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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 15

Statement of Students Against Nuclear Power (SANP) on Indefinite Hunger Strike in Protest against Indo-US Nuclear Deal

Saturday 29 March 2008

[(Kerala students, who have set up an organisation, Students Against Nuclear Power (SANP), were on indefinite hunger strike at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to project their demand that the Indo-US civil nuclear deal be scrapped, gave up their fast after eight days on March 17, 2008 following the intervention of and assurance from various socio-political leaders. Their demand has been powerfully raised in the Lok Sabha and in the crucial meeting of the UPA-Left committee on the deal. They received support from various political leaders in carrying the struggle forward against the Indo-US nuclear deal. The initiative taken by them is regarded as a distinct one of its kind as it is directly related to the future of the nation, said many in solidarity. Members of Parliament like D. Raja, P. Karuunakaran, M.P. Veerendra Kumar, C.K. Chandrappan, Pannyan Raveendran, Dr K.S. Manoj, Dr P.P. Koya, political leaders like Annie Raja, G. Devarajan, K.N. Ramachandran, Dhruv Narayanan, and eminent personalities like Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Sandeep Pandey, Swami Agnivesh, Praful Bidwai, Prashant Bhushan, and so many others visited and expressed their solidarity with the students’ struggle against nuclear power. Many faculty members and students from Delhi Universtiy, Jamia Mallia Islamia, JNU and AMU came to them. Pratidhwani, a Delhi based movement, observed a day’s hunger strike with the students to express their solidarity. Memoranda were forwarded to the Prime Minister, UPA chairperson, Defence Minister and External Affairs Minister through Member of Lok Sabha Sandeep Dikshit. Demanding the scrapping of the deal and supporting the students’ hunger strike, hundreds of telegrams, fax messages and e-mails were sent to the Prime Minister’s Office from different parts of the country. Several demonstrations, poster campaigns and dharnas in solidarity with the hunger strike of the SANP took place in different parts of the country. The students, while winding up the fast, declared that they ‘are ready to sacrifice and will resume the struggle if the government is going on with the deal’. The position of the SANP activists has been spelt out in the following statement.)]

The anxieties concerning the Indo-US nuclear deal began on July 18, 2005 with the Joint Declaration of our Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and US President George Bush. The treaty is known as the 123 deal because of the changes that were made in the 123 section of the American Atomic Energy Act of 1954 that allows the US to enter into treaties with India which has not signed the NPT. There are 17 sections in 22 pages in the deal which is relevant for 40 years. The Hyde Act is another amendment made to this deal that will allow the US to sell nuclear technology and equipments to India. The Hyde Act is known after the name of Henry Joseph Hyde, the Senator who proposed the Act.

The PM insists that nuclear energy is the only source for meeting the energy crisis of our country. But one needs to look at the energy production of this country and compare how much nuclear energy India will get from the nuclear deal before signing the deal. Thermal and hydro-electric projects contribute 55 per cent and 22 per cent respectively of the total production of power in the country. The 4120 megawatts that come from nuclear power projects contribute only two per cent. The government claims that if the nuclear deal is signed, by 2040 the nuclear power production will touch 40,000 megawatts. The Planning Commission places it at 29, 000 megawatts by the year 2021. The wind generated power units and the recently improved power generating source jointly produce 10,715 megawatts (7.5 per cent) whereas nuclear power with its history of more than fifty years has been able to produce only 4120 megawatts.

The cost of nuclear generated electricity is appalling. Coal/thermal power is priced at Rs 3.73 crores/megawatt as against the Rs 7.4 crores/megawatt from nuclear power. Natural Gas and hydroelectric power can be generated at Rs 2 crores per megawatt. The imported reactors that are part of the nuclear deal will take the cost to something like Rs 11.1 crores (inclusive of the interests of the production capital). Statistics show that the cost of nuclear power is five times that of hydroelectric power and three-and-a-half times that of thermal/coal power. It might be relevant to recall the financial burden that Enron, with its mere 2000 megawatt capacity, brought to bear on the Government of Maharashtra. The burden of 40,000 megawatts will be staggering.

A study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reveals that the US spends 4.2 cent for coal generated power and 7.6 per cent for nuclear power. The disposal of nuclear waste, which poses a grave threat to all forms of life, is still a daunting problem. The cost of decommissioning of nuclear reactors exceeds that of commissioning. The carelessness of man, internal unrest, civil wars, natural disasters raise serious challenges to nuclear safety. The cases of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are hard to forget. Einstein’s observation that research on nuclear safety should be given priority over nuclear energy is worth recalling here.

India, a fast-developing country, is in urgent need of nuclear safety. What is of paramount importance is why and how India should depend on nuclear energy. It is not wise to engage in a frantic rush for nuclear energy which causes serious social crisis when there are other more productive and less harmful ways of producing power using modern technology and natural resources. Those who argue that we will need nuclear energy when the coal and thermal sources of power are exhausted should remember that uranium, which is essential for nuclear power, will not be available as a long term source.

We need to depend on alternative sources and systems of generating power that will not destroy the balance of nature or the existence of humanity. Solar power is the fastest growing option that is receiving widespread attention and acceptance. Scientists have come to the conclusion that from the Rajasthan desert alone one lakh megawatts of solar power is possible. On a long term basis, we need to develop solar, hydro-electric, wind and biomass and for short-term dependence we can look to thermal and coal. In Nepal alone, there is the possibility of producing 8000 megawatts of hydro-electric power and our National Hydroelectric Power Corporation points out that we can make around 50,000 megawatts of hydro-electric power. Many mini hydro-electric projects and alternative systems and sources are possible. This being the situation, we need to think whether we should lead ourselves into a Gordian knot (nuclear deal) that America insists.

