Kalpakkam Update: Peaceful Anti-Nuke Protests Turned Nasty by Tamil Nadu Cops

from Nityanand Jayaraman

Update: 28 March, 2013. 6.30 p.m.

Based on telephone conversation with Abdul Samad, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, Kalpakkam.

It is not the manner in which a protest is conducted, but the target of the protests that determine whether the police will turn nasty or remain cool. This morning, more than 1000 people gathered peacefully on the beach near the Kalpakkam nuclear power plant. The organisers instructed people to sit on the sands, and chant slogans. According to Abdul Samad, “Such a peaceful and organised gathering was unprecedented. It was a soft, well-behaved affair. We told the people that officials will come, and we can present our demadns to them, and that the police will come and tell us to disperse, after which those who wish to court arrest will have to walk in an orderly manner and board the bus.” Nearly 650 people, including 200 women, were picked up by the police and taken to wedding halls in three towns — Guduvanchery, Singaperumal Koil, and Chengalpet. About 27 leaders are being held in Singaperumal Koil, while 110 others are being held in the same venue downstairs.

It is common practice for the police to release peaceful protestors in the evening. But in this instance, since the protests is directed against the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and the Department of Atomic Energy, the police is being vicious. It first said the 27 leaders will be remanded and sent to judicial custody. Now the Superintendent of Police has brought the Magistrate to the wedding hall, and is threatening to jail all 650 people.

The protestors were demanding an end to dumping of nuclear wastes inside the Kalpakkam premises; a freeze on any further expansion of nuclear facilities in the Kalpakkam nuclear park; and diversion of all produced electricity to the surrounding affected villages, which currently face 10 hours of power cuts.

Kindly register your protest by sending faxes and emails to the Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu: +91 44-28447703(Fax)
Email: phq@tn.nic.in

Update from earlier this day: 1:29 p.m.

Kalpakkam Protests; Kalpakkam Arrests
G. Sundar Rajan, a friend and co-activist, is currently travelling to Singaperumal Koil in Kanchipuram District to meet Abdul Samad — one of the organisers of the resistance to the expansion of nuclear capacity in Kalpakkam nuclear park. Samad is one of nearly 2000 people who have been detained in about six different locations for organising a hunger strike and blockade of the Kalpakkam nuclear complex. Villagers living in the areas surrounding the Madras Atomic Power Station are protesting against the expansion of the nuclear complex, and have said that they will not tolerate the addition of any new facilities in Kalpakkam. A 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor has been under construction for nearly a decade, and villagers have said that this plant must be abandoned. They have also condemned the dumping of radioactive waste within the premises. Additionally, they have demanded that the entire share of electricity produced at the MAPS complex should be distributed to nearby villages. They pointed out that it is vulgar that the local villages suffer 10 hour shortages while Kalpakkam township, more than 10 kilometres away enjoys 24-hour electricity.

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The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India

M V Ramana in conversation with Nityanand Jayaraman

Date: February 18, 2013. Location: Asian College of Journalism

Published on Youtube on Mar 3, 2013. 30 mins 21s.

English transcript available below. Download the transcript in .doc format.

NJ: Dr. M V Ramana is a physicist at the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, Princeton University. Besides authoring numerous technical papers on the subject of nuclear power, Dr. Ramana is also known as an eloquent and an articulate speaker on the geopolitics of nuclear energy and its changing prospects over the years. In late 2012, Penguin India has published his first solo book, which is called The Power of Promise. He is currently in Chennai, as part of a multi-city tour of India to discuss and release his book. Good afternoon, Dr. Ramana. Thank you very much for being with us at ACJ.

So your book has a very interesting title, The Power of Promise, and in Tamil Nadu, we are painfully aware of the undelivered promises of power, especially the electricity. What is the point that you are trying to make by this title that you have chosen?

Click on cover to see the book in Flipkart.com

Click on cover to see the book in Flipkart.com

MVR: The title came after I wrote the book and as I was studying the history of nuclear energy in India. And what I saw was that over the course of the last seven decades when nuclear power has been established in this country since its inception of the Department of Atomic Energy, the nuclear establishment has made a number of promises of how important nuclear power is going to be as a source of electricity generation in the country, in the future. These projections have always been for the future and they have never been delivered as such. But, by making this promise that in the future there is going to be a large amount of power, they ensure that the Department of Atomic Energy and all the nuclear activities it conducts are supported by the political leadership as well as the elite in the country and this is also combined with yet another promise.

