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India’s atomic energy programme an economic failure and an environmental disaster

Oh, meltdown!, Sourav Roy,  March 9, 2015  “………it does not take nuclear physics to figure out that liability is the most important aspect while dealing with nuclear power. Being unaccountable for your mistakes is as good as being invited to make them. India is a country which is still recovering from the aftermath of Bhopal gas tragedy, where a gas leak in a Union Carbide factory in Bhopal city killed about 20,000 people in 1984, in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters. Since then, justice has been denied to the families of the victims, and given that India’s ruling political party has taken election funds from Union Carbide’s parent company, chances of any justice to the victims is bleak.

India’s atomic energy programme so far has been an economic failure and an environmental disaster. The existing nuclear plants have shown irregularities, and are prone to mishaps. Jadugoda, only 20 kms from my home town, has witnessed huge number of cancer cases related to nuclear mining. Despite contributing a mere 3% of the country’s energy needs, more than 60% of India’s total research budget on energy goes to the nuclear sector, while the investment in renewable energy remains menial……..

Nuclear power poses health risks and environmental damage from uranium mining, processing and transport, the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation or sabotage, and the unsolved problem of radioactive nuclear waste. Nuclear reactors themselves are enormously complex machines where many things can and do go wrong, and there have been manyserious nuclear accidents.

Globally, more nuclear power reactors have been shut down than opened in recent years. Only a year after the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, Sweden, in 1980, was the first country to begin a nuclear phase out. Public protests and democratic processes ensured that this was soon followed by Italy (1987), Belgium (1999), and Germany (2000). Switzerland, Austria and Spain soon enacted laws to cease construction of new nuclear power stations.

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its seventeen reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022. Italy voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear. Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors. ….  As of 2013, many other countries including Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway remain opposed to nuclear power.

“Do we have an alternative?”, you may ask. Despite the fund deprived research in renewable energy, in its current form, it will take about 254 square kilometres of solar panel to meet the world’s current energy needs. Compare this with the Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam in the world, located in China, which has a surface area of 1,084 square kilometres. Solar panels can help houses meet their energy needs in a clean manner. Instead of displacing villagers from India’s tribal belts, Solar power stations can be set up in remote deserts. Countries like Spain and United States have successfully enhanced their solar power capacity over the past decades.

Renewable energy also means empowering masses. The foot print area of a wind mill is minuscule and can be built within farmlands to empower farmers to become self sufficient. Several countries have achieved relatively high levels of wind power penetration, such as 21% of stationary electricity production in Denmark, 18% in Portugal, 16% in Spain, 14% in Ireland and 9% in Germany, and have since continued to expand their installed capacity.

Solar and wind energy are also more economically viable than nuclear. Electricity from solar cost Rupees 8, and that from wind energy costs Rupees 4.5 per unit. In contrast, electricity from the Mithi Virdi project will cost Rupees 12 per unit. This, coupled with the high costs of setting up the nuclear power plant and the cost of a disaster may prove to be too burdensome for the Indian taxpayer.

While the rest of the world continues to go non-nuclear and embrace renewable energy, subsequent Indian governments have undemocratically, and quietly succumbed to the powerful nuclear lobbies of corporate America. As people responsible for the future of this planet, the choice however, remains with us.

We may either live in a Springfield, or a Burlington.

Note – this article was first published in the NRI magazine.

March 14, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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