India Goes Ahead with Nukes Despite Fukushima

By N. Gunasekaran

Japanese authorities have been reporting the dangerous radiation levels in a 30 km radius of the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was crippled by the earthquake and tsunami in March. Near-meltdown in three reactors and a fire in the fuel holding pond of the fourth in Fukushima warrant a serious examination of current nuclear energy polices of the governments across the world. Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, has passed a bill phasing out nuclear power by 2022. China, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines are reviewing their nuclear power programs.

In choosing nuclear path for energy requirements, one cannot overlook the role of big corporations. Their lack of concern on the questions of nuclear safety is highly deplorable. In Fukushima’s disaster, the main culprit was TEPCO, the largest electric power company In Asia. It is the plant operator of the six reactors of Fukushima. It had 17 of its reactors shut-down in 2003 for falsifying safety data.

Ironically,the government of India is still hanging on its plans to increase nuclear power output to 64,000 megawatts by 2032. In 2008,the Left parties had withdrawn their support when the Indian government decided to unilaterally go ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal. However,the government headed by the Congress Party-led alliance won the vote of confidence, continued in power and clinched the deal. Apart from protesting the government’s growing “strategic” relationships with the US, the Left objected to the over-dependence of the government on the nuclear option for the energy requirements of India. The objections raised by the Left appear to be vindicated now.

The ongoing anti-nuclear power plant protest at Jaitapur in Maharashtra is a clear indication that the people could not be swayed by the false propaganda of the ruling elites. The project was a $12 billion-valued agreement with the French nuclear firm Areva S.A. to build six controversial Evolutionary Pressurized Reactors (EPRs) and generate 9,900 MW of electricity.The people in the whole areas surrounding Jaitapur have pledged to conduct a “Do or Die” struggle to stop work on the Jaitapur nuclear power project. They decided not to allow the government to acquire their fertile land, howsoever lucrative might be the compensation offer. The proposed project, which would be the world’s largest nuclear power project, has drawn opposition from many quarters since it is unjustifiable on economic, energy-planning and ecological grounds.

The people didn’t forget that the justice was denied to the thousands of victims affected by the leakage of deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal in 1984. They learned that corporations have no respect for human life. The thousands of people participating in the anti-nuclear power plant in various parts of India have understood this fact. Across India, movements are growing against old and new nuclear power plants and particularly in the proposed areas like Haripur (West Bengal), Mithi Virdi (Gujarat), Madban (Maharashtra), Pitti Sonapur (Orissa), Chutka (Madhya Pradesh) and Kavada (Andhra Pradesh).

Apart from the idea of 10,000-MW nuclear parks, India is planning for its additional 40,000-MW light water reactors (LWR) from corporations like Areva, GE, Westinghouse and the Russians. If everything materialized as planned and construction targets are met, the share of nuclear energy to the total in the next 25 years may go up from 3% to only 10%. But it would not only be exorbitantly expensive but also potentially catastrophic; particularly, the waste disposal would become a dangerous problem with disastrous consequences.

There is also a possibility of repeating of Fukushima’s experience. In India, nuclear plants are built near the sea due to the necessity of sea water to cool the reactor. But most coastal region in India is vulnerable to tsunami. As Durgesh Rai, a scientist of the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, said, most nuclear plants were “in weak seismic zones” and “their structure is earthquake-resistant but they have not been tested against tsunami.”

The full impact of the human tragedy unfolding after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan is yet to be grasped. However, it has proved that the idea of a global nuclear renaissance, mainly propagated by corporate-owned mainstream media, is a nonsensical one. As a lesson from the Fukushima disaster, Prabir Purkayastha, a New Delhi-based science activist in the power, telecom and software sectors, wrote that “while nuclear energy could remain a serious option on the table, we must also accept that taking it off the table is also an option.” He suggested that the only way of going about nuclear energy would be “smaller plants,smaller unit sizes and disperse them in different places.” But this course is possible only when the corporate grip is removed from the nuclear business.

Not only to avoid human tragedy, but to save our planet itself, the people have to pressure the ruling political class to opt for renewable sources of energy. This requires a new system of energy production which is free from the profit-hungry, greedy corporations.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2011

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