So, the promise here is of two natures. One is of large amounts of energy in the future, but also of, perfect security through building of nuclear weapons. And the Department of Atomic Energy is unique in being a technology that offers these two different promises, these two different aspirations that the elite have. One of being able to consume large amounts of energy, which they feel is necessary for development and economic growth. And of nuclear weapons, which they feel is going to provide them with security. In that sense, nuclear power forms a technology that offers the capacity for mass production, mass consumption, and mass destruction; in that sense, very very unique. What I find is that the nuclear establishment gets its political power through these promises.

NJ: One of the important, kind of, methods by which the nuclear establishment has tried to get its bind to this project, to this whole programme, has been its much doubted three-stage programme. And your book suggests that this has been and will remain a non-starter. Can you tell us more about what this three stage programme is and why you think its going to be a non-starter?

MVR: Before I would say, first I would say, I don’t think it is a non-starter. It has already started, but it’s going it be a non-deliverer. The three-stage programme was first enunciated by the Department of Atomic Energy, in particular its founder who is called Homi Bhabha. The first time he talked about this in 1954 and this was in the context of a debate in parliament, with a critic of the nuclear establishment  as it had been set up at that point, a chap called Meghnad Saha, who was a well-known physicist. And Bhabha basically used the idea that India has a large amount of thorium and he wanted to try and use that thorium to try and make their nuclear power. The reason he wanted to do that has to do with this question of promise.

Let me start by explaining what the basic issue is. So if you wanted to generate large amounts of nuclear power in the country, then you needed large amounts of uranium. And at that time, and subsequently too, what it seems is the case with India and, Indian geology in particular, is that we have fairly limited amount of uranium and the uranium is not particularly of good quality. And to qualify that let me also point out, by limited amount, I mean limited amount of uranium that’s high of quality, that its economic to mine it. Uranium is plentiful. You can find it in your backyard. The amount of uranium you will find by sifting through your entire backyard, will probably be a few grams. So, its not worth it. But, if you wanted to look for somewhat good quality uranium ore then the amounts are fairly limited in India.

Now, nuclear energy is to be big source of power; and that too you want to do it in such a way that it only depends on indigenous resources, then you could not depend on this uranium as it were. It so happens that India also has a large amount of thorium and around the world at that time [1950s], people in nuclear establishments in many different parts of the world felt, France for example, all felt they had limited amounts of uranium and they had to find ways of  exploiting this thorium, which is typically found more abundantly around the world. And as a way to do that, they set up a three-stage programme. In the first stage, what you do is find natural uranium that you find in nature in the cores of what are called heavy water reactors. These are reactors where the neutrons are slowed down through an interaction with water, where there is a heavier isotope of hydrogen called deutirium, which is present. And that deutrinium slows down the neutrons so efficiently that the neutrons have a much higher probability of hitting another nucleus of uranium causing it to fission. So that’s the first stage of reactors.

The next stage is that you take the spent fuel, that is the fuel that has been irradiated inside a nuclear reactor, during the course of which the uranium that’s initially in the fuel would have got converted to plutonium. So you take this spent fuel, after cooling it for a while, you process it in a reprocessing plant, which is basically a chemical plant where you dissolve it in acid and so on, add various chemicals, trying to separate the plutonium. The plutonium in turn, in the second phase, will be used to fuel the reactor, which is called a breeder reactor. A  breeder reactor is one where the core has plutonium, which is actually the one which is fission-ing, and then is surrounded by the blanket of other uranium or thorium, which in turn will absorb some of the neutrons that are escaping from the core of the reactor, to be converted into plutonium, if it’s uranium, or Uranium 233, a different isotope if it’s thorium. And in turn if you produce enough Uranium 233, you could start thinking about reactors where you had Uranium 233 in the core and thorium [indistinct word]…  So, this is the three-stage idea that Bhabha had.

All-Atomic Comics pp. 17 Breeders. Leonard Rifas

All-Atomic Comics pp. 17 Breeders. Leonard Rifas. Click on image to read.

