Electricity Board’s Leaky Bucket – Justice Rocks Concert, Sunday, March 16, 2014, at SPACES, Besant Nagar

(Join the event on Facebook)

Leaky Bucket Logo by Trotsky Marudu

“Tamil Nadu reportedly has an electricity deficit of about 2000 MW. It is this deficit that is behind our legendary power cuts. What if we were to tell you that this deficit can be bridged quite simply, without much cost and without setting up a single new power plant?” ( via Leaky Bucket’s Concept Note)

Youth Action on Climate Change, Chennai, is getting ready this week to show us how to run an entire evening of music, theatre, comedy and satire with a bicycle powered generator. The SPACES wall has been painted with images of power plants, protesters, a grim reaper character with a bucket full of holes, and in nice bold red letters: TNEB. 😀

This year, the Justice Rocks concert is un-sponsored by the Electricity Board. Leaky Bucket will be an evening of finding possibilities. How can we save electricity, instead of producing more of it that we can waste? Wait! Do we really waste electricity? Leaky Bucket writes:

“…With water it is more visible. We see the Metrowater tankers spilling precious sweet water. We see leaky pipes, and overflowing overhead tanks. The losses and wastage of electricity are not always that obvious. But they are equally large, and easily avoidable…”

So where do we lose all of this electricity? Leaky Bucket’s concept note points out that from 2012 to 2013, in the span of just one year, Tamil Nadu lost over 20 percent of the electricity pumped into its grid and distribution infrastructure. “In the 180,000 megawatts of electricity generated in India, 72,000 megawatts, 40 percent is lost or wasted.” (via Koodankulam FAQ) Leaky Bucket finds the holes in the bucket:

  1. Transmission & Distribution Loss: Official figures state that about 20 percent of all electricity that is pumped into Tamil Nadu’s grid and distribution infrastructure is lost due to inefficient transmission and distribution even before it reaches consumers. This is solely technical losses, and does not include theft and other commercial losses. In 2012-2013, Tamil Nadu’s peak demand was 12,700 MW. Only 11000 MW was supplied to consumers, and there was a shortage of 1700 MW. Of the 13,200 MW that was generated and poured into the grid, 20 percent — or 2200 MW — was lost in transmission and distribution inefficiencies due to use of substandard material and equipment, and poor management of load and distribution infrastructure. If losses were brought down to, say, 4 percent as in Japan, only 500 MW from the 13,200 MW would be lost. No deficit. No power cuts. The T&D losses are a big hole in the bucket.
  2. Agricultural Pumpsets: Agri pumpsets are horribly inefficient, and use a lot of electricity to draw out water. We do not have an accurate figure for how much is consumed in this sector because agricultural consumption is not metered. It is widely known that State Electricity Boards inflate figures for agricultural consumption by showing T&D losses as agri consumption to avail of state subsidies for the sector and to downplay inefficiency. Metering agricultural pumpsets will give us an accurate figure of T&D losses and the opportunities to reduce the same. Introducing energy efficient pumpsets can yield savings of 30 to 40 percent from the overall agri consumption. Finally, planting choices and agricultural practices need to change from water-intensive crops such as sugarcane and rice. Free and unmetered electricity and water-intensive crops have led to electricity shortage and falling groundwater levels.
  3. Stupid Buildings: Commercial buildings, particularly luxury hotels, IT companies and the new glass and steel buildings are wasters of electricity. For one, much of the consumption there is for luxury and not survival. Secondly, if they are built smartly, they will not consume as much electricity as they do now. For instance, many of these buildings use glass frontage. Glass traps heat and increases cooling costs. To reduce cooling costs, the glass is tinted. This prevents the abundant daylight available in our state from lighting up the buildings. So these stupid buildings use air-conditioners and lighting 24×7.
  4. Wasteful Consumption: Elections are around the corner. Political parties will start setting up garish decorations — to light up their street corner events or flex banners. Miles of road stretches will be lit up by tubelights with stolen electricity. Advertising billboards are another area of wasteful consumption. 100 units of electricity is more than sufficient to power an average home for a month. 25 large billboards will consume in a day what is sufficient for an average family for a month. If electricity is truly scarce, how is it that hotels, malls and rich houses waste so much electricity in cooling, lighting and other luxuries just because they can pay for it. Consider this: Reliance’s Mukesh Ambani’s monthly electricity bill at his 75-storeyed house in Mumbai is Rs. 76 lakhs. The house consumes 55,000 units a month, or the equivalent of 550 families.
  5. Commercial and Domestic Consumers: The devices we use at home and in our commercial and industrial buildings also leave us with plenty of opportunity to reduce wastage. A Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) uses only 25 percent of the electricity required to produce the same amount using an incandescent lamp (bulb). So, a 100W bulb can be replaced with a 25W CFL without any reduction in light. While the bulb will consume 1 unit in 10 hours, a CFL will only consume 0.25 units. Similar improvements are possible for refrigeration, fans, pumpsets, grinders and other common household appliances. One study estimates that replacing all incandescent bulbs with CFLs in Tamil Nadu can yield a savings of 2000 MW (far more than our current deficit)

