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Mainstream, Vol. XLIX, No 13, March 19, 2011

The Grave Risks of Nuclear Energy

Saturday 19 March 2011, by Shree Shankar Sharan

The sudden danger of nuclear radiation or explosion in Japan due to the damages caused by the tsunami to several, at least three, of its reactors in a nuclear power plant should ring the alarm bells in India, the northern half of which is in the seismic zone and the southern half in the tsunami-prone zone, specially the part of the south which is in the industrially advanced area and equipped with required infrastructure. Nor is the south free from the risk of earthquakes, going by the the terrible earthquake in Latur in Maharashtra.

The risk has always been there but no lesson has been drawn from past accidents, for example, in Chernobyl in Russia whose radiation effects spread right up to Scandinavian countries and even Scotland in 1986. But governments have a habit of ignoring or understating risks to earn credits by the glamour of an achievement which not only meets the need for energy but puts or promises you a membership of the nuclear club of advanced nations. The risks are dismissed statistically or pointing to the risk of every other actitivity of life. But those who ignore history are destined to repeat it.

But there is no risk comparable to nuclear radiation whose ill-effects can be passed on from generation to generation by mutating genes besides causing the most horrible burns, cancer, blindness, lung problems or instant death by vanishing by the heat generated. All this can happen for miles together.

ALL these risks, now only too evident to the innocent people of Japan who—as the only victims of a nuclear bomb in the Second World War—have abjured nuclear weapons for all times but accepted nuclear power plants, must raise a question on the Government of India’s excessive euphoria for augmenting its energy sources by nuclear power plants for which it went to great pains to conclude a nuclear treaty with the United States of America despite stiff opposition both from the Left and some of our own eminent scientists. Of course, the opposition was more on political and economic grounds than human.

The time has come to oppose the nuclear treaty based on a nuclear policy not only politically and economically but most importantly on human gounds. Its political advantage of improving security, economic advantage of providing clean energy cheap in the long run, and military advantage of being a deterrent must be weighed against a standing risk of being detonated by a natural disaster, becoming too common after the global climate change or a human or manufacturing error and should not be disregarded.

The time has come to scrap nuclear energy besides nuclear weapons as a state policy. Hazarding a nuclear reactor is like taming a tiger. There is no knowing when by some quirk of circumstances we cannot control, it will go out of hand and harm the very people who have created it. Many European countries have stopped the generation and use of nuclear energy and India sensibly should join this club of nuclear energy non-users.

There are plenty of non-conventional sources of energy we have not tapped properly, we should now do. The money we save from a highly capital intensive nuclear energy policy should go to building the rural and poor oriented urban infrastructure, a point which has been repeatedly pressed but ignored by the government.

The author is the Convener, Lok Paksh, Patna/Delhi.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62