There is a growing civil society movement against the new uranium mining and nuclear power plants in India. The National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements (NAAM) is mobilizing citizens to protest against the reported decision of the government of India to take a quantum leap in installed capacity for nuclear power generation, from the current level of 4,120 MW to 63,000 MW by 2032. "This decision is but an invitation to disaster" says activists.
"Nuclear power, contrary to orchestrated hypes, is actually costlier than power from conventional sources like coal, gas and hydro. And once all the hidden costs are factored in, it would be costlier than even from renewable sources, like wind, in particular" says the NAAM petitionthat is swelling with citizens signing and endorsing the petition addressed to Ms Pratibha Patil, President of India; Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India and Mr Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
"More importantly, it is also intrinsically hazardous, as large amount of radiation is routinely released at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. An even more intractable problem is that of safe storage of nuclear waste and safe disposal of outlived power plants, given the fact that the half-lives of some of the radioactive substances involved are over even millions of years" further reads the petition.
"Even more disconcerting is, considering the complexity of the technology of a nuclear reactor; there is no way to ensure that a major accident at a nuclear power plant will never take place. And a major accident, given the nature of things, will just turn catastrophic affecting a very large number of people, over a large territory, over a very long period. The disastrous accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in the Ukraine province of the then USSR, on April 26 1986 is a chilling illustration."
"The promise of nil greenhouse gas (GHG) emission is also nothing more than a myth if the entire fuel cycle - including mining, milling, transportation and construction of the power plant - is considered. Moreover, nuclear energy with its highly centralized power production model would only further aggravate the problem by accentuating the current development paradigm reliant on mega-industries and actively blocking any possibility towards ecologically benign decentralized development. The strong linkage between nuclear power and weapons - in terms of large overlaps in technology, in turn triggering strong political push - of which India itself is a graphic illustration can also be overlooked only at our own peril given the genocidal, and suicidal, character of the nuclear weapon" reads the signature petitionof NAAM.
The NAAMpetition further adds:
As nuclear power is economically unattractive and socially unacceptable, on account of radiation hazards and risks of catastrophic accidents, no order for new nuclear reactors was placed in the USA and most of West Europe during the last 30 years, since the Three Mile Island accident in the US in 1979.
The US and European companies in nuclear power plant equipment and nuclear fuel business are thus looking to Asia for markets - India, China and Japan spearheading the current expansion programme.
It is unfortunate that the Indian government is becoming their willing collaborator in this in pursuit of its megalomaniac hunt for nuclear power and weapon. It has thus, over a period of just one year, rushed to enter into agreements with as many as seven countries, viz. the US, France, Russia, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Mongolia and Argentina.
So far, nuclear power production capacity in India is very small, only about 3 percent of the total electricity generation capacity; and the veil of secrecy surrounding the existing nuclear power plants in the country, and absence of any truly independent monitoring agency, has seriously hindered dissemination of information on accidents - large and small - at these plants and their public scrutiny. That explains the current low level of popular awareness as regards the grave threats posed by the nuclear industry.
Taking advantage of this, the government of India is now set to steamroll its massive expansion program.
The contention that nuclear power is indispensable to meet future energy needs is false; for energy demand, and "need", is obviously a function of the development paradigm chosen and pursued. And "energy security" is not an autonomous entity or objective, but must be in alignment with other chosen objectives which must include equitable growth and concerns for ecology.
Viewed thus, "energy security" may be achieved by: (I) Increasing efficiency of electricity generation, transmission and distribution. (II) Doing away with extravagant and wasteful use of energy. (III) Pursuing a path of low-energy intensity and decentralised development. (IV) Making optimum use of alternative energy options. (IV) Radically raising investment in development of sustainable and renewable energy sources and technologies, especially wind and solar energy.
As a part of its expansion program, the government of India has announced plans to expand the nuclear power plant coming up at Koodankulam (Tamil Nadu). Additional four reactors from Russia of 1,200 MWe each, in the immediate or near future, are to come up over and above the two of 950 MWe each, presently under construction. The process for setting up a nuclear plant at Jaitapur (Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra) has also reached an advanced stage. The French company Areva is set to supply two new generation reactors of 1650 MWe each, to be followed by another two. Land acquisition notices have been served on the local people to acquire 981 hectare of land.
The government has reportedly already approved 15 new plants at eight sites.
These sites are Kumharia in Haryana - meant for indigenous reactors; Kakrapar (indigenous reactors) and Chhayamithi Virdi (reactor from US) in Gujarat; Kovvada (reactor from US) in Andhra Pradesh; Haripur (reactor from Russia) in West Bengal; Koodankulam (reactor from Russia) in Tamil Nadu; and Jaitapur (reactor from France) in Maharashtra.
Similarly, the mad rush for more and more power plants is matched by an accelerated drive for uranium mining in newer areas: Andhra and Meghalaya, in particular. And this, despite the horrible experience of uranium mines in different parts of the world, as also in our own Jadugoda - where appalling conditions continue despite strong popular protests, spanning decades.
The signatories of this NAAM petitiondemand that the government of India put a complete stop to the construction of all new uranium mines and nuclear power plants, and radically jack up investments in renewable and environmentally sustainable sources of energy.[To sign the petition, click here or go to: http://www.petitiononline.com/Nonukes/petition.html ]
Bobby Ramakant, CNS
(The author is a World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General's WNTD Awardee (2008) and writes extensively on health and development. He is a Fellow of Citizen News Service (CNS) Writers' Bureau. Website: www.citizen-news.org, email: [email protected])