Efficiency enhancement measures are very inexpensive in comparison to capacity enhancement measures. While conservation and efficiency improvement cost about Rs. 50 lakhs per megawatt saved, setting up a nuclear plant will cost about Rs. 26 crores per megawatt of production capacity. Coal costs about Rs. 7 crores per megawatt; solar about Rs. 8 crores and wind about Rs. 4 crores/megawatt.

Leaky Bucket invites everyone for an open evening of music, comedy, and cycling. Join them to ask the Government to improve efficiency, reduce losses and curtail wastage. Follow them on Facebook. Let’s sing, laugh and dance, for we don’t need any more power plants.

shared by samyuktha pc. 

“We are sitting on the brink of disaster with Tarapur,” says Former Chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

A Gopalakrishnan in conversation with Prabir Purkayastha, Newsclick (Part 1)

Published on Newsclick YouTube Channel on 18 February 2013. 17 mins 40s

English transcript available below. 2456 words. Download the transcript in .doc format.

PP: Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today we have with us Dr. A Gopalakrishnan, Former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. We’ll discuss the nuclear energy programme in India and what’s happening to nuclear energy in the world.

Gopal, Jaitapur issue has again become hot because the President of France Hollande is to be in India and also because EPRs (European Pressurized Reactors) seem to have run into further trouble. (Ref: France, India committed to Jaitapur project, WNN)

What do you think is the issue with respect to the EPRs? Why is it suddenly that the cost of EPRs has gone up by almost 30% and Flamanville now is going to cost a whopping 8.3 billion euros, if the figure that EDF (Électricité de France) is saying are correct? (Ref: EDF raises French EPR cost to over $11 billion, Reuters)

AG: The EPRs, which are the reactors, which are meant for Jaitapur, they’re under sharp focus even in Europe, everywhere. Especially after the Fukushima accident, because as you know, the European Union conducted a series of stress tests among the European countries to look at what modifications need to be done if any to the European nuclear reactors. So, in doing this, France, of course, took on the task of looking after their reactors and so also did Finland.

And the reason I mention Finland is, the EPRs today are in three places. There is the first reactor which was started, the EPR couldn’t be sold in France initially, so they went and convinced the Finnish people and they bought one reactor, which is under construction since 2008 and it was promised to be completed way earlier. I mean it was, in four years time, but it never took place. And because it has already run in to various problems in its.. earlier stages, the Finnish people were very particular that they should reexamine the EPR design, which they have. And at the same time, the French nuclear regulator, who is one of the strictest in the world, I mean, it is very impartial and competent regulatory agency…

PP: It reports directly to the President of France.

AG: Yes and they have a transparency law, a nuclear transparency law under which the public have to be kept informed about it. Basically, quite a model that if half of that can be followed in India we’ll be much better off. In any case, so, they have also done the same thing and they have come up with various things in the system, which they think can be strengthened. Mainly because, now we are talking about beyond design-basis accidents. Earlier, you know, it was really designed only to full care of the design-basis accidents, nothing beyond design-basis, which means this extraordinarily high earthquakes, floods, etc. Now it has been made mandatory that those things also, you should show that under those circumstances also public safety will be ensured.

So, I think, the French after a detailed study, in about six or nine months they completed it, and they have made it mandatory that certain corrections will have to be made, and its an extensive list. It would require hardware changes. It also asks for, some substantial changes are being made that ultimately the entire safety analysis report will have to be redone so that the Integrated System Safety can be studied and also a probabilistic safety analysis will also have to be repeated.

