Nuclear Energy

Destroying the Future

Neeraj Jain

Japan is paying the price for the arrogance and greed of its nuclear industry and politicians. Despite suffering the horrors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombing, the Japanese nuclear industry and politicians bamboozled the Japanese people into believing that nuclear power plants were safe, clean and green, were a sustainable solution for Japan's energy crisis. On March 11, 2011, catastrophe visited the Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan, blowing their claims sky high.

On that day, two years ago, a massive earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck the nuclear plant; it was followed an hour later, by a huge tsunami with waves as high as 14 metres. The earthquake disrupted the cooling systems of the reactors; the tsunami worsened the accident. A complex series of events ultimately led to fuel meltdown in three of the six reactors of the plant. In at least two of the reactors, there have been explosions in the spent fuel ponds, and some of their deadly radioactive inventory has been released into the atmosphere. Spent fuel pool contains, among other terrible elements, plutonium, which is one of the most dangerous elements known, with a radioactive half-life of over 24,000 years! Less than one-millionth of a gram of Plutonium if inhaled can cause lung cancer.

Fukushima is clearly the greatest industrial disaster the world has ever seen. It is estimated that nearly 10 lakh people have died worldwide due to the Chernobyl nuclear accident over the period 1986-2004, according to a report published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009; and the numbers will continue to increase in the coming decades because of continued radiation from the long-lived radio-nuclides that have leaked from the accident. Extrapolate this for Fukushima, which is nearly three times as big as Chernobyl, and the scale of the disaster becomes apparent.

Radiation from the Fukushima plant has spread to all across the globe. Not only countries near Japan, but also countries far away across the Pacific Ocean, from Canada to the USA and Mexico, and even Switzerland, Iceland and France, have detected traces of radioactivity from Japan's crippled plant in their soil, air and water. In Japan, in the region around the stricken reactor, high levels of radioactive elements, including caesium and strontium, have been found in milk, several vegetables, and in tea gardens as far away as 400 km from the plant; the deathly plutonium has been detected in rice fields 50 km away from the plant. Cesium-137 concentrates in the muscles to cause cancer and remains radioactive for 600 years; strontium-90 causes breast and bone cancer and remains radioactive for 560 years. It has now been revealed that the radioactive releases were so serious that the authorities were thinking of evacuating Tokyo, Japan's capital, which is 240 kilometre away from the plant.

Nearly 1 lakh people living in a 20 km radius around the plant have been evacuated. These people are never going to return to their homes. According to European medical experts, of the 10 million people living in a radius of 200 km from the plant, at least 4 lakh [hundred thousand] people are going to develop cancers in the coming 50 years, with 2 lakh being diagnosed in the next 10 years. By choosing nuclear energy as an energy option, the Japanese political leaders have condemned the people of Japan to suffer epidemics of cancer, leukaemia and genetic disease for the rest of time.

The plain truth about nuclear energy is—it is not safe, clean, and green. On the contrary, it is in reality a 'Destroyer of Worlds'.

Nuclear energy is generated in a nuclear reactor when nuclear fuel (uranium 235) kept in the reactor core is split up, releasing huge amounts of heat. This heat is used to produce steam, which in turn is used to drive a turbine to generate electricity.

During this fission process, more than 200 types of new, highly radioactive elements are created. The reactor core of a 1000 MW nuclear power plant contains an amount of long-lived radiation equivalent to that released by 1,000 Hiroshima bombs ! Many of these radioactive elements will continue to emit radiation for thousands of years. The impact of this radiation on the human body is deathly: it causes cancer, infertility, premature aging, kidney problems, and several other diseases, and also mutates the reproductive genes —causing all kinds of diseases and birth deformities in future generations.

Even if nuclear reactors operate normally, their environmental costs are terrible. People living near the reactors are inevitably exposed to radiation leakages: the diabolical elements created in the fission reaction leak out of the reactor into the environment through a number of ways. The consequence: they will continue to suffer from cancer and other deathly diseases and children will continue to be born with mental and physical deformities for thousands of years!

An even more monstrous problem is the problem of waste disposal. Each 1,000 MW nuclear power plant generates 30 tons of radioactive waste annually. This waste contains elements like Plutonium and Technetiunr, and is intensely radioactive and remains so for more than 2 lakh [two hundred thousand] years ! There is no safe way of storing these deadly wastes; they are generally stored in temporary storage sites near the reactors. Everywhere, the waste is leaking, leaching, seeping through the soil into aquifers, rivers and seas, to ultimately enter the bodies of plants, fish, animals and humans. Its consequences are going to be with the people for the rest of time!

Finally, because of the complex nature of nuclear technology, nuclear reactors are inherently prone to accidents. No amount of safety devices can prevent them. This was eloquently brought out in a report by some of the world's most distinguished scientists presented to the European Parliament in 2007 which examined the safety records of nuclear plants in several countries. They came to the stunning conclusion that "since Chernobyl, catastrophe has, on several occasions, only narrowly been avoided." In other words, sooner or later, a catastrophic nuclear accident was bound to happen, and it happened in Fukushima. An accident needs a reason; the earthquake and tsunami happened to be it. Even after Fukushima, if politicians  still do pay heed and do not shut down each and every nuclear reactor all over the world, sooner or later, another catastrophic accident is bound to happen again, in one of the world's 430 operating reactors.

Because of these terrible effects, most countries around the world have stopped building new nuclear plants. The US has not ordered a new plant for nearly 40 years now, since October 1973, and Canada since 1978. A majority of countries of Western Europe have banned nuclear power plants. After Fukushima, countries which had nuclear plants, like Germany and Switzerland, have decided to close down their existing nuclear reactors too.

Three months after the Fukushima accident, on July 13, the Japanese Prime Minister, in a television address to the nation, stated that Japan should learn from the disaster and called for a complete phase-out of nuclear power. He stated: "Through my experience of the March 11 accident, I came to realise the risk of nuclear energy is too high. It involves technology that cannot be controlled according to our conventional concept of safety."

The huge scale of the Fukushima disaster has however left the Indian government and nuclear establishment unfazed. It is determined to implement its ambitious plans for a quantum jump in nuclear power generation, from 4,780 MW at present to 63,000 MW by 2032. Two Russian-built 1,000 MW reactors are nearing completion in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, in fact one reactor has of late, become operational as per official claim. At Jaitapur, in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, the government is proposing to import six giant-sized, 1,650 MW reactors from France. It is also planning to set up massive nuclear power parks