The problem with this idea is essentially the second stage. The second stage involve these so called breeder reactors and these breedor reactors, because of the fact that you’re using this highly fissile plutonium in a very dense configuration you produce a huge amount of heat in a very small volume and this requires the use of metals, molten metals to conduct this heat on to the reactor. You cannot lose water. And this has been a huge source of problems with nuclear reactors around the world. The other set of problems with breeder reactors are that they are susceptible to certain kinds of very catastrophic accidents. All of these typically conspired to make breeder reactors very expensive. And as a result of these many countries, which initially thought much about breeder reactors, have abandoned this idea; this includes the United States, includes the United Kingdom, France… So, as of now, it’s mostly India and Russia, and to small extents China, which is interested in this. If you get through this whole stage, then you have to get to the thorium problem/stage, and thorium has all the problems of the second stage of uranium and other problems, which have to do with the fact that when it produces Uranium 233, it comes with a contaminant, which is Uranium 232, which highly radioactive. So, even to make that substance into fuel rods, you have to do it remotely behind concrete walls and things of that sort, which makes the process very expensive. So, thorium, I would expect it to be much more expensive than the breeder reactors we have. 

NJ: But, we do have a breeder reactor in Kalpakkam coming up.

MVR: We do have, and I’ll talk about that.

NJ: Okay, we’ll come to that in a bit. Now, authoritative sources, including the likes of the Prime Minister, have suggested that India will get nearly 275 gigawatts of electricity through nuclear power by 2052. And we have seen numerous news reports that have just reproduced this, without any critical insight into how achievable it is. What are your thoughts on this and what do you say about it in the book?

MVR: These kind of goals, as I have said, have been enunciated many many times in the past and have never been achieved. The 275000 megawatts by 2052 came around in the early 2000s. And actually in more recent years, it has been devised in a upward storm to 470,000. I’ve seen figures as of that. Apart from all the other problems of nuclear power that it has, long reactor construction time, it’s expensive, all that, all those issues, there is a special problem to this particular projection.

This particular projection is based on building large number of breeder reactors. These breeder reactors, I’ve told you have other problems, but even if you set aside all those problems, assume that you have the money to put in to this and so on, there’s a problem with this projection, which has to do with the accounting for the plutonium that is required. So, as I mentioned earlier, breeder reactors are ones where if you put in a certain amount of plutonium it could generate more plutonium at the end of the cycle. But, in order to get that plutonium out you have to do various things. So, you will have to take the spent fuel out of the reactor, you will have to wait for it to cool, you have to reprocess it in a reprocessing plant, then you will have to take the plutonium out, and make it into fuel rods, rebuild another reactor core with it and then start that reactor. All those things take a certain amount of time. And in the case of the DAE’s projections they have just not alloted enough time for that. So, this is not a matter of being optimistic or pessimistic, it is a matter of physics.

And in mathematical terms, for those people who ubderstand mathematics, the difference between having what’s called a differential equation and a what’s called a difference equation. And the DAE’s thing is inaccurate because it just assumes that the growth will be so smooth and exponential whereas you have to take in to account these discreet actions which have to be done. Once you put into… again, if you go by the DAE’s projections, you will actually end up soon in five to six, ten years with negative amounts of plutonium, because you need the plutonium to fuel the reactor and so on. This is not enough plutonium for that. If you do try to be careful about the plutonium accounting and not assume to have produced it out of thin air, then what happens is these projections are automatically down by 40 to 60%. And if you try to get into account more realistic projections, then you’ll probably come out with 80% of what they have have. Even at the theoritical level, you are not going to be able to reach 275000-475000 numbers that you are talking about.

NJ: Then that figure you’re saying assumes that the second and third stage will be able to go up to…

MVR: This is all only the second stage.

NJ: Only second stage.

MVR: Yeah thorium, even in Department of Atomic Energy’s plans, comes about only after 2052. ….Also, I want to say one more thing about thorium, since you have talked about it. Which is that, there used to be a joke in the electronics industry. The electronics industry, as you know, is mostly based on silicon. And in the 80s, they used to talk about germanium as being ideal metal for semi-conductors and all kinds of chips and so on. But, germanium was found to have various problems. So in the 80s and 90s, people used to make this joke about germanium – Germanium is the material of the future, always has been, always will be. And you see, thorium is very much like that. It’s this magic grade that they want to have it, it’s always in the future, and always will remain in the future.

NJ: Your book meticulously highlights the various mishaps and hurdles faced during the construction and commissioning of various reactors. In one instance, you mention a fire and an explosion proceeded and closely followed the Prime Minister’s visit to Kalpakkam, when she went there, when Indira Gandhi went there to dedicate the MAPS-1 reactor to the nation. Was this incident widely reported? Do these mishaps, which you know are infamously called incidents, come to light automatically and immediately?