So, it would imply even for the Flamanville reactor, which is the French reactor, this will imply a substantial increase in cost plus also increase in schedule, it will also get extended. And the Finnish having seen this they certainly don’t want to be one step behind the French and they wanted all those corrections also to be made in the Finnish reactor, EPR reactor. But in addition the Finnish inspections and studies also pointed to some new further changes that they wanted, which in turn the French also accepted. Therefore, what the Finland people thought of is also getting incorporated in the French reactor there. Ultimately, the EPR and Areva is getting overload with all the changes which they have to do if they want to sell these reactors anywhere in Europe. And this going to add about 25 to 30% more cost. The EPR was one of the costliest reactors even before all of this. And now, as you know, it has all come down to about 36 crores, in our terms, 36 crores per megawatt.

PP: That’s the interesting part. When it started it was 3 billion euros for Flamanville, 3.3 billion euros for the Finnish reactor, now they are all talking about 7 to 8 billion. Électricité de France, in fact, said it’s going to be 8.3 billion euros, which calculated in Indian terms, comes to 36 crore per megawatt.

Now, coming to one particular point that you had mentioned about the stress tests, which the European regulators did for the European existing nuclear reactors. India seems to have done a stress test within a month and declared that all the reactors are safe and there’s nothing to be done, including the Tarapur reactor, which as we know has the same problem as the Fukushima design had. In fact, there is a problem over the power system, which is not backed up, and so on. And yet, in the report of Tarapur it says yes back-up power systems have to be provided, they’ve given them two years and in this meanwhile in these two years Tarapur reactors are still supposed to run. How do you look at that?

AG: I think we are sitting on the brink of disaster with Tarapur. In 1995, when I visited United States as the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, I had an opportunity to talk to the Department of Energy officials. I had gone on a sort of a sensitive mission trying to get some spare parts, some essential spare parts for the Tarapur reactor. Now, it can be said. That time I was sent with a list of spare parts written, typed up in a plain sheet of paper, with no signature, with no letterhead of the Department of Atomic Energy. And I was supposed to go discuss and tell them, this has come from Department of Atomic Energy and could you sell us these parts. And they were all for the Tarapur reactor.

So, I, Hazel O’Leary, was the Secretary of Energy at that time, she had come before that to India. So, I had also met her at that time. She said, you’re welcome. Come to Washington. We’ll see. So, I took this along with various other things which we wanted to discuss, but I gave this paper to her and she was sympathetic, because she understood the public safety aspect of it; that is if this reactor melts down it’s also a bad name for the United States.

Mind you, the days when I was doing all this were pre-2008 and post-1990. I mean not the 1998’sbut we were still under sanctions, U.S. sanctions. To make a long story short, she took this list and there’s a White House group which has to clear such requests first, and that included their National Security Advisor, and others. And they.. Next day, she called me up and said, Please come, I want to talk you. I went there and she said, I’m very sorry the White House group is totally against it. So, I was told to tell you to inform the Government of India that if they feel that strongly about the safety of Tarapur, it will be best if they shut down those reactors and not operate them.

This is a very considered opinion that these reactors have to be shut down. They are one of the oldest reactors. We’ve talked to the General Electric people and they also advised that this should be done. Then they gave me couple of the old-timers from General Electric who were in Washington D. C., put me in touch with them and told me a story. And some of them were involved with the Tarapur construction at that time. They said, look we ourselves don’t even have the  drawings of any kind of that and we’re on telephone giving instructions to Tarapur people to make this change and that change, and they were cutting and re-welding all that inside that reactor, what is left there and the state of health we are not aware. And it will be good if those, I’m telling it as from a technical person to technical person, it will best if those reactors are shut down. And this was the year 1996.

And today, we are sitting here about what…

Both simultaneously: seventeen years down the line.

AG: And of course in between the Nuclear Power Corporation has gone ahead and done some revamping and all that they have said they have done. And we’re still running them. These reactors are an even older version than the Fukushima reactors, which went into trouble. And many things, I mean the containment is shared by two reactors share the same containment building. And various things in there the emergency core-cooling system are not the ideal ones, even today…  This is why when India recently decided to get, invite the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) team to review one of our reactors, one of our reactor plants, I thought that they would at least ask Tarapur to be reviewed, because you know it would have been the most relevant reactor to select. If you want an independent honest opinion from a multinational group, and that’s just not Americans. It’s not that all of them are going to gang up and say shut down this reactor, unless there is technically good reasons.

