Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Japanese Lessons

Updated: April 16, 2011 10:32 am

Let me tell the readers at the very outset that what I am going to write was not in mind when I started writing this column. I was about to write on the so-called cricket diplomacy in the wake of the memorable semi-final that both Indian and Pakistani teams played at Mohali the night before, despite their respective governments doing everything to ruin the pleasure for cheap political gains. What changed my mind was an email I received from Japanese friend R Hori. A journalist by profession, Hori was posted in India many years back as the representative of the Jiji Press. Our friendship blossomed further when during a long visit to Japan, Hori turned out to be huge help in Tokyo. Hori’s family, incidentally, resides in that part of Japan which was recently hit by earthquake, tsunami and then nuclear fallouts. I was really worried that things were not fine with him since he did not respond to my email I had sent him more than a fortnight ago enquiring about his wellbeing and that of his family.

                But this morning, I got his response. It was reassuring to know that everybody in his family is safe. More important, he said that the Japanese are coming back to normalcy without being influenced by the hype outside his country that Japan is sinking. And precisely this is the point that I want to highlight. In the process, I am going to reproduce two of the very interesting material that some friends had forwarded. I do not know the original source, but they convey the Japanese lessons flowing from the country’s recent calamity, lessons we Indians must ponder over.

                One forwarded mail points out 10 things that Japan did to deal with its tragedy:

  1. THE CALM: Not a single visual of chest-beating or wild grief. Sorrow itself has been elevated.
  2. THE DIGNITY: Disciplined queues for water and groceries. No looting and irrational complaining. Not a rough word or a crude gesture.
  3. THE ABILITY: The incredible architectures, for instance: Tall buildings swayed but didn’t fall. Earthquake-proof building codes are strictly enforced and followed.
  4. THE GRACE: People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something. No reports of hoarding or inflating the prices
  5. THE ORDER: No looting in shops. No honking and no overtaking on the roads. Just understanding and consideration for fellow human being.
  6. THE SACRIFICE: Fifty workers stayed back to pump sea water in the N-reactors fully aware that they were risking their lives. How will they ever be repaid?
  7. THE TENDERNESS: Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone. The strong cared for the weak.
  8. THE TRAINING: The old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that.
  9. THE MEDIA: They showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No silly reporters. No stupid and childish comments. No exploitation of human tragedy for raising TRPs. Only calm reportage.
  10. THE CONSCIENCE: When the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly.

                Now, against this backdrop, the other graphic message that I have reproduced depicts, in my opinion, our national behaviour, which is something not to be proud of. Our leaders, experts, commentators and NGOs leave no stone unturned at the slightest pretext to demonise anything that has gone wrong. No wonder then why we witness these days so much noise against the use of nuclear energy or power. In the process, we are missing the wood for the trees. Japan’s current nuclear crisis has nothing to do with the fact that its Fukushima nuclear plant was located in earthquake prone area. The matter of fact is that the earthquake had nothing to do with the crisis. Despite its severity, the earthquake and the tsunami that followed did not cause even an iota of damage to the physical structure of the plant. Fukushima-I houses 6 units of power reactors. During the earthquake, units 4-6 were under periodical inspection. Other 3 units mean units 1-3 were automatically shut down. However, the tsunami knocked down the onsite emergency diesel generator set which affected cooling of the shutdown plants. And this is what the Japanese have fought against– cooling the reactors (which, because of excessive heat, were threatening to explode and radiate) by spraying sea-water over the reactors. The situation now seems to be coming under control.

                In other words, the cooling system caused the Japanese nuclear crisis, and that happened because the emergency diesel-generator to supply alternate electricity during an emergency failed. That means that nuclear plants and energy are not inherently unsafe. They are as safe and as unsafe as other sources of energy. So the hysteria being seen in India against nuclear plants is difficult to understand.

                Besides, as Dr. Rajiv Nayan of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses says, in Fukushima, the technology used to cool the reactors—the Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs)—is relatively old and except in Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS)-1 and TAPS-2, it is not in use in Indian nuclear plants. Other 18 operational reactors of India are Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs). These reactors have a different kind of design. The PHWRs are of different design than that of BWRs and have multiple, redundant and diverse shutdown systems as well as cooling water systems. In BWRs, the heat generated through nuclear fission in the core sets off circulating water to boil which finally produces steam. The generated steam is radioactive. It directly drives a turbine. Then the steam is cooled in a condenser and transformed back to liquid and it circulates back through the reactor. The PHWRs do not allow boiling of primary loop water. This kind of reactor has an arrangement for running the reactor when power breaks down as happened in Fukushima. It has design features to withstand earthquakes and severe flooding.

                All this is not to suggest that nuclear power is not vulnerable. But then other sources of energy are not exactly vulnerability-proof. Extracting energy by splitting the atom is a knowledge-based technology, which requires constant upgrading. It has both plus and minus points. Thus, as is the case with any other technology, nuclear technology has been under constant review and improvement. And this is what India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Body (AERB) has been doing. The AERB is the institutional arm of nuclear safety in the country. Accordingly, it is evolving safety codes, guides and standards for sitting, design, construction, commissioning, operation and decommissioning of different types of nuclear and radiation facilities. We should have faith in AERB scientists when they assure us that India’s nuclear plants are safe.

                We must remember that nuclear energy is perhaps the only large-scale energy source that can fill the void of fast-depleting fossil fuels, which always cause fluctuations in the global economic growth. Secondly, nuclear energy is the only non-pollutant alternative to fossil fuels that threaten catastrophic climate change, posing the biggest challenge to mankind.

By Prakash Nanda

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