Hiroshima, Fukushima, Jaitapur...
Hiroshima, Fukushima, Jaitapur...
By: Sudeshna Chowdhury
Incidents of contamination and radiation leakage in Japan have raised serious issues related to safety of nuclear power plants. At a recent seminar held in the city, well-known scientists and experts spoke about India's nuclear programme, benefits and risks involved
The recent Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan raised serious concerns about the safety aspect of nuclear power plants. Reports of contamination and radiation leakage in Japan generated fear among people all over the world.
In fact, the Fukushima crisis sparked off violent protests in Jaitapur too, where India's largest nuclear power plant is supposed to come up. While protests in Jaitapur took a political turn, the big question on everybody's mind was are nuclear power plants safe enough?
To dispel myths related to nuclear power plants and to bring awareness on various aspects of nuclear energy amongst youth, a seminar on, 'Nuclear Energy: Facts and Fallacies' was organised by R D National and WA Science College in Bandra (w) recently, where more than 300 students from 30 colleges across the city participated.
Scientists suggested that fear of radiation is the main reason why people are opposed to having nuclear power plants in their area. Said Dr S P Dharne, Associate Director, Nuclear Power Corporation India Limited (NPCIL), "Radiation is a demon which cannot be seen or felt.
It just penetrates your body. The recent Fukushima disaster and horror stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have to a large extent, shaped people's perception on nuclear power plants. Hence, radiation phobia is a huge issue among people.
But this fear is more psychological. In fact, radiation is present everywhere. In places like Narora (in Uttar Pradesh) and Kalpakkam (in Tamil Nadu), where you have nuclear plants for so many years, people are living there for generations and there is no significant damage to health that has come to our notice."
Comparing nuclear energy to thermal and hydropower, which are considered a lot safer, Dharne said, "It is not only nuclear energy, coal too generates a lot of dilute radioactive materials. Hence, total penalty on the environment should be considered while objecting to any technology. Every technology has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. We will have to weigh the risk factors vs the amount of benefit we derive from any technology."
To ensure safety of nuclear reactors, Dharne emphasised that, "Safe design, quality workmanship and diligent operation will guarantee the safety of nuclear reactors." Stringent quality assurance; early detection and deviation from normal procedure in case of an accident; and immediate safe shutdown as well as containment of the radiation, are various measures which can prevent any nuclear disaster.
It is also important for an independent authority to review the safety standards of a nuclear power plant.
To avert nuclear disasters, well-known nuclear scientist, Dr Anil Kakodkar, who was also the chief guest of the programme suggested that, "Each reactor should be able to stand on its own and too many common site facilities should be avoided. Moreover, India is an intelligent buyer and a stringent regulation system is in place when we buy reactors from outsiders."
France and Germany are the pioneers in the field of nuclear energy and our nuclear power needs to grow, he emphasised.
When somebody from the audience asked about the controversial Jaitapur project and the impact that the nuclear project can have on the marine ecology, Dharne clarified that the impact on the surrounding marine ecosystem will be minimal.
Talking about various forms of energy, which included thermal, hydro and solar, scientists highlighted the importance of nuclear energy in generating electricity.
Almost 16 percent of electricity generated worldwide is through nuclear power plants, "Whereas in India only three per cent of the total amount of electricity generated is through nuclear power. We are currently looking at increasing it to 10 per cent," said Dr R R Kakde, General Manager (Corporate Communication), NPCIL.
The panel suggested that nuclear energy could be the ultimate solution to the country's growing energy demands. Calling nuclear energy as "a commercially viable domain", Kakodkar highlighted the challenges when it comes to renewable sources of energy.
"Sun doesn't shine round the clock and that is a big challenge when it comes to solar power. Solar energy is very expensive. So, the aim is to reduce the capital cost while generating solar power."
Electricity generated from nuclear power plants is much cheaper compared to thermal or hydropower. Said Kakde, "The first nuclear power plant in the country at Tarapur generates electricity to Maharashtra and Gujarat. The electricity generated here is being charged at the rate of 92 paise/unit, whereas the normal rate is Rs 2.75-3/unit."
The amount of land required to set up nuclear plants is less compared to other alternative sources of energy. Said Kakde, "To set up a hydro power project almost 2000-5000 hectare of land is required.
A thermal power plant would need approximately 70 hectare whereas a nuclear power plant needs just 20 hectare of land." But availability of uranium, raw material for nuclear power plants, is a concern, said Kakodkar.
Jaitapur will be implemented, declares Jairam Ramesh
The controversial 9,900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP) in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra will be implemented despite all hurdles, declared union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. He said that whatever be the opposition, the government would go ahead with the JNPP, taking into consideration all aspects of environment and security norms.
The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has initiated a safety review of India's nuclear power stations in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. All the facilities are safe, said AEC chairman Srikumar Banerjee.
In the Indian reactors, Banerjee said, the review carried out has shown that adequate provisions were in place to handle situations like a station blackout. The AEC is also constructing reactors, which can withstand flash floods and cyclones in the coastal zone.
The Other Side
Anti nuclear campaign groups claim that nuclear energy is inherently dangerous and the biggest challenge is the disposal of huge amount of radioactive wastes generated from nuclear power plants.
Said Karuna Raina, campaigner at Greenpeace, an international Non-Governmental Environmental Organisation (NGO), "Until a few months ago, the nuclear lobby would claim that if Japan, inspite of being prone to earthquakes, could have nuclear plants, then why can't we? But Fukushima has shown us that nuclear plants can be dangerous. Team of experts working there even found radiation in the sea water."
Dr V Pugazhendhi, who has a clinic in Kalpakkam claims that there has been an increase in the number of people suffering from cancer, in the area.
"My research states that people working in the power plant suffer from myeloma cancer(rare blood cancer) whereas people from neighbouring villages suffer from thyroid cancer and other autoimmune thyroid diseases. The results have statistical significance."