So, anyway, this reactor was not given. And what we put before the IAEA team was, what I would consider some of the best, two of the best reactors of our current generation PHWR (Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor), obviously we didn’t get much of a criticism, because those reactors are reasonably okay and new. We had placed Tarapur to for such a study, I’m sure in fourteen days of their inspection they would have come out and given us a list of hundred and fifty things which need to be changed. Much more likely that they would have said it is best that you shut down.

PP: So, Tarapur is a ticking bomb.

AG: Tarapur is.

PP: Tarapur Unit 1 and 2 are ticking bombs

AG: And I think in the same way among the projects, which say that we are concentrating on the safety of a lot of these imported plants, etc., but the similar ticking bomb among the projects is the Fast Breeder Reactor which we are building very quietly down there [in Kalpakkam], knowing very little about it. This is a big scale of act from a 40 megawatt thermal to 100 megawatt electric fast breeder, which is about a step of 40 increase, a factor of 40 and the two don’t look alike at all.

Fast Breeder technology, you know, I myself worked for three years on a fast breeder on the operating side. I can tell you that it’s not a benign technology at all. It is not a forgiving technology. If something goes wrong, it will boom the whole countryside will go.

So, I can only keep my fingers crossed. I wish much more transparency comes out in these programmes. Both Tarapur and here. And you know, why, what are we risking all this for? In Tarapur with all the de-rating and all that today, ultimately there are 160-megawatt per reactor we are getting. So, two reactors put together we are getting we have about 320-megawatt electricity. You can just as well set up a coal based plant or something else. If Tarapur is not that close to major cities, you could very well set up that and decommission this, or use that site or the neighbouring site, already there are two other PHWRs there which are producing 1000 megawatt altogether.

So, I think we are doing a lot of foolish things and pushing our luck far beyond. And this going for the Jaitapurville is also a similar situation of pushing our luck beyond.

PP: Jaitapur brings me to this issue of cost, of course, because apart from the safety issues, there is a issue of cost. And we already have in Maharashtra they show Enron, where we went in again for a foolish project where the cost of electricity today from Dabhol is so high that it virtually runs, it doesn’t run at all, or if it runs, it runs at one-sixth of its capacity. So, if we have 36 crore per megawatt, the electricity cost is going to be Rs. 12 to Rs. 14 a unit, and that cost is really not viable. So, why is Government of India really pushing for such an unviable nuclear path? That doesn’t seem to be clear.

AG: It’s a very clear thing, now that I look back. Now, I have been studying the Indo-US Nuclear Deal threadbare from day one. The whole thing has its origin in deception, in a way. I think the Prime Minister did not start this entire nuclear power programme, imported reactor programme, was not set up with power enhancement of electric power in the country but basically it was… As Kakodkar himself, as previous Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, accepted in one of his interviews with a Marathi newspaper it was really a gift to three or four nations, which helped us in getting this energy clearance, Nuclear Supply Group clearance for the deal. And I’ll tell you that in 2005 July the Prime Minister went to America, came back with this agreement for out of the nuclear pariah status. And interestingly in 2006 the, Montek Singh sitting as the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission creates a Integrated Energy Policy (IEP), in 2006. And in there, it is built in that 63,000 megawatt of nuclear power will set up by 2032. That’s the date, 2032. It is part of 63,000 megawatt of nuclear, if you analyze you find that in a you’d find that in DAE’s earlier books you’ll find that 23,000, which was their projection of the indigenous programmes’ capability by 2032. So it is clearly a 40 added to the 23 that was already in the books. And lo and behold, up to 2008 when the deal was signed, Kakodkar announced that we need a surge by introducing 40 gigawatt of imported light water reactors. Then only we can really move forward to something like 600 gigawatts, that is 600,000 megawatts of nuclear by 2050. And that would be at that point about 50% of the energy.

Grand over projection, but nevertheless to achieve that he said it was imperative that 48,000 megawatt should be imported, light water reactors should be imported, with 20 years. Now, that is how the case for a nuclear import is built in… and then you go back in history and even Kakodkar said this in 2008. And 2006 we have letters written by the Foreign Secretary to the American State Department promising that we will buy at least 10,000 megawatt of US reactors from them.