MVR: Usually not. In some cases, they do come about. I think, I do not know actually if this widely reported at that point. I found out about it actually through the writings of the retired DAE Secretary, M R Srinivasan, in his autobiography he had talked about this. That’s how I found out about it. What typically happens in  many of these cases is that immediately after the event you often will not find anything about it in public media. Occassionally, some workers leak news of these kinds of things to media and so on. That’s how you find out about it. You find out some, some mishaps through the annual reports that the atomic energy regulatory board…so, you find some information. The picture is neither completely dark nor completely transparent. It’s somewhat mixed. You do find out some details, but some times not.

The 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam. Photo credits: S Raghunathan, The Hindu.

The 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam. Photo credits: S Raghunathan, The Hindu.

NJ: You’re now in Chennai, a metropolis less than 100 kms from Kalpakkam. And on the other side of Kalpakkam sits Pondicherry, another teeming town. NPCIL [Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.] claims, I mean I know one of its, 25th year, it claimed that the Kalpakkam plants have operated without any hazards for several reactor years. How true is this? What are the kind of facilities that are currently running in Kalpakkam? Is there any cause for concern for people who are living in Chennai or in Pondicherry?

MVR: I would answer this at three levels. First level is, asking just what we know, in terms of empirical things. There have been a number of small incidents of the kind that you have mentioned, various heavy water leaks, things tripping, so on and so forth. Now, if you think about all these things as some kind of an indicator of the health of the system it is sort of like saying – if there is a man that is going around, or woman for that matter who is going around, who has got occassional shortness of breath, who is not able to climb stairs, who has some occasional slight chest pain, and things of that sort, he or she might have not had a heart attack at that point, but clearly those signs are not good. Another thing, to sort of, look at this whole picture is to say, look at the experience so far and can you decide that there has, because there hasn’t been any major accidents, catastrophic accidents, that the system is safe. And again, the answer is no, because the number of years of experience is very very limited compared to the accuracy at the confidence that you want to have about how few accidents there are.

So, to give you an example, if you see the discussions about Koodankulam or any of these reactors, they would often say things like, we have done our analysis of this and the probability of a core damage accident in this will be 10-6  per reactor, or 10-7 , or something like that. Really small number, one part in a million, or one part in ten million, and so on and so forth. If you wanted to get that kind of a figure from empirical data, you would have to have tens and hundreds of thousands of years of reactor experience, without any accidents, to say well this is reasonable. In the absence of that kind of experience, you cannot say, you cannot be sure of this number with any great confidence.

Finally, I would say the most concern about the kind of facilities that they are building in Kalpakkam are two-fold. One, is this breeder reactor that they are constructing, the prototype fast-breeder reactor. It’s the first reactor, commercial scale reactor of the second stage of this nuclear programme. It’s a 500 megawatt reactor, fueled by plutonium, with liquid sodium removing the heat from the core. And this has various problems with its design. In particular, it has something called the positive void coefficient which is very dangerous, which actually led to the accident in Chernobyl, the reactor has a certain kind of behaviour that is not stable. And this proto-fast breeder reactor has been built with a containment, which is the big structure that you see from far in any reactor, which is not of adequate strength in order to contain the accident, if one should happen, a really worse case accident. So, that’s one area where I will concerned about the Kalpakkam reactor.

The second thing is the reprocessing plant, which also is in Kalpakkam, where spent fuel is chopped up and dissolved in acid and plutonium extracted. When this process is done, one should remember that all the radioactivity that is sitting inside this spent fuel, none of it goes away, because that’s a physical property. We cannot destroy radioactivity. So, what happens is all this radioactivity gets stored in the form of, what are called, high level waste, which is extremely concentrated source of radioactivity; usually kept in steel tanks. Ideally, one would like to seal this liquid, actually blend it with glass to form something that is called vitrified waste. In Kalpakkam, for whatever reason, I don’t know why they haven’t managed to get the vitrification plant to work. All the annual reports from the Department of Atomic Energy talk about them building a reprocessing, I mean a vitrification plant, and they always say work is progressing, it’s expected to be completed. But, I have never seen one which says it is completed, as of about a year or so. So, in my sense, even if the  plant is not operating  there will probably be a huge backlog high level waste and this is something which if cooling fails for some reason it can actually explode due to the chemical reactions, in principle it’s possible and this kind of explosion has happened in 1957 at the Mayak processing plant in the Soviet Union, which contaminated a huge area of land. So, that goes to the kinds of things that there would be any worry about.

