India can't afford Japan type disaster



I have heard that in African countries, hunters find it tough to catch monkeys and in order to do so successfully, they place a jar with a small opening filled with nuts near the trees. The jar is so designed that it allows a monkey’s hand to go inside, but once in, the monkey finds it difficult to take it out. Most of the time, the monkey stays there as it is unwilling to let go of the nuts. These peanuts which trap a monkey are actually unrealistic desires of this animal! This is what brings me to the point I want to write on. There is no secret that we evolved from apes and thus few actions of ours closely relate to similar behaviour. Our penchant for having nuclear energy is quite similar, wherein we have no idea where it is going to lead us to. And unfortunately, right now we are unable to see beyond the nut!

The recent heart paining earthquake and tsunami in Japan that has led to a nuclear disaster that is still unfolding in Japan as an aftermath, speaks volumes of how fragile nuclear plants are and how dangerous such leakages can be. Any case of nuclear meltdown would cause leakage of radiations which not only can lead to a high death toll and permanent physical and mental disorders but in the long run can make the vicinity uninhabitable for tens of decades. India, which is blindly following a dream of going the nuclear way, is largely ignoring the threats that these reactors bring with themselves! The Three Mile and Chernobyl disasters during the eighties are testimonies to catastrophes that can be caused by such plants. And it is not that this is something new for India – in August 2010, the Journal of Contemporary Asia reported that between 1993 and 1995, more than 120 hazardous nuclear accidents took place in India. And then, there are protests which are already being organised in Jaitapur in Maharashtra after adverse effect of nuclear plants were seen on the ecology. Even if one ignores the Jaitapur protests, what comes as a surprise is how our government seems to have forgotten the biggest disaster of all time in Indian history. People have not even come out of the Bhopal Gas tragedy and mind you, there was nothing nuclear in that disaster!

The whole nuclear saga began in the October of 2008, when we signed the controversial and much criticised 1-2-3 deal with the US. This deal opened a $250 billion nuclear reactor market for India and today we are finding companies (mostly American and European) waiting for their contracts. This brings me to the biggest contract we signed with Areva that furthered our dream of becoming nuclear powered nation by adding 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 under the 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. And on the top of this, we are using a very controversial and unapproved nuclear reactor for this plant. As of now, we’ve more than 20 nuclear reactors dotted along the coastal areas of the nation that may be either exposed to quakes or tsunamis.

Taking a cue from Japan, Germany has suspended contracts and agreements that would have else ensured an extension of their nuclear facilities while Switzerland have, for the time being, kept aside all files meant for approval of nuclear plants. What we are repeatedly ignoring is the magnitude of the disaster that can occur. God forbid a Japan-like disaster occurs in our nation. With no earthquake-resistant buildings and literally no public awareness on such issues, a Japan-like incident can literally wipe out a major pie of our population leaving behind equal numbers of Indians crippled and physically and mentally handicapped. In case of India, the problem is just not one of fragile plants but also about the way we dispose our nuclear waste. A year back, radioactive substances were found in a Delhi market and what is the guarantee that tomorrow Indian roads will not be littered with radioactive substance with garbage collectors and ragpickers merrily collecting them without realising what they are holding?

Rather than going gung-ho over nuclear power, we should tap our renewable sources of energy and especially bank on solar power plants, given the fact that India is blessed with ample sunlight round the year. It would not be just economical, safe and green but would also reduce chances of future irreversible damages in case any disaster becomes an unfortunate reality!! Studies show that the average daily solar energy incident over our country is around 7 kWh/m2 (equivalent to 2000 solar hours per year) – any day more than the current total energy consumption of the entire nation and yet solar energy comprise less than one per cent of the total energy produced in India – while it is 35 per cent in developed nations. What is of most importance is the fact that now technology makes it possible to produce solar power at a lesser cost than nuclear power. It is therefore a huge question why the government is hell-bent on opting for nuclear energy when it very well knows that solar energy is now more cost-effective as well as safer. Alternatively of course, there is another thing we can do. Why we are keeping quiet about it is beyond my understanding. We can opt for thorium-based plants, owing to the fact that thorium is found in abundance in our country as we have 25 per cent of the world’s thorium reserve. Topmost, energy scientists have confirmed that it can be a very easy alternative for our energy problems. However, not a single media entity writes about it properly and the common man has no clue about it... Also the fact that thorium produces hundred times the power of that 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!

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 atom bombs and in a country like India with high population density, a single explosion would lead to hundred Hiroshimas! And if such a huge disaster can occur in a country like Japan which is known for its zero defect attitude and stringent quality control, then in this country where short cuts, corruption, fraudulent practices are more of a rule than exception, it will definitely happen. And God forbid if a disaster of this magnitude happens in India, we would be shattered completely. Unfortunately, the Indian government is unable to see things beyond the peanuts as of now!! I hope though it does so and takes the corrective measures as soon as possible and openly declares that India does not need nuclear energy.

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