PP: Gopal, let’s take this out from India for the moment, let’s look at what’s happening to the programme elsewhere . We’ll do that in the next part of this discussion. So, keep watching Newsclick and the next part of the discussion for what’s happening to the nuclear programme in the world.


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 A Gopalakrishnan and Newsclick.

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

The Big Lie: The Secret Chernobyl Documents

from Dianuke.org (click to read full article)

English: House of a village near Pripyat, Ukra...

House of a village near Pripyat, Ukraine – abandoned after Chernobyl accident.

In the night of 25-26 April 1986, there was a catastrophic explosion in the fourth unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. In 1990, Ukranian journalist Alla Yaroshinskaya came across secret documents about the Chernobyl catastrophe that revealed a massive cover-up operation and a calculated policy of disinformation. She writes (in 2006),

“It is well known that after the Chernobyl accident, the Soviet government immediately did everything possible to conceal the fact of the accident and its consequences for the population and the environment: it issued “top secret” instructions to classify all data on the accident, especially as regards the health of the affected population.
Then came instructions from the ministry of health and the ministry of defence to classify the radiation doses received by the general population, the “liquidators” (scientists and others involved in firefighting and containment work at the stricken power-station and in clean-up operations of the contaminated area immediately after the event) and military personnel. These regulations demanded that medical staff must not enter a diagnosis of “acute radiation syndrome” in the files of liquidators from the armed forces but must substitute some other term. 
These classified documents were not accessible for many years. Only in 1991, when the Soviet Union was collapsing, was I able to get hold of secret protocols and other documents of the operative group of the Politburo. These minutes revealed the numbers of persons irradiated and hospitalized during the first days after the accident.” 

The state and party leadership had knowingly played down the extent of the contamination and offered a sanitized version to the outside world. In 1990, five years after the accident, a series of laws were adopted to ‘protect’ the victims of radiation; now, scientists have begun to find serious flaws in these too. As recent studies show, the human and environmental damage shows no signs of abating. Yaroshinskaya closes her report with this quote,

“Chernobyl is a word we would all like to erase from our memory,” said UN secretary general Kofi Annan… “But,” he added, “more than 7 million of our fellow human beings do not have the luxury of forgetting. They are still suffering, every day, as a result of what happened.” The exact number of Chernobyl victims may never be known, he said, but 3 million children require treatment and “many will die prematurely”.

Also read:

From the Archives (2006)- Chernobyl, not Peristroika, Caused Soviet Union Collapse: Mikhail Gorbachev

Fukushima is not Chernobyl? Think Again! (11 March 2013) – Sarah D. Phillips

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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.



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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An evening on the sea

Poovulagin Nanbargal presents

An evening on the sea – screening of documentary films on Koodankulam struggle.

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence” – Leonardo Davinci.

The screening of documentary films is intended to shed some light on the struggles of the people from Koodankulam spread over a year.

We believe that by screening these documentaries, we could effectively re-construct the various phases of struggle, and also record the voices of the people involved in the struggle in the mainstream.

Join your voices, with theirs. For silence only strengthens authority.

When: December 10, 6.00 P.M

Where: VisCom Hall, Loyola College 

Speakers: Writer Joe De Cruz, director Seenu Ramasamy, Director Ram, director Ranjith,Writer Baskar Sakthi and writer Ajayan Bala.

Contact: 98410 31730


Is your experiment time travel?

by samyuktha pc.


Forty kilometres,

one foot after another, another one of mine,

in front of one foot, then another foot of mine,

it only takes one lakh and twenty thousand,

one foot after another, my foot after another,

walking away from my two-storey-two-TV house,

to the nearest nuclear power plant.

Uranium and Plutonium, however travel faster than me.


Three continuous days of rain,

and the one road that envelops my house,

it’s empty plots on either sides,

now are filled with water, knee-deep,

so one foot after another is a bit hard to count,

beautiful crabs and snakes distract me.

Then why would I want the main road,

where the buses speed in plenty?


“Leptos Pirosis”, someone warns me,

from inside the tiles of the house,

“Elephantisis”, I thought. “Dengue”, they say.

