Indian Nuclear Program: Warning From Japanese Nuclear Crisis

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI:  The Japanese nuclear crisis has undeniably served as a major warning for India regarding its own nuclear policy. India aims to increase its nuclear capacity, more than 100 times, from 4,000MW to 470,000MW in four decades from now. It plans to have 63,000MW of nuclear power by 2032. The devastating impact of Japanese nuclear crisis has, however, raised several question marks on India moving ahead on this course.

Seeking to allay fears, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated recently: “The tragic nuclear incidents in Japan in the aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami should make us revisit strategies for nuclear safety, learning lessons from these experiences.” “I have already ordered a thorough review by the Department of Atomic Energy,” he said. At the same time, signaling that India was not likely to backtrack on its nuclear policy, he pointed out that Indian nuclear power plants had successfully withstood the strong earthquake at Bhuj in Gujarat (January 26, 2001) and the tsunami that hit parts of southern India (December, 2004).

Not everybody, however, is in favor of India’s nuclear program. In fact, the Japanese nuclear crisis has prompted a new wave of criticism as well as opposition to India’s nuclear aims. Expressing his views, former president, APJ Abdul Kalam said: “India has never experienced a combination of an earthquake and a tsunami. There is, therefore, a need for our scientists to study the same. The safety of our nuclear power installations and the people living around them is of prime importance.” He was speaking to media-persons on sidelines of the fifth convocation ceremony of the Defense Institute of Advanced Technology (DIAT) at Girinagar near Pune (Maharashtra). “I urge the faculty and management of DIAT to start a detailed program on disaster management, which could be replicated across the country. It is crucial that people are trained to protect the fellow Indians and critical establishments in the event of a natural disaster,” Kalam said.

While all are in favor of a review of India’s nuclear security regime, some feel that though there might be delay in the proposed plans taking off, they are not going to be abandoned. However, Japan nuclear crisis has made quite a few more critical than they were earlier about India’s nuclear program. In fact, several activists are building people’s opinion against it by circulating letters and press releases through e-mails and other means. With Japanese nuclear crisis having added strength to their stand, they have increased opposition to the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Project (Maharashtra). Once completed, it will be world’s largest nuclear power generating station by net electrical power rating.

The project is located in a zone that is a seismically sensitive and may also be prone to tsunami, according to critics. In their opinion, while clearing the site for this project, the presence of two major creeks on the proposed site and tsunami probability had been ignored. They feel that it is still not too late for the government to shelve the plan. Petitions, letters and demonstrations against Jaitapur project are gaining political heat.

Left bloc’s Ramchandra Dome (Communist Party of India-Marxist) raised the issue in the Lok Sabha during the zero hour, last week (March 16). He pointed out that soil in the region is unstable, according to scientific data. “The region has faced 92 earthquakes since 1985. In 1993, one of the biggest earthquakes measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale occurred,” Dome said. The Jaitapur project should be shelved as hundreds of farmers and fishermen would be affected, he said. He drew attention to Japan nuclear crisis in support of his stand.

A similar stand has been taken by activists who have been opposed to Jaitapur project from the beginning. “The explosions at unit 1 and 3 of Japan’s nuclear plant, which also led to the evacuation of over 200,000 people from surrounding areas, corroborate our demand to scrap the project in Ratnagiri,” retired Supreme Court Judge P.B. Sawant said at a press conference (March 15). Taking note of the state government having arrested more than 3,000 social activists and local people, who are opposed to the project, he said: “Instead of answering our queries on the nuclear project, the state government is indulging in tyranny and unleashing terror on their own people.”

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) said in a statement that even though Indian nuclear plants remained safe during the last two natural calamities, they are not being “complacent.” “We cannot be complacent and therefore we are closely observing the experiences of the rarest event that is taking place in Japan where nuclear plants in the Northeast part are affected following the severe and devastating earthquake and tsunami,’’ NPCIL stated (March 14).  Besides, NPCIL was monitoring developments in Japan, which will be reviewed when the detailed information becomes available, the statement pointed out.

Without doubt, the much-publicized nuclear program of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is facing strong heat from several quarters. Had the Japanese nuclear crisis not occurred, the opposition to Indian nuclear program may not have picked up so intensely and extensively. It certainly has. India cannot also ignore the hard reality that the Japanese crisis has prompted several countries, including China, Germany and Mexico to put on hold construction of new power plants.


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