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By As nuclear power moves South, India must learn to survive, writes Bikash Sinha
  • Published 11.08.12

Nuclear power, almost vectorially, is going South. The North, consisting of the entire western Europe and the United States of America, is no longer interested in expanding its nuclear programme. There are many reasons; most crucial is the post-Fukushima effects — not only the so-called “radiation nightmare” (grossly exaggerated), but also the cost to be borne by Japan for the nuclear accident at Fukushima, estimated to be $ 64 billion or more. It is not surprising that Japan has already decided to cap their reactor programme.

Second, the West, especially Europe, has already reached its saturation level for the need of electric power. So, they don’t have any compelling reason to expand their nuclear programme for electricity. The ‘nuclear nations’ — the US, Britain, France, China and Russia — have enough stock pile for their nuclear arsenals, certainly enough for deterrence.

This spring, after Fukushima, Germany permanently shut down eight of its reactors and, for the rest, they have pledged that the nuclear shops will permanently close by 2022. Germany gets its electricity from France and Czechoslovakia. The Italians have already voted against a nuclear power programme, Switzerland and Spain promptly took a decision to ban construction of new reactors. Mexico is to stop construction of ten reactors; instead, they prefer going over to natural gas-fired plants for electricity, and Belgium is to phase out nuclear plants by 2015. South Africa, however, has a very ambitious nuclear programme and it really means business. South Africa is determined to light up the dark continent, with a programme of 20,000 MWe by 2020, the science adviser of South Africa, Zeblon Vilakazi, announced recently in a conference at South Africa.

Unlike the North, India desperately needs nuclear power reactors to meet the demands of rapid industrial growth, over and above other sources of energy. India’s target is to reach 20,000 MWe by 2020 in the nuclear sector. The public protests against the Kudankulam reactor have delayed the programme quite a bit. The safety record of India’s nuclear programme is immaculate. Historically, it’s one of the best in the world, and we can be justly proud of it.

All that done, India’s projected contribution to electrical energy via the nuclear road, even in 2020, still remains below 10 per cent. Clearly, given the irreversible hazards of fossil-fuel-induced carbon dioxide pollution, not only do we have to push the nuclear sector but also go fast on it. Developed countries are either slowing down, or even permanently pulling down the shutters of their nuclear programme. Ironically, however, the three hot spots of the world — the Middle East, Far East and Pakistan — are pushing hard to build their own reactors.

In some cases, such as Iran, the loud cry for nuclear reactors, as a source of much-needed electric power sounds hollow for obvious reasons. Their oil reserve is enough to provide electricity for at least two centuries. The hazard of climate change is often cited by them, which too sounds hollow. Iran’s desire to become a nuclear nation with a handsome stockpile is not about being just as a deterrent, but also to pose a serious threat to the hegemony of the West for nuclear arsenals.

The ‘hot-spot nuclear market’ cannot stop now. With Iran going nuclear, Saudi Arabia has to go nuclear, and Syria is not going to be just a bystander. Egypt is a ‘vibrant’ democracy now and keen to go nuclear. Russia, is relentlessly pushing its nuclear juggernaut, and its ‘nuclear pill’ down India’s throat. It already has an aggressive lobby to push Russian reactor projects in Bangladesh, Vietnam and even Turkey. The US, France and even Japan have joined the race.

After Fukushima, even China has suspended approval for the construction of new reactors, although it is worst affected by the carbon dioxide from their coal-fired thermal stations. While conducting a prolonged nuclear safety review post-Fukushima, China’s projected nuclear capacity has come down by 30 per cent. Beijing needs to increase the number of graduates in nuclear expertise from 600 to 6000 per year. India, thanks to long-term planning in this sector, is continuously producing ‘nuclear’ graduates to meet the challenge through an education system called the ‘training school’. It has fewer problems in this sector.

France, of course, has been the nuclear pole-star for a long time. More than 80 per cent of electricity in France is from nuclear reactors. President Sarkozi was defending the great French tradition gallantly. Now that he is gone, there is already a murmur among the socialists in France to slow down, if not cap, the French nuclear programme.

There is a touch of irony here in Bengal. Haripur is the “Hamlet” of Bengal’s nuclear programme. Everyone would have benefited — fish, fishermen, schools, hospitals, young engineers. It promised development in a grand scale. But, no, it is truly tragic that Haripur is not to happen. This miracle has already happened in the Mahabalipuram area in south India, where an entire modern township has come up with all the facilities. Ironically enough, all the countries of the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, are not part of the International Atomic Energy Agency. There is no safety control in Iran, Saudi Arabia and indeed across the entire volatile region of Asia. They couldn’t care less — they have oil, and the world needs oil desperately.

Enrico Fermi built the first nuclear pile in the 1930s. It was the forerunner of a proper reactor, and led to the Manhattan Project, which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now the strategic epicentre is moving South, to the hot-spots of unregulated nuclear chauvinism. India is in the middle of it, surrounded by the loud territorial war cries of all these countries. We live in the middle of a violent and dangerous zone. We cannot afford to yield an inch. The slightest weakness will lead to the collapse of our national security. This is so obvious that debating it for too long will be of no use at all. Idle slogans and ideological debates have no relevance at all. Survival cannot be argued away, but should be ensured.