NJ: Nuclear electricity is cheap! What do your studies suggest, conclude about this suggestion?

All-Atomic Comics pp. 22. Leonard Rifas.

All-Atomic Comics pp. 22. Leonard Rifas.

MVR: This claim about nuclear power being cheap has been made in two ways. One is when the early days of nuclear power, they talked about it being too cheap to meter. That it is so cheap that you don’t even have to cost it, and so on. Those kinds of claims have largely vanished. The Economist magazine said nuclear power has changed from being too cheap to meter to being too expensive to matter. Something of that sort. But, now if you look at the other way by which they talk about this, when nuclear power is compared with another source of energy and ultimate dismay that is cheaper than that.

So, in India the primary source of energy of electricity generation in the country has been coal. And nuclear power has been consistently compared to that. So, in the early years, what they quickly realized was that nuclear power can’t compete directly with coal. So, the strategy was to say, well, near the coal mines, we will certainly not be able to compete, but as you go further and further away from where most of the coal is mined, then you have to include the cost of transporting coal to that thing. And the assumption is, once you go sufficiently far away, then nuclear power is going to become cheaper. So, there will be at least some parts of the country where it makes economic sense to have nuclear power, because the cost of delivering coal for generating electricity will be too high.

So, in the early years, what they would talk about in the 50s and 60s, they were talking about 600 kilometres of distance, 500 or 600 kilometres, and once you go beyond that then nuclear power would be cheaper. But this was before any reactors had actually been built. Once the first set of reactors had been built and their costs sort of understood, what happened was you found that this was not going to happen. So, by the 1980s, as the first reactors happen, they talked about it being 800 kilometres away. Once it was 800 kilometres away, then it can compete. But then, they were very confident at that time, that by the 1990s, Oh, we would have lowered the costs of nuclear power plants, so that it’s going to compete even with the pithead where the coal is mined. Now come the 1990s, all they could say was, you go to 1200 kilometres and then maybe it is going to be competitive. Now, this is roughly the period when I started looking into nuclear power and the early 2000s I made a costing of comparing electricity being generated at the Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant, with a core plant that had recently been constructed at that point at Raichur.

Now, the other thing that you found in all these studies of economics was that they would never use costs of real nuclear power plants, real core plants. There would be some arbitrary figure, 5 crores per megawatt, 3 crores per megawatt, sort of just pulled out of a hat and say, this is the cost of your nuclear power plant. So, we said, no we would like do it empirically, and we look at the Kaiga plant and the Raichur plant. The coal for the Raichur plant comes from 1400 kilometres away. So, more than the 1200 kilometres. And we still found that nuclear power is more expensive for realistic discount rates.

The other claim that you see all the time is that nuclear power so far has not been cheaper but in the future it is going to be cheaper, because we are going to decrease the costs of building these nuclear power plants. Again, experience around the world suggests that this is not the case. In both the United States and France, which have the had the most experience building nuclear power plants, costs have actually increased over a period of time. And this is primarily because, they have had to incorporate more and more safety features into nuclear reactors in part, and in part because everything else has become more and more expensive. So, on the whole I would say, the claim that nuclear power is cheap is just not been found to be true.

NJ: This, you’re not even going into the aspects of waste management and costs of an catastrophic event.

MVR: That’s right. And also, in these so called breeder reactors, this tends to be even more expensive than ordinary reactors.

NJ: So, why is it that if nuclear power is so hazardous, so dirty, so unpopular, why is it that civil countries with democratic governments  are pursuing this so avidly?

MVR: This is a million dollar question. I think that it’s…to answer that, I think you have to understand that countries are not unitary objects. There are different people involved, there are different groups involved. Some of the costs, many of the risks and so on are very unequally borne. The primary risk of having a nuclear power plant accident from a nuclear power plant is very local. Even though, some amount of radioactivity might escape and might spread all over the world, as in the case of Chernobyl and so on, the primary impact is within tens of kilometres of a nuclear power plant whereas for somebody sitting in Delhi or Bombay faraway that’s not a big issue.

Likewise, many of these things, I think, are not, are done on the basis of taxpayer money, not on the base of private money. And in many countries where nuclear power has been put to the test at the market place, even if it is backed up with strong political commitment by the political leadership it has often failed. This has been the case in the United States, it is proving to be the case right now as we are speak in the United Kingdom… so on and so forth. I think that the places where it can be absorbed through some combination of government largesse and public taxpayer money, has been the place where it grows.

