While the rest of the country seemed to be drawn in the vortex of mud slinging and shoe throwing, as the lead in to the on going Lok Sabha elections, a group of common citizens was deliberating the more serious issue of the dangers of nuclear power. Several eminent social activists, doctors, academicians, and other members of civil society took part in a symposium, organized on 26th April in Lucknow , to mark Chernobyl Day. This brainstorming session had a very positive outcome and resulted in many eye opening revelations.
Magsaysay Awardee (2002) and member, National Presidium, Lok Rajniti Manch (People's Politics Front) Dr Sandeep Pandey, retired Inspector General of Police and Lok Rajniti Manch's candidate from Lucknow for Lok Sabha elections this year SR Darapuri, leader of Prakriti Manav Kendrit Andolan Gurudayal Singh Sheetal, a medical expert from Endocrine and Nuclear Medicine unit of Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (CSMMU) who is also the World Health Organization (WHO) Director General's Awardee (2005) Professor (Dr) Rama Kant, and Aflatoon Desai, State President of Samajwadi Jan Parishad, were among the key resource people addressing the seminar on Chernobyl Day.
The disaster which took place at Chernobyl Power Plant (situated in Ukraine), twenty three years ago, unleashed a radioactive fury which was 400 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bombing, and whose effects could be felt as far as Ireland. This accident raised serious doubts, world wide, about the suitability of nuclear power to meet our energy needs.
There is enough scientific and medical evidence to show that nuclear energy is neither clean, nor safe, nor cheap. Yet, its protagonists (mainly governments and political parties) harp upon these very virtues of nuclear energy. The harmful radiations, emitted during the process of nuclear fission, cannot be eliminated and neither can the environment (including human beings) be protected fully from them, despite the best possible precautions taken. Several nuclear power plant disasters in the past took place despite high standard safety norms. And, perhaps, this prompted those countries to refrain from constructing more such plants.
In a country like India , the entire approach to security and safety is generally directed towards protecting the political and corporate big wigs. Yet, to date about 130 mishaps, (due to flouting of safety norms), from the 15 nuclear plants operating in India , have been reported by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The nuclear power plant at Narora has released radioactive waste which has been detected in river waters near Varanasi .
The situation in the mining areas of nuclear energy fuel is worse. As our entire Uranium supply comes from the tribal regions of Jharkhand and Meghalaya, there is a total disregard of international safety norms. In Jharkhand there are three productive mines within a radius of 5 kilometres. After extracting Uranium, the 85% radioactive products left behind, are made into slurry and pumped to tailing dams, which have no protective linings to prevent its seepage into under ground water. So, contaminated water reaches far and wide. Careless dumping of radioactive waste has adversely affected the environment. A large number of villagers in the surrounding areas have developed disorders related to ionized radiations. Incidences of deformities at birth, miscarriages, still births, fatigue, depression and even mental illness are very high. Radioactive waste has also entered the food chain in the region. Mutant varieties of fruit and paddy have been observed. Despite a public outcry, nothing seems to have been done to mitigate the sufferings of the tribal people. Perhaps, in the eyes of the government, they are not worth caring for.
Yet, the urge to be in the league of super powers is so strong that our political parties gloat over our possession of the atom bomb as well as over the recently signed Indo US Nuclear Treaty. Both these are steps towards increasing our nuclear superiority and exposing our unsuspecting public to greater health hazards.
India 's 15 nuclear reactors, spread over 6 states, are barely able to meet 3% of the country's energy needs by producing 3360 mega watts of energy. The most optimistic projections aim to raise this figure to 9% in the future. Setting up a nuclear reactor is very capital intensive and so is its maintenance. Moreover, the life of a nuclear reactor is around 30 years, after which it has to be dismantled, the cost of which is exorbitant too. Thus, developing nuclear energy is a slow, expensive and uncertain proposition, fraught with dangers. The real solution to our energy needs lies in opting for energy resources that have a low impact on our environment, are cost effective and are easily available. Besides, we need to control our greed and conserve energy rather than use it blatantly.
Renewable energy has the true potential to bring energy sufficiency to India . Nature has blessed our land with lots of sunlight, wind power and tidal power. We need to engage in 'nature centric activities' (rather than just human centric) and use its bounties, without exploiting or denuding it. There is an urgent need for the government to support research for better utilization of solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy, and biomass energy; rather than endorse politically motivated deals, like the Indo US Nuclear Treaty, which can never benefit the common citizen. In fact wind power is currently generating 3740 mega watts of energy in the country (as opposed to 3360 megawatts produced by nuclear power plants), and is a far better option than nuclear power. Also, given India 's poor track record of resettlement, it would make more sense to develop small hydro electric projects, rather than build huge dams.
All right minded citizens need to contemplate on these issues and reject the Atom Bomb as well as the Atomic Energy. Both of them are extremely unsafe devices and have dangerous effects. The world is awaking to the necessity of total nuclear disarmament and weaning away from nuclear power plants. Social organizations are campaigning globally to save us from their deadly impacts. In fact, 114 countries ( India is NOT one of them) have signed a pact to be 'nuclear free zones'.
It is time that civil society becomes an integral part of the government's decision making process, and short term populist measures (like doling out freebies just before election time) are replaced by long enduring sensible ones. It is time that political parties formulate their manifestos after having meaningful dialogues with various sections of civil society, rather than blow their trumpet of partisan interests. Only then will the government policies/treaties benefit the lowliest of the lowly, and not merely fill the coffers of the ruling junta.
Let us accept peaceful coexistence as the way of life, where no one predates upon nature and upon each other; where there is enough for all and there is no vulgar display of ones' physical, financial and social superiority. Amen!