“SARS was many years ago”, a friend knocks my head,

“TB just might be your fate.”

“No cancer is not out of fashion.”


Forty more kilometers to go,

one foot after another, my foot after another,

Six hundred and ninety four kilometers,

one foot after another, my foot after another,

one foot after another, my foot after another…


one more nuclear power plant!


Thyroids and bladders in danger,

invisible half-lives floating around.

My stomach has been crying for days,

“Take me away from all of this,”

it craves.


Constitutions and nations too hard

for my four chamber stomach to mulch.

In a week, I’d be sitting

in colorful camps by governments

to scan irises,

deploy vaccines,

run emergency drills,

copy fingerprints,

build barbed wire fences,

maybe even shave our heads.

Biometric bullshit

inside my house, inside my head,

inside inside yours and mine,

inside every tube and cell.


Just that this is not new,

reaching this cow a little too late,

when parts of it just fall away,

inside its breath, inside its balance,

inside its sexual common sense,

not able to place any foot after another.

The cow and I stand still.


It takes a cold glass of buttermilk,

some prolonged sleep, and no other humans

asking it questions. Then, they, my organs, agree with me.

On this planet, third away from the sun,

maybe no longer the only one with life or diamonds,

(believed to be rare), we shall be our next dinosaurs.


Like the rusted seas of years ago,

now the iron we swallow,

Like the ice age remnants,

that NY uses to reach high skies,

Like the million histories, we each,

try to convince each one of us, individually,

each to be convinced, maybe that those

planes can’t crash down on

all of this and more.

No, we will all go.


Not together. Just disappear.

You will remember me for a few days.

Remember the post-mortem details,

and the new incinerator that burnt me up,

maybe even a biometric unique i.d.

but how would you know

how my mind decayed…

for everything we release

is invisible now.


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Kudankulam’s neighbours weigh nuclear power fears against living standards | India Insight | Reuters

Some people say that anti-nuclear activists are trying to take advantage of simple-minded and uneducated people who don’t understand the benefits of electricity.  “(T)he local people who protest in Kudankulam are not those who can analyse the safety issues of the nuclear plant, but they are being carried away blindly by the skillful campaign of their leaders, who appear have an agenda of their own,” S Venkataraman wrote in the Deccan Herald.

But Rani and Elsi are neither simple minded, nor raised in the dark. They are modern women — members of the mixer-grinder generation, and are well acquainted with the joys of electrical appliances.

“I have a fridge, a TV, grinder, mixie, fan and iron box,” Rani said. Their neighbours, Jayabal Markus and his wife, have their mobile phones lying on their washing machine. They own a DVD player, speakers, induction stove and other gadgets.

But they don’t have electricity to power their mixies. It’s a conspiracy, they say: whoever controls the power grid will choke their electricity supply until the protesters give up and the plant goes live.

In 2005, 94 percent of households in urban India had electricity, compared with 57 percent in rural areas, according to a World Bank paper. The 2011 India census shows that there has been an increase in households using electricity, and the rural-urban gap is at 37 per cent. And these figures do not include the energy-intensive industries that operate out of urban areas. Contrast this with the fact that 70 percent of India lives in rural areas, and one arrives at a conundrum of supply and demand.

The Kudankulam plant has the capacity to generate 2,000 megawatts of power, about 30 percent of the demand for New York City’s more than 8 million people, according to this website.

The locals do not like the idea that the entire burden of middle-class aspiration for more electricity, is being burned onto them. “These power cuts we are facing (are) a pressure tactic.” said Jayabal.

There is more than just coercion, real or imagined. On Sept. 10, there was a clash between the police and protesters. The St. Lourdes church was vandalised, allegedly by the police, and police shot a fisherman dead. Another local fell from a pier and died. He panicked after an Indian Coast Guard plane flew in low over the protesters.

At the end of my visit, Rani took me back to the St. Lourdes church from her house. Hundreds of wind turbines dotting the area around Idinthakari, twinkled and twirled. Seeing the natural power of the wind the sun and the tides while talking about an energy crisis invited observations about irony. Behind her, the plant formed a hazy silhouette in the setting sun.

via Kudankulam’s neighbours weigh nuclear power fears against living standards | Anoo Bhuyan | India Insight | Reuters 08 October 2012.