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Waiting for a nuclear disaster in India

File photo of a group protesting nuclear plants in the country

Sunday, Jul 28, 2013,

Mallika Sarabhai

Friday was the day for protesters of nuclear energy. In many parts of the country, a charter was released against the continuing expansion of nuclear facilities. A seminar at Vidyapith was poorly attended but fascinating in the facts that were laid out.

Little notice was taken in the population when the Kudankulam project went “critical”. And yet the potential dangers involved are so enormous and inescapable that all of us should have cried foul. Around the same time in China, a country intolerant of public protests and brutal in reprisals, several hundred people marched against a proposed nuclear facility forcing the government to cancel the 6 billion dollar project.

In India, protests against nuclear power have gone on for many years and, like elsewhere in the world, heightened after the Fukushima disaster. Rightly so, for the estimate of 5,000 people affected in Fukushima has gone to over 10 times that, and the effect will last for many generations.

The nuclear lobby in India is strong and hidden in obfuscation. Leading the pack perhaps is the Department of Atomic Energy. (To think that my father headed PUGWASH, a global body against nuclear proliferation while he was head of DAE, and stood against India going nuclear with all he could muster!)

In direct violation of a Supreme Court verdict on ensuring safety and to report back to the courts, the Nuclear Power Corporation, the DAE and its Board and the Ministry of Environment and Forests went ahead with making Kudankulam critical before the courts could have time to check on findings and reassure themselves and the public of the overall safety of people and the earth.

Long-time nuclear critic and senior journalist Praful Bidwai writes, “Yes, such grave breach of public trust, and contempt for democratic processes, conforms to a well-established pattern. India’s Department of Atomic Energy, with its subordinates, NPCIL and AERB, has always defied accountability to Parliament and the public. Glorified by an ill-informed media, coddled by policy makers who love the bomb and hate life, and shielded by the Atomic Energy Act 1962 – which empowers it to hide any information it likes – the DAE has become a law unto itself, and a negative object lesson for democracy theorists”.

We are all aware of the corners that are cut in building infrastructure in India.
While a bridge collapse, because of low quality girders or cement can have tragic results, the effects of radiation due to such disasters in nuclear facilities can have million fold effects. And our record is predictably horrendous. Defective vessels, low quality and substandard pipes and valves, fires, massive leaks of heavy water and radiation releases of toxic effluents and nuclear waste dumping leading to thousands of people getting sick are common occurrences, never publicly investigated and rectified.

In addition ZiO-Podolsk, the Russian company building the Kudunkulam reactor, is known for its substandard equipment and fraud. As a matter of fact, its director Sergei Shutov was arrested last year and sits in jail for fraud and corruption and for supplying defective equipment. And repeated commissions looking into the Kudankulam plant have pointed out to sub-standard and dangerous equipment. But all these warnings have been glossed over to continue going ahead with the plant and now it’s going critical.

Additionally, the plant sits in a tsunami zone multiplying the possibility of a Fukushima-like situation. Repeated warnings by scientists, among them those who are pro nuclear energy, have also fallen on deaf ears.

So once again the powers that be, the powers that are paid zillions of rupees under hand, have put the nation’s vulnerable at risk — a risk that nothing can protect them against now that the reactors have gone on stream. How much money must the powerful have equated with the potential deaths or maiming of the poor?

The writer is a noted danseuse and a social activist.


July 29, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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