Millennium Post

Manmohan’s nuclear shame

On 13 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, what to talk about nuclear plants. But these have not been his forte.

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. In August 2010, the Journal of Contemporary Asia reported that between 1993 and 1995, more than 120 hazardous nuclear accidents took place in India. 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.

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. 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.

However, the biggest argument against nuclear power is not the fear of accidents alone. It is basic economics. While a unit of power from nuclear plants will cost the nation somewhere between 18 to 20 rupees, solar energy is already down to 4.5 rupees per unit and decreasing by the day, with solar panels becoming cheaper and more efficient. This Haryana plant, for example, is being made on a gargantuan 1,400 acres, while for solar energy, we would never require such huge chunks of land; and even if we were to use that large an area, solar panels can be ergonomically fitted to allow multiple use of the land – in one example, solar panels have been tactically placed over canals while activities like fishing have continued unhindered below the solar panels.

But that’s just one example; modern day buildings too are now seeing fashionably designed solar panels being aesthetically placed on the exterior walls, thus leaving the terraces free, which earlier would have been occupied by the said solar panels. Studies show that the average daily solar energy incident over our country is around 7 kWh/m2 (equivalent to 2,000 solar hours per year) – any day more than the current total energy consumption of the entire nation. And yet, solar energy makes up less than one per cent of the total energy produced in India – while this figure is 35 per cent on an average in developed nations.

Alternatively, of course, there is another thing we can do. We can opt for thorium-based plants, owing to the fact that thorium is found in abundance in our country; we have 25 per cent of the world’s thorium reserves. The fact is that thorium produces hundred times the power of uranium and leaves essentially no waste. And as per research, if thorium acquires scale in mining, it would cost lesser than uranium! Given such potential power generation resources, it is foolish to suffer from a nuclear complex! But then, all in all, there is not a single reason as to why India should take part in this rat race to become a nuclear-powered nation. Instead, we should learn from Japan and switch to much safer and cleaner energy sources like solar, hydro and thorium.

Needless to say, a single nuclear reactor is equal to hundred atomic bombs, and in a country like India, with high population density, a single explosion would lead to hundred Hiroshimas! I hope this huge, deliberate and shameful obsession with nuclear energy is reversed and the new government that will come soon, openly declares that India does not need nuclear energy.

The author is a management guru and director of IIPM Think tank

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