A book in English published by Aakar Books in association with Lokayat, Pune to create awareness amongst people regarding nuclear energy. The book critically examines the most important claims made about the benefits of nuclear energy, that it is clean and safe, cheap, and green and is the answer to global warming. It also takes a close look at the reality of the claims about a ‘global nuclear renaissance’, by examining the present scenario and the likely future prospects for nuclear energy in North America and Western Europe. We are publishing an excerpt of the Intoduction to this book (Nuclear Energy – Technology from hell), you can also download a PDF version form the link.
PART I: GOVERNMENT PLANS FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY
The government of India is promoting nuclear energy as a solution to the country’s future energy needs and is embarking on a massive nuclear energy expansion program. It expects to have 20,000 MW nuclear power capacity online by 2020 1 and 63,000 MW by 2032 2 . The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has projected that India would have an astounding 275,000 MW of nuclear power capacity by 2050, which is expected to be 20 per cent of India’s total projected electricity generation capacity by then. 3 The signing of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal having opening up the possibility of uranium and nuclear reactor imports, the Prime Minister stated, in September 2009, that India could have an even more amazing 470,000 MW of nuclear capacity by 2050. 4 Dr Anil Kakodkar, then Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), is even more optimistic. He has predicted that India’s nuclear energy capacity could reach 600-700 thousand MW and account for 40 per cent of the estimated total power generation by 2050. 5 This would be a quantum leap from the present scenario. As of March 31, 2010, the total installed power generation capacity in the country was 159,400 MW, of which the contribution of nuclear power —more than sixty years after the atomic energy program was established and forty years after the first nuclear reactor started feeding electricity to the grid—was just 4560 MW, 6 or 2.86 per cent of the total. Thus, the projected capacity in 2050 would represent an increase by a factor of over a hundred.
The government has taken rapid steps to implement this plan. Following the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, it has given ‘in principle’ approval to setting up a string of giant size nuclear parks all along India’s coastline, each having six to eight reactors of between 1000 to 1650 MW—at Mithivirdi (Gujarat), Jaitapur (Maharashtra), Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu), Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh) and Haripur (West Bengal). It is also proposing to set up four indigenous reactors of 700 MW each at Gorakhpur in Haryana, and another two similar reactors at Chutka in Madhya Pradesh. To meet the fuel needs of these plants, it is proposing to set up several new uranium mining projects: at Tummalapalle (Kadapa district) and Lambapur-Peddagattu (Nalgonda district) in Andhra Pradesh, Gogi (near Gulbarga) in Karnataka and West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya.
Justifying this huge push for nuclear energy, India’s politicians, nuclear scientists and many prominent intellectuals are claiming that nuclear energy is clean, safe, green and cheap. This propaganda campaign is being led from the front by the Prime Minister himself. Here are a few quotes from some of his recent statements (emphasis ours in all quotes):
- At the inauguration of a new fuel reprocessing plant at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Tarapur on January 7, 2011: He praised the plant at Tarapur as ‘an outstanding example of clean, economic and safe energy that our nation requires’.
- At the Nuclear Security Summit, held in Washington, D.C. on April 13, 2010: Today, nuclear energy has emerged as a viable source of energy to meet the growing needs of the world in a manner that is environmentally sustainable. There is a real prospect for nuclear technology to address the developmental challenges of our times … The nuclear industry’s safety record over the last few years has been encouraging. It has helped to restore public faith in nuclear power.
- Speech after dedicating Tarapur-3 and 4 atomic reactors to the nation on August 31, 2007: A nuclear renaissance is taking place in the world, ‘and we cannot afford to miss the bus or lag behind these global developments.’ Elaborating on the reasons for the growing importance of nuclear energy, he stated: ‘Our long-term economic growth is critically dependent on our ability to meet our energy requirements of the future … [Since] our proven reserves of coal, oil, gas and hydropower are totally insufficient to meet our requirements (and) the energy we generate has to be affordable, not only in terms of its financial cost, but in terms of the cost to our environment’, this was the reason why ‘we place so much importance on nuclear energy’.
- Statement to the Indian Parliament on July 29, 2005, after returning from a visit to the United States where the first steps were taken towards signing what has come to be known as the ‘Indo-US Nuclear Deal’: ‘Energy is a crucial input to propel our economic growth … it is clear that nuclear power has to play an increasing role in our electricity generation plans … For this purpose, it would be very useful if we can access nuclear fuel as well as nuclear reactors from the international market … There is also considerable concern with regard to global climate change arising out of CO2 emissions. Thus, we need to pursue clean energy technologies. Nuclear power is very important in this context as well.’ Since ‘the US understood our position in regard to our securing adequate and affordable energy supplies, from all sources’ and because President Bush was willing to ‘work towards promoting nuclear energy as a means for India to achieve energy security’, this was the reason why India has decided to enter into a nuclear cooperation agreement with the USA.
On January 18, 2011, at an ‘open house’ on the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project organised by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in coordination with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), to clear misconceptions about nuclear power, an entire galaxy of scientists and doctors emphasised that nuclear power was safe, clean and green. They stated that the claims made by activists and scientists opposing nuclear energy—that radiation leakage from nuclear plants has a horrendous impact on human health, that it causes cancer and birth deformities in children, that mankind has yet to find a solution to the problem of what to do with the terribly radioactive waste generated by nuclear plants and that nuclear plants are prone to catastrophic accidents—were either an exaggeration, or lies:
- S.K. Jain, NPCIL chairman and managing director, claimed that India already runs 20 nuclear plants without any blemish on its safety record.
- The ‘experts’ claimed that nuclear plants do not harm the environment. Dr S.P. Dharne from the NPCIL said that nuclear power was clean and green energy, and that it could reduce the impact of global warming since it did not generate carbon dioxide. 12 Dr Srikumar Banerjee, current Chairman of the AEC, in fact, came up with the fantastic claim that flora and fauna had actually increased around India’s nuclear plants.
- Dr Anil Kakodkar, former Chairman of the AEC, tried to prove that the atomic waste generated by the Jaitapur nuclear plant would not cause any problems, as ‘there is no question of the waste being thrown in the open areas’. He stated that the nuclear waste would be ‘taken to reprocessing plant afteruse’, and therefore ‘[t]here is no hazard of the waste to the biodiversity of Konkan region.’
- On fears about radiation leakages from nuclear power plants, the government experts came up with another amazing explanation: they stated that the belief that nuclear plants cause impotency and cancer and deformities among children is due to superstitions because of illiteracy! 15 Dr Rajendra Badwe, head of the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, tritely stated that the plant was safe as, otherwise, it would not have been permitted. Referring to the survey by the anti-nuclear activist-scientist Dr Surendra Gadekar on the incidence of abnormalities in children around the Rawatbhata Atomic Power Station in Rajasthan, which has been published in a leading international journal, he blithely lied that the report was without any foundation since it had not been peerreviewed and published in reputed scientific journals. On the contrary, he made the bewildering claim that radiation was used to cure cancers. 16 Nuclear scientists Sharad Kale and Shrikumar Apte said there would not be any effect of radiation on agricultural products and marine life in the area.
The propaganda is so intense that most people in the country, at least those who read the newspapers and watch television, believe that nuclear energy is an environmentally friendly solution to India’s power shortages.
PART II: PEOPLE’S RESISTANCE
The people’s movement against nuclear energy in India dates back to the 1980s. The movement was especially strong in Kerala, where people succeeded in forcing the cancellation of plans to set up nuclear plants at Kothamangalam and Peringome. Tens of thousands of people came out onto the streets to protest government plans to set up nuclear plants at Kakrapar (in Gujarat) and Kaiga (in Karnataka). There were also protests against the decision to site a nuclear plant at Narora in the thickly populated state of Uttar Pradesh.
In continuation of this glorious history, people are rising up in revolt at each and every place where the government is proposing to set up a new uranium mining project or a nuclear power plant. Protests have stalled the uranium mining project in Nalgonda district in Andhra Pradesh for the last five years, while a powerful movement led by the Khasi Students Union, together with various tribal organisations, has held up the mining project in the state of Meghalaya for over one and a half decades now. Likewise, people everywhere are strongly protesting proposals to set up nuclear plants, be it in Haripur (West Bengal), Gorakhpur (Haryana), Mithivirdi (Gujarat) or Jaitapur (Maharashtra).
The people of Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Tuticorin districts have fought long and hard against the two Russian VVER-1000 reactors being built in Kudankulam village in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. Plans to build the reactors were first announced during the visit of Prime Minister Morarji Desai to Moscow in 1979; a formal agreement for the project was signed during President Gorbachev’s visit to New Delhi in 1988. People’s opposition to these plans intensified in the late 1980s, with more than 10,000 people participating in a rally in Kanyakumari called by the National Fishworkers Union to focus national attention on environmental issues, including the Kaiga and Kudankulam atomic power plants. Soon after, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 stalled the project.
