killing people and degrading the environment.

It is argued that if the law were to force the nuclear power industry to pay for insurance against accidents, and to pay for the safe disposal of its waste, we would have no nuclear power plants.

India has a choice: give money to the global nuclear industry OR spend on solar, wind, bio-gas and other alternative forms of energy. Choose.       

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