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Probability of disasters in India 'to increase' with the addition of nuclear reactors

By Shankar Sharma* 

At a time when the Union government is planning/ commissioning scores of additional nuclear reactors in different parts of the country, there is a critical need for our people to take cognisance of the associated risks and costs to the larger society.
Two videos (click here and here) can provide a vivid scenario of how the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima had disastrous impacts on the local communities. What is of critical interest in these two cases is the appreciable speed with which the local communities were shifted out of the danger zone.
Whereas the then USSR and Japan had much larger resource bases and much lower population to rescue/ rehabilitate, it is difficult to imagine the associated impacts and costs to our society from any such unfortunate nuclear disaster in India, which has much lower resource base and much larger population around nuclear power projects.
Additionally, the then USSR and Japan have been associated with a high level of technological, quality and safety standards. If these two techno-economically developed countries could not avert the nuclear disasters, would it be rational to assume that the probability of such disasters, in 22 operating nuclear reactors and scores of others being added in our country, is very low or negligible?
In this larger context of a considerable number of nuclear reactors being operated/ planned/ commissioned in India, the credible probability of such disaster scenarios must have huge relevance to our authorities requiring them to take all possible measures to minimise the impacts to our communities.
Are our authorities and the associated project communities prepared for such eventualities? It is difficult to assume so, when we also consider the fact that none of the credible concerns of civil society, since decades, have not even been acknowledged by the concerned authorities, let alone satisfactorily addressing them.
Multiple representations in this regard to Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), PMO, Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), and the state government of Karnataka have not even been acknowledged. In such a deplorable scenario, the rational thinkers may wonder as to who amongst the multiple authorities will accept the overall responsibility for the consequences of one or more unfortunate nuclear disasters in the country.
In this larger context, some of the major issues worthy of urgent consideration for civil society are:
  • The probability and the consequences of a nuclear disaster in India will increase with the addition of nuclear reactors as being planned/ commissioned now;
  • it is impossible to state with any degree of conviction that our authorities and the project proximity communities are suitably trained/ prepared for such eventualities. The example of the Kaiga Atomic Power Project, Karnataka, can be cited in this regard: even with the best intention among our authorities, it is difficult to imagine that in the case of any unfortunate nuclear accident in this project site, all the people in the safety zone can be evacuated safely within the stipulated time because of the hilly and difficult terrain;
  • have all the people living in safety zones in each of the nuclear project sites been correctly identified; their location and contact details are available to the authorities to enable early notification and easy evacuation?
  • have suitable places for temporary shelter and rehabilitation identified, and kept ready for urgent usage?
  • have suitable and adequate first aid, medical and hospital facilities been identified for urgent usage?
  • have an adequate number of suitably trained medical personnel identified for urgent deployment?
  • have an adequate number of suitable vehicles for peoples' evacuation identified for urgent deployment?
Similar to the case of the Kaiga Atomic Power Project, Karnataka, where no clarification from the state authorities is forthcoming for such credible concerns, it is conceivable that a similar lack of preparedness is prevailing in other nuclear power project sites also.
In the context that the forcibly displaced people from a few dam- based projects in Karnataka have not been rehabilitated satisfactorily even after a few decades, our own recent past experience should indicate the absence of any effective rehabilitation policy/ practice in the country. Additionally, where are the suitable locations in our country to rehabilitate such thousands of families, if more such projects keep coming up?
In such a dismal scenario, there is a critical and urgent need for civil society groups to seriously consider effectively engaging the concerned authorities so as to persuade them to diligently act to adopt the safer option of eliminating/ minimising the very need for nuclear power reactors in our country.
In the overall context of the electric power sector in the country, it can be credibly argued that nuclear power plants are not essential for the satisfactory operation of the national grid, and that nuclear power is the costliest source of electricity.
The entire civil society, hence, has the critical role to diligently consider all the associated issues, such as the overall costs, risks and all the credible alternatives available to our country, and persuade the concerned authorities to adopt the most rational approach in meeting our electricity demand through non-nuclear power options; especially the new and renewable energy sources, of which the country has enormous potential.
In this larger context, the PDF of a detailed representation to the Prime Minister with regard to the Kaiga Atomic Power Project, Karnataka (click here) can reveal many such serious concerns to our communities, and the scenario of much benign and better options to meet the legitimate demand for electricity of our people.
Power & Climate Policy Analyst



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