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Secrecy in India about troubled nuclear industry

India’s atom state The Daily Mail Ramachandra Guha 7 Dec 09 THE most secretive institution in India is the Atomic Energy Commission. Although its power plants profess to produce goods for the benefit of the public, they are not judged by the standards of profitability and accountability that the market imposes on other industries. Nor, like other government-owned and managed firms, do they have to report to the parliamentary committee on public undertakings. In fact, by an act of Parliament they have been made exempt from the scrutiny of the Parliament itself.No ordinary citizen can get anywhere near an atomic installation, and even the most well-connected historian cannot get anywhere near the records of the AEC or its associated bodies………….

studies by independent researchers strongly suggest that our atomic energy programme is an economic failure as well as an environmental disaster. Nor does the charge-sheet end here, for, by the very nature of its functioning, the AEC has undermined the democratic ideals of the nation.

Take the environmental question first. The construction of nuclear installations often involves the loss of green cover — in the case of Kaiga, the loss of some of the best rainforests in the Western Ghats. In the extraction of thorium and uranium, health hazards are imposed on the communities, which live near the mines. In the normal operations of these plants further health costs are borne by surrounding communities. (A study by Sanghamitra and Surendra Gadekar demonstrates that those living near nuclear installations in India are exposed to very high levels of radiation.) Then there is the ever-present threat of nuclear accidents. Finally, there is the question of the disposal of the wastes, which remain radioactive for thousands of years.

On the economic side, work by the distinguished energy scientist, Amulya Reddy, has shown that nuclear power in India is more costly per unit than coal, hydel, solar or other available options. Reddy based his calculations on official statistics, those contained in the annual reports of the AEC (the only information about the organisation that ever becomes public). However, if one was to take into account the hidden subsidies that the commission enjoys, the comparison would be even more damaging to its interests. Remarkably, despite contributing a mere three per cent of the country’s energy needs, more than 60 per cent of the total research budget on energy goes to this sector. How much better served would we and the nation be if the priorities were reversed, with clean technologies like solar and wind power provided the assistance that nuclear energy currently obtains?
Finally, nuclear energy is a technology that is inherently anti-democratic. It erects a wall of secrecy between itself and the ordinary citizen. It is not subject to the scrutiny of elected legislators. It refuses even to submit itself to the peer-review of the scientific community. In response to public pressure exerted over a number of years, the government set up an Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, only to staff it with former employees of the AEC. No credible or independent scientist serves on it. Naturally, the AERB sees its job as merely being to whitewash the errors of its paymasters.
To these very serious limitations has now been added a new and perhaps still more serious one — that the industry is peculiarly vulnerable to terror attacks. In seeking to deflect criticism of the recent accident at Kaiga, the chairman of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited told a television channel that this might have been sabotage by a “foreign hand”. The claim only dropped more egg on his face, for if, despite all the secrecy and security, the AEC or NPCIL cannot prevent contamination of a single water tower, who is to say that they can ever thwart a suicide bomber or a plane flying low into one of their plants?

The Atomic Energy Commission in India is both a holy cow as well as a white elephant. Because it can, in theory, deliver atomic weapons to the State, successive prime ministers are loath to interfere with its workings. As a result, the taxpayer has been forced to sink billions of crores into an industry that has consistently under-performed, that after six decades of pampering still produces a niggardly proportion of our energy requirements, and this at a higher cost and at a far greater risk than the alternatives. It is past time that the industry and those who control it were made to answer for their actions.
The Kaiga accident may yet help in reviving, albeit 42 years too late, M.S. Gurupadaswamy’s public-spirited demand that we seek to “achieve greater accountability [as] to the time- schedule, production, cost, technical performance, etc” of our much cosseted and grossly overrated nuclear industry. Khaleej Times

The Daily Mail – Daily News from Pakistan – Newspaper from Pakistan

December 7, 2009 - Posted by | 1, India, secrets,lies and civil liberties | , , , , , , ,

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