Friday, 29 May 2020

Tsunami Of Nuclear Catastrophes

Updated: April 2, 2011 1:03 pm

The world watched with shivering trepidation the chilling pictures emanating from Japan, when it was hammered by a tremendously powerful earthquake and then bludgeoned by a gigantic tsunami. Images of destruction and human misery, as 10-metre-high black waves, triggered by the earthquake, measured above 9 on Richter scale, and the subsequent tsunami, engulfing a part of Japan, were heart rending and deeply disturbing. But, as fate would have it, the only nation ever to witness the full horrors of nuclear war is, in addition to its other woes, faced with the nightmare of nuclear catastrophe. In fact, Japan is experiencing the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl accident after the March 11 tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. That caused three reactors at the plant to overheat and meltdown. There are similar concerns about another reactor at the nearby Fukushima Daini plant. A desperate struggle is on to prevent the worst from happening—a complete meltdown of the nuclear core that could lead to large releases of radioactivity into the environment. With few natural resources of its own, Japan opted for nuclear power to supply a third of its energy needs. It has today more than 50 commercially operating nuclear reactors. These reactors were built taking into account the fact that they would be operating in a seismically dangerous environment. Unfortunately, the earthquake, which was the worst recorded in the country, and the huge tsunami it unleashed, set off a cascade of problems at the two nuclear power plants. The disaster in Japan shows the inherent and potential danger in setting up nuclear power plants. The same natural calamity can take place in India and even taking effective safety measures you cannot avoid the dangers. The ripples of Japan’s tsunami-triggered nuclear crisis are being felt in India. It reminds us of the tsunami of 2004. Five-metre-high waves of tsunami hit the power reactors at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu. A minor water leak was reported in the plant. Walls collapsed but were repaired by 2007. Though we all believed that the system was robust enough to survive such a disaster!
Furthermore, India is currently on a nuclear expansion mode. Many new power plants are being planned. What is the matter of the gravest concern is the fact that the nuclear deal having been finalised, four nuclear parks are proposed to be developed in India, i.e. at Fatehabad in Haryana (2,800 MW), Mandla in Madhya Pradesh (1,400 MW), Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh (6,000 MW) and Bhavnagar in Gujarat (6,000 MW). But ironically, all four parks have been awarded to foreign vendors without any transparency, i.e. no bidding whatsoever took place in awarding those deals worth a whopping amount of $ 150 billion. Such is the proportion of rampantly all-pervasive corruption and non-transparency in the country! No surprise then, the statutory expert appraisal committee of the ministry concerned sent back the applications for all four projects pointing out that they lacked documentation on several counts. The applications were filed to secure what is referred to as “terms of reference” for conducting an environmental impact assessment study. The foreign vendors appear to be shoddily prepared for what should have been an easy first step towards clearances. So it is not difficult to imagine as to what they will come out finally with, when they are granted clearances. The nuclear disaster in Japan also attracted opposition to the proposed nuclear plant—the world’s largest—at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. Although advocates of Jaitapur plant say it is in a seismically safe area—it is in Zone 3—critics point out that Jaitapur, on the Konkan coast, falls in a region that has been hit by three severe earthquakes of a magnitude exceeding 5 points on Richter scale over the past two decades. Questions have also been raised over the safety of Jaitapur’s reactors. India plans to purchase six European Power Reactors (EPRs) from the French company Areva for Jaitapur. To compound the situation, the EPR is of unproven design and the first unit has already run into trouble with British and Finnish nuclear regulators drawing attention to serious design deficiencies in its control and safety systems. Therefore, as experts rightly point out, the earthquake and tsunami-resistant measures, adopted in India’s nuclear plants, require a high-level, profound review by an independent expert group, consisting of experts outside of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), as DAE does not have a sterling record of honesty on the issue of safety. In this backdrop, the Prime Minister’s issuance of order for a technical review of all safety measures in the existing nuclear plants in the country appears to be hollow. For, what kind of accident simulation have we done for them? Japan experience taught us that even the lowest probable accident can happen. In fact, the Japan’s nuclear disaster emphasises that there is nothing unexpected in a nuclear power system. You cannot afford to be unclear about nuclear.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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