Nuclear power: Some simple questions for India

On India’s Independence Day, yesterday, Greenpeace carried a powerful advertisement cautioning the country against the ‘power’ that was going to make the country more vulnerable than ever: Nuclear Power. Moving beyond the ad which addressed macro level issues, I have some fundamental questions:

1.       Why should we not learn to be less power-hungry?

India is home to a sixth of the world’s population. Seventy per cent of India’s 1.2 billion + people live in villages. Most of India’s villages have power shutdown for 12 hours or more. Which means a tenth of the world’s 7 billion do not depend on power. Why should we not learn to be less ‘power’-hungry from these 700 million, who live and thrive in conditions that you and I would describe as drudgery?

2.       Who is paying attention to simple safety issues?

Perhaps major accidents such as power plants blowing up and reactors melting down will become a rarity because of the attention such issues have been getting thanks to the disasters in recent memory! But consider this: two canisters containing radioactive materials fell off a truck that was going from Pennysylvania to Toronto. The driver was unaware that some of his cargo had gone missing enroute. In another incident, a truck carrying nuclear waste fell off a bridge in Idaho, releasing radioactive material into the Snake River. [Courtesy: allen lutins’ compilation of nuclear accidents in the US at http://www.lutins.org/policy.html ] In a country like India where driving is dicey at best, and it is par for course to observe traffic rules in the breach, is there any way of monitoring such accidents, let alone ensuring they don’t happen?

3.       Does the emphasis on renewable sources match up?

In a recent press release, the European Wind Energy Association says that 34% of the EU electricity demand will be met by renewables in 2020. The break-up is: Wind energy 14% (10% onshore, 4% offshore), Hydro 10.5%, Biomass 6.6%, Solar Photovoltaic 2.4%, Concentrated Solar Power 0.5%, Geothermal 0.3% and Ocean 0.1%. India is a tropical country with a long coastline; it has the world’s largest cattle population, not to speak of other biomass sources. It has a long history of scientific investment in exploring renewable energy sources. It even has an exclusive Ministry for New and Renewable Energy. So, what is happening?

4. How to combat the exigencies of a polarised polity and politicised governance?

From 1993 to 2006, the IAEA confirmed 1080 illicit trafficking  incidents … 275 incidents involving unauthorized possession and related criminal activity, 332  involving theft or loss of nuclear or other radioactive materials, 398 relating to other unauthorized activities; in the remaining 75 cases, information was not sufficient to define the category [via Nuclear and radiation accidents – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia].

In a country where self-servers and traitors have infiltrated the political and administrative system at all levels, how will India handle the issue of illicit trafficking and misuse of power and position to thieve and to shield the thieves?

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