Another objection raised by those who support nuclear power is that coal/thermal power generating stations will worsen global warming. There is no doubt that use of fossil energy will augment the green-house effect. Just because India stops using such energy is not going to help. If India’s coal reactors emit 500 kilos of waste US reactors emit five tonnes. Statistics show that the major culprit of global warming is the US. The US has always resisted everything that is against their interests. The US had no qualms about walking out of the Kyoto agreement. Only selfish interest governs the US in this nuclear deal. Section 104 (d) 5 (b) is ample proof of that country’s selfish concerns in this deal.

The above data proves without doubt that for power safety and environmental protection we need coal based power generating stations and not nuclear power reactors. We need to rely on clean coal technology to reduce environmental pollution. A major chunk of the domestic power use is the electric bulb invented by Edison more than one hundred years ago. Such bulbs convert 90 per cent of electricity to light. The use of such bulbs in India is estimated at Rs 100 crores. Replacing them with CFL bulbs will reduce energy consumption by more than fifty per cent. You can save the environment from thousands of tonnes of carbon waste, and reduce the electricity bill in households. The longer life of the CFL bulbs will also reduce E wastes. The total cost will be somewhere between Rs 7000-10,000 crores. Such being the case, to argue that nuclear power is the only solution is fooling oneself.

THE deal, which is supposed to be for power safety, refers only to electric energy. Electricity forms only a portion of our energy consumption. Oil, natural gas and petrochemical products are not even discussed. The demand for oil and natural gas are on the rise by the day. Seventytwo per cent of the petroleum consumption of our country is imported. According to the Integrated Energy Policy Report of the Planning Commission, by 2032, the demand for petroleum will rise from 33,400 lakh tonnes to 46,200 lakh tonnes and that of natural gas from 990 to 1840. These figures show that the Indo-American nuclear deal will meet only a small portion of our energy demand. Before one enters into this deal, one needs to take into consideration some facts. India’s share in the world energy consumption is a mere two per cent. India stands first globally as the importer of oil. Nuclear energy meets only three-to-five per cent of the demands for energy as compared to 30 and 10 per cent of oil and natural gas. In the future 40 per cent of the energy demand will be from oil and natural gas.

The pipeline project from Iran through Pakistan will be a partial solution to our demands. The project with an output of 250 lakh tonnes of natural gas would be a significant step towards saving millions of rupees. The figures furnished by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Resources are significant. The cost of one billion Terminal Unit of Natural Gas (Iran-Pakistan pipeline project) is a mere $ 4 as against the international market price of $ 14. The possibility of a very cost effective means of acquiring natural gas will be nullified by the Indo-American nuclear deal.

American business concerns give much importance to the 123 deal. The US Chamber of Commerce, the largest business federation in the world, expects around Rs 60 lakh crores from India as part of the Indo-American deal. The business houses in India also expect crores of rupees from this deal. The big shots in the government also expect monetary gains from this deal. How can one claim that they are the followers of Gandhiji who insisted that all plans for development should be implemented without losing sight of the poorest sections of our country? That smiling toothless revered old man sitting on the wall of Manmohan Singh’s office would have said ‘no’ to the Indo American nuclear deal. ‘Quit Nuclear Deal’—that is what that great old man, who passed away sixty years ago, would be exhorting us to do today.

The intention of the Indian Government is to amend the nuclear deal and open up the production of nuclear energy to private corporations. This will destroy the nuclear safety of our country. The possibility of uranium and plutonium falling into the hands of terrorists cannot be ruled out. It would be worthwhile to remember Einstein’s words—“It is dangerous to give greater powers to private agencies and corporations that do not have equally great responsibilities”.

The meagre energy that we get through the 123 deal will be achieved at the expense of sacrificing India’s sovereignty and integrity. It will be the end of our self-reliance in the field of nuclear energy and it will offer shackles in the sphere of foreign policy.

The question whether India should keep aloof from nuclear energy when China, Korea and France even with their energy resources from coal are favourable towards nuclear energy has also come up. It is not by quoting the example of France or China that India should take a decision; rather, it should be based on the assessment of technological advances that India has achieved in the field of nuclear energy. Indian scientists have pointed out that the nuclear deal will destroy the second stage fast breeder technology that our country alone possesses.

India’s voting against Iran can be seen as a move only to appease America. This is ironic since those who voted against Iran are the followers of Nehru who once reiterated to America that we are not international beggars. Such actions adversely affect the sense of justice that this country has always upheld.

What is more essential for the power, security and self-sufficiency of the country is to use the energy that is available from oil and natural gas. These do not lie in buying reactors from GE or Westinghouse. To make this possible we must have peace in the Asian region. The intention of the American imperialist forces is to cause unrest. Do we need this deal that will sacrifice the sovereignty and foreign policy of our country? Power safety means self-reliance. Remember what the Urdu poet Iqbal wrote:

The ocean told the dew drop:
- "Come I will protect you in my lap.”
- The dewdrop said: “I prefer to die on the hot sands rather than merge myself in you."

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