In the name of development...

In the name of development...

Learning Lessons

Teibam Awang

Japan’s nuclear horror sometime back is a warning to us to not play with fire. Many people argue that a disaster of that magnitude is an unlikely event in India and going ahead with our nuclear expansion plans is the ideal thing to do.

However, what many fail to see is that it is also a risk which could have some serious repercussion.

This debate stirs up the question as to how far would we go in the name of development? There is no denying the fact that we are energy starved.

Nuclear expansion will be an instant solution to all our power woes but when an unforseen disaster strikes, would we be able to cope with it?

Ratish Nair, a B Com graduate says, “In India, we should stay away from anything to do with nuclear energy. True, we have an energy crisis but if we were to face problems like in Japan, I am positive we would be crippled.”

Disagreeing with Ratish is Teibam Awang, a make-up artist, who says, “I don’t perceive a disaster of that magnitude in India. I have complete faith in our government  who I think will take the necessary safety measures. However, what we can do is learn from the disaster and employ that learning in the safety of our reactors.”

One of the major concerns is seismic activity in reactor sites. The Jaitapur plant in Maharashtra has come under a lot of speculation due to this reason.

Chandra Shekhar Balachandran, Director, The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies, says, “There are many things we are yet to understand about the Earth system. Even in the so-called Stable Continental Regions (SCRs), seismic activity occurs. Earthquake prediction is a developing science, not a perfected science. In India, we still have a long way to go in terms of public awareness of seismic activity. Given that seismic prediction is a growing science, it is difficult to predict when and how big a quake could hit
Jaitapur.” The indigenously-built fast breeder reactors are also going to be used in some of the nuclear powerplants.

These reactors use liquid sodium as a coolant instead of heavy water and in a Fukoshima-like instance, sea water cannot be used in these reactors to cool the reactors as liquid sodium reacts explosively with water and air.

 Former Atomic Energy Commission chairman M R Srinivasan says, “This kind of reactor is needed in India as we do not have a great deal of uranium and these reactors use thorium which we have reserves of.

Various risk factors have been analysed and very elaborate systems have been built to take care of the decay heat and to avoid sodium leaks.”

Aaron Kamath, a law student, says that citizens are protected by their fundamental right to life, and the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, which was passed last year.

“Through the Bill, the operator of the nuclear plant will have to pay up to Rs 500 crore in compensation, in the instance of a mishap. In accordance to the various environmental laws, the nuclear energy plants will have to abide by the Nuclear Waste (Management and Handling) Rules which prescribes methods in dealing with nuclear substances, and also the Environment Protection Act,  which imposes a liability on the operator of the plant  in the case of damage to the environment. In order to compete with France,
Russia and the US and to strengthen our economy, India must shift its emphasis and expand its nuclear energy platform,” he added.

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