Thursday, May 14, 2009


India wants to increase its nuclear power generation manifold within framework of the 123 agreement. However, India’s desire is fraught with severe hazards. India’s past record of nuclear-security is dismal.

Christopher Pine, a nuclear expert at the Natural Resources Council in Washington, stated that Indian power plants have the lowest capacity factor in the world and one of the poorest safety records. A UN report, published in 1993, confirmed Pine’s fears. The report stated that occupational-exposure hazards in India, calculated in proportion to the amount of electricity generated, were six to eight times more than the world average. A subsequent report of Indian Parliamentary corroborated that there has been 147 mishaps or safety related incidents, including 28 of acute nature. Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, willy-nilly admitted in his report to the Atomic Energy Agency in 1996, following observations: (a) Indian nuclear facilities have had 130 instances of safety related concerns including 95 that require urgent action. (b) India is likely to face serious nuclear accident in the not too distant future. (c) The degree of automation and cross checks on safety in old nuclear power plants is very minimal. The poor safety standards in nuclear plants have been a subject of litigation also. However, even India’s supreme court (on 6 January 2004) wilted under government’ s pressure and rejected a public-interest petition seeking disclosure of contents of Atomic Energy Regulation Board report. disallowed opening the lid from the Pandora box of lapses. The basic contention of the petition was that nuclear installations and atomic power stations across the country were endangering the lives of people living in the vicinity. Dr A Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman of India’s AERB was also a petitioner. He had contended that serious nuclear accidents could take place at Narora Nuclear Power Plant, Uttar Pradesh and Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant, Karnataka. The Supreme Court ruled that Government had every right to maintain secrecy about nuclear installations and deny public information about these in the interest of national security. It would be pertinent to quote a few failures of nuclear safety. The Cirus reactor at Trombay, capable of producing 14 kg weapon-grade plutonium, developed a radiation leak in 1991. As a result, soil water and vegetation in the vicinity was contaminated. Dhruva, a reactor at Trombay, capable of producing 30 kg weapon grade plutonium, suffered from design problems that caused fuel failures. Mumbai port became radioactive because of nuclear effluents discharged by plutonium -reprocessing facilities. The Fast Breeder Test Reactor of 40 MW at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, built with French assistance, was rated `not safe’, and discarded. Similar reactors, like Super Phoenix of France and Monju of Japan, were also discarded because of safety hazards. Twenty-six workers were injured because of radiation leakage on 14 Mar 1980. Subsequently, a high dosage (740 times higher than the normal level) of iodine was found in seawater around this plant in 1989. The radioactive waste from the plant contaminated the water supply of nearly 3000 villagers living nearby. Rajasthan Atomic Power Plants, Rawatbhata (Kota) were shut down several times during 1980 to 1994 due to cracks in its coolant channels, or water leakage. Madras Atomic Power Plants, Kalpakkam (Tamil Nadu) suffered numerous shutdowns because of radiation leakages, injurious to workers and marine life. Let us quote a few more incidents. Since early 1990s, Madras Atomic Power Reactors have suffered frequent breakdown owing to defective flow of uranium. On March 1993, fire broke out in the Narora Atomic Power Plant. On 25 April 2003, heavy water leaked from one of the coolant channels. The resulting radiation affected the environment. The radiation leakages from tritium- contaminated heavy water from coolant channels of Kakrapar Atomic Power Station have affected not only the workers but also the population in vicinity. A power reactors experienced a near disastrous fire accident in 1991. The design of Kaiga Atomic Power Plants proved to be defective. Containment dome of a unit collapsed in 1994, 24 hours prior to commissioning of the plant. In view of poor nuclear safety-standards in India, India’s quest for augmenting its nuclear energy by establishing a sprawling network of nuclear reactors could be hazardous for the people and the environment. The performance of the existing reactors amply reflects that several plants suffered from flaws in designs, besides slipshod operation. Being the next-door neigbour, poor nuclear safety in India is a source of concern for it. The world community and the nuclear watchdogs, also, should prevent export of nuclear fuel to India ostensibly for nuclear-power generation.

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