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Serious safety concerns about India’s nuclear industry

 some nuclear projects in India have come close to “disaster.” ….The fact that there is no clear record on accidents or potential disasters at India’s nuclear power plants raises important questions about the transparency of information on the issue.

A nuclear disaster like Fukushima would have dire consequences in heavily populated India. Memories of the Bhopal tragedy, which killed an estimated 10,000 people in 1984, are still fresh, and so is the mismanagement of the fallout by the government of the day, including letting the senior management of U.S. firm Union Carbide escape scot free.

safety-symbol-Smflag-indiaLessons from Japan for India on Nuclear Energy Fukushima has given energy-hungry India pause. Are its nuclear safety standards up to scratch? The Diplomat By Kabir Taneja  December 13, 2013 The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has become the focal point of public debate in India over the pursuit of civil nuclear energy on a large scale. The run-up to the plant’s inauguration had been marred by protests from locals and the anti-nuclear lobby, who question the safety of the plant and have taken the issue all the way to the Supreme Court……

The outcome of Fukushima has also put the spotlight on the aggressive, globally active and well-funded nuclear energy lobby. For many in Tokyo, a disaster caused largely by a tsunami triggered by an earthquake in 2011 opened a can of worms over how the government regulated its nuclear backyard. This issue of regulation has gained momentum as more and more people question the conventional wisdom of nuclear energy being a safe bet.

The Fukushima disaster has yet to prompt a criminal investigation. But the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the Fukushima Daiichi plant, has come under fire for not adhering to transparent management structures and for not appointing independent directors to offer non-biased perspectives in a crisis.

Efforts to clean up the Fukushima aftermath are still underway with no clear timeline as to when the plant and the surrounding area will be deemed safe. As part of the political aftermath, both the public and even some members of parliament belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo have criticized the government’s handling of civil nuclear policies.

In India, even though plans for nuclear power remain unchanged, the Japanese example has turned further attention to the safety of such projects and has even given the government a boost on its stand over the heavily debated nuclear-liability law.

In fact, a senior Planning Commission member recently mentioned how, during a presentation by French nuclear-tech manufacturer Areva SA, the company was asked why the Fukushima disaster happened. Expecting a more intricate explanation, all the Commission members got was that it was caused by “flooding” due to the tsunami. This bland description which began and ended with the tsunami event was not acceptable to the Commission, which was now looking for fool-proof methods of securing its nuclear power assets along with accurate and extensive case studies from the Japanese example.

According to author M V Ramana in his book The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India, some nuclear projects in India have come close to “disaster.” ….The fact that there is no clear record on accidents or potential disasters at India’s nuclear power plants raises important questions about the transparency of information on the issue.

This opacity in India’s regulatory structures in the nuclear energy sphere is something the DAE and senior officials in New Delhi will need to revisit at a much deeper level in a post Fukushima world. Appointments of independent regulators and directors working with the DAE and corporations will need to ensure that regulations are followed to the letter to avoid catastrophe. A nuclear disaster like Fukushima would have dire consequences in heavily populated India. Memories of the Bhopal tragedy, which killed an estimated 10,000 people in 1984, are still fresh, and so is the mismanagement of the fallout by the government of the day, including letting the senior management of U.S. firm Union Carbide escape scot free.

An audit of India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) last year found irregularities in AERB’s mandates, which included worrying issues such as the agency not possessing enough power to oversee nuclear safety and security, failure of the board to develop a full and comprehensive safety policy, an order given to it in 1986, poor inspection rates, lack of formal procedures for decommissioning nuclear reactors, and other concerns.

India needs to move carefully in developing its civil nuclear industry and it should immediately begin setting up proper channels for communication on nuclear issues between the public and the state. Learning from Fukushima in both the technology and policy sectors is not an option for New Delhi; it is an absolute necessity.

Kabir Taneja is a journalist covering Indian foreign affairs and energy sector for The Sunday GuardianThe New York Times (India Ink), TehelkaThe Indian Republic and others. He is also a Scholar at The Takshashila Institution.  http://thediplomat.com/2013/12/lessons-from-japan-for-india-on-nuclear-energy/

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December 15, 2013 - Posted by | India, safety

4 Comments »

  1. Another instance of our poor management in nuclear industry is Kalpakkam nuclear site, which caused multiple myeloma a rare form of bone marrow cancer linked to nuclear radiation. Not that the DAE willingly revealed the information it came to light in response to a Right to Information (RTI) inquiry from October 2011 with the DAE acknowledging that nine people including three employees working at the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) at Kalpakkam 44 miles from Chennai died of multiple myeloma and bone cancer between 1995 and 2011. The DAE had previously stonewalled all previous requests for information.

    Comment by Jahnavi | December 16, 2013 | Reply

  2. This is absolutely true that India is haphazardly building nuclear power plants without presenting any security mechanism in front of public. People are continued with demonstrations and protests from years not months but Indian Government becomes deaf and kept on satisfying their nuclear ambitions. It is also true that they are not keeping any record in order to present that Indian nuclear plants are safe apparently. These plants are endangering the very existence of humans.

    Comment by Allyona | December 16, 2013 | Reply

  3. The nuclear establishment vigorously promotes the idea that nuclear energy is safe, but in truth there is a nuclear accident for every day of the year.India has gone through number of nuclear safety and security accidents.Keeping in view the nuclear industries of India the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) must also ensure the safety of India’s 52,000-plus radiological facilities. These include medical institutions, industrial uses, and research facilities, and safety violations happen at them, too. The most serious incident to date is Mayapuri in 2010, in which a cobalt-60 source was sold and taken apart in a scrapyard, killing one man and hospitalising seven others. Like wise there are lots of people who are suffering till date due to the leakage of nuclear material near kudankulam plant. Indian government is least bothered about the safety of its people and keep on increasing the nucmber of nuclear facilities whiole announcing that they are meant for civil pruposes, while not full filling the safety and security standards.

    Comment by Zoe | December 16, 2013 | Reply

  4. There is growing concern in international community regarding Indian nuclear Industry. Several states have concerns on Liability laws of India. Besides that certain power plants are vulnerable to natural calamities like tsunami. Kudankulam nuclear power plat is a similar case where seismological surveys recognized the situation sensitive. Still government of India has taken no any preventive step. That is the reason due to which International companies are reluctant to provide Nuclear assistance to India.

    Comment by Aazar Kund | December 16, 2013 | Reply


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