This fortuitous reprieve lasted only a few years. In 1997, the Indian Prime Minister, Deve Gowda, and the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, signed an agreement to revive the Kudankulam project. The people, too, revived their struggle. The struggle has further intensified after the government signed another agreement with Russia to build four additional reactors there. Various people’s organisations have come together and formed an umbrella organisation, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), to fight the nuclear plant. They have held meetings in practically every village in the area and have organised dozens of demonstrations, cycle yatras and seminars against the project.
More than 20,000 people, organised under the banner of ‘Haripur Paramanu Bidyut Prakalpa Pratirodh Andolan’, prevented a team of experts from the NPCIL from visiting the area on November 17, 2006, even though they were accompanied by battalions of armed police. Thousands of men, women and children from villages around the proposed site blockaded all entry points and vowed to embrace instant death rather than allowing their coming generations to suffer from the nuclear menace. The attempt was repeated on the next day; but again the experts and police were forced to go back.
The stakes for building nuclear plants are very high, and it makes for strange bedfellows. While the CPI(M) was strongly against the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, which was crucial for the construction of the Haripur plant to go ahead, and has also been protesting the Jaitapur nuclear plant probably because it is in the opposition in the state of Maharashtra, the West Bengal Chief Minister has repeatedly expressed his support for building the Haripur plant, and the local goons of CPI(M) have tried to portray the opposition as either Maoists or as being anti-development environmentalists. Yet, repression has not broken the resolve of the people, and they have not allowed a single Introduction 78 Nuclear Energy: Technology from Hell official of India’s atomic energy establishment to visit the area for the last 5 years.
A powerful movement of the people of Mithivirdi, Jaspara and nearly 40 surrounding villages in district Bhavnagar of Gujarat has being going on for the last three years against government plans to construct a 6000-8000 MW nuclear power plant there. 7000 people attended a public meeting against the project on April 25, 2010. In June 2010, NPCIL officials together with truck loads of police tried to visit the area to take soil samples for testing, but thousands of people surrounded them and firmly told them to go back. After trying to use force, the officials and police finally retreated.
NPCIL is proposing to set up four indigenous reactors in Gorakhpur village, in Fatehabad district of Haryana. Despite efforts by NPCIL scientists to convince the local people about the benefits of nuclear power, the villagers of Gorakhpur and nearby villages have launched a militant protest against the project. They have been sitting on a dharna outside the office of the District Collector since October 2010. The biting cold wave led to one farmer being martyred and many farmers being hospitalised. However, this has not broken the resolve of the people. Support groups for the struggle have been formed in a number of nearby cities, including Chandigarh.
Amongst the most heroic of these struggles has been the militant struggle of the people of Madban, Nate and other nearby villages against the Jaitapur nuclear plant in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. The government has forcibly acquired land from 2275 families, after more than 95 per cent of them refused to accept the hiked compensation offered by the government of Rs.10 lakh per acre and the promise of a job. The few people who have accepted the cheques are mostly absentee landlords. The issue for the people is not displacement, which is why not just the affected people, but peoplefrom dozens of nearby villages too, are waging a fantastic struggle despite intense police repression. Farmers, mango growers, rickshaw drivers, transporters, fisherfolk, shopkeepers, everyone has joined the movement. They are refusing to believe assurances given by the top official scientists of the country, media intellectuals and politicians of various parties, that nuclear energy is safe, clean and green. They firmly believe that the plant will destroy not just their livelihoods, but will also affect the very sustainability of life in the entire Konkan region for centuries. When the government issued a directive to school teachers to brainwash students into believing that nuclear energy is green, the children boycotted the schools for a few days!
The government has unleashed savage repression on the people. It has promulgated prohibitory orders disallowing people from holding meetings and demonstrations under Section 144 of the CrPC and Section 37 of the Bombay Police Act. It has resorted to lathi-charges, beatings, indiscriminate arrests, registering of false cases against hundreds of men, women and even children, including the atrocious charge of ‘attempt to murder’ on many of them. Thousands of people have courted arrest, and many have spent several nights in jail on trumped up charges. Leading activists of the area have been issued externment notices from Ratnagiri district. Eminent citizens of the region who have extended support to the struggle, including former Supreme Court Judge P.B. Sawant, retired Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Ramdas and noted economist Dr Sulabha Brahme, have been barred from entering the district! The government is using every trick in the book to divide the people and break their will, by trying to split them along communal lines, labelling activists as Maoists and ‘outsiders’ with an ideological agenda, setting up police camps in the area to intimidate the people, issuing threats, and so on.
However, the people are standing firm and have refused to be cowed down! They are united in their resolve that, come what may, they will fight, till the plant is cancelled!!