NJ: And finally, what is your take on Koodankulam? And what would you do if you were in control of the country’s decision making? And what would you have done and what would you do now that the protests have erupted?

Sea Siege. Koodankulam 08 October 2012. Photo credits: Amritharaj Stephen.

Sea Siege. Koodankulam 08 October 2012. Photo credits: Amritharaj Stephen.

MVR: Yeah. So, that’s a very big if. Somebody like me would never be in the government, in a position of power, but let me try and answer that to the extent that I could. So, you said, if I were in a position of power right now, as your first position, that I take to mean, that I couldn’t sort of answer something like, well, I will just abandon the project as it is. Because that would come out of huge political cost. Assuming that particular answer is not open to me, let me try and suggest a few things, I think, a good responsible government should do in this place.

So, the argument here is that you have already spent 17,000 crores on it, we cannot waste that investment, and so somebody has to bare the risk and so on and so forth. I think that three things should be done. One is that, if this plant were to be commissioned, it should be commissioned with complete transparency to the local people, who are the people who are concerned about the safety of it. So, I would say, if in order to win their trust, which is completely absent at this point, I would open up the operating records, as and when the plant is commissioned. And if at any stage, the local population, if they feel uncomfortable about this plant, about how it is operating and maybe invoking the use of expert knowledge from other places and so on feel that this plant is not operating well, then I would commit to having that shut down and those problems rectified.

The second, I would say, is that having learnt this lesson from Koodankulam, no more nuclear power plants should be commissioned without the consent of the people who live in the neighbourhood. So, in the case of Jaitapur for example, where the local population has clearly shown that they are not interested, that they do not want this plant, I would abandon it right away. This is not fair to sort of do that.

And finally, to address the fact that many of the people who are opposing this plant, are not just opposing it because of fear of radiation or of accidents, but also because it is going to impact their livelihood, the least one can do is to say, well, we would compensate you in case you find, for example, that fish catch are going down or people are not buying your fish or something like that. To which you have to start some kind of baseline survey, and then make some arrangements for how these people will be compensated in case they are going to be bearing losses.

These I think are three very minimal measures that have to be taken, short of sort of shutting this down, if you’re going to ahead with commissioning it.

NJ: One last question I had has got to do with this nuclear power plant in New York, Shoreham, which was, I think, abandoned at the last stage and was then subsequently converted in to using gas as a fuel. Now, why was that done? Why wouldn’t that be a feasible option in India?

Wunderland Kalkar 024

Wunderland Kalkar 024 (Photo credit: Henk-Jan van der Klis)

MVR: It could entirely be a feasible option. I have not really looked in to that. That’s one reason I am not talking about it. That’s an excellent question. There have been plants that have been abandoned at various stages after construction. And perhaps, the even better example than Shoreham is that of the Kalkar reactor in Germany, near the border with Netherlands, which was actually abandoned after the whole plant construction had been done, costing about 5 billion dollars, but before the fuel was loaded in to it. And it was subsequently converted in to an amusement park.

Coming back to the basic question, if you want to say you’ve built this infrastructure, some of it can certainly be salvaged and used for other kinds of power generation, whether that is a realistic alternative or what are the costs of that I have not looked in to this, I have not seen any body else look in to this, so I cannot say it with any authority as to what that would be, how much that would cost, how feasible that would be, and what would have to be left out.

NJ: Thank you very much, Ramana, for your time.

MVR: Thank you.

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Credits:

Camera: Abdullah Nurullah, Urvashi Mukherjee, Shatakshi Gawade, Bhaskar Goswami.

Editor: Soofara Ali

Assistant Editors: Shataskshi Gawade, Abdulla Nurullah

Special thanks to Sashi Kumar, Chairman, Asian College of Journalism.

***

This English transcript was done by volunteers in Chai Kadai. Feel free to share, copy, distribute and translate this transcript under this Creative Commons license. Please attribute the video interview to the authors and Asian College of Journalism. 

Chai Kadai. (chaikadai.wordpress.com | chaikadai@gmail.com)

 

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A comprehensive book on India’s Atomic Energy establishment.

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.

INTRODUCTION

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.

New Projects

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.

Government Claims

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).

Kudankulam

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.

Haripur

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.

Mithivirdi

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.

Gorakhpur

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.

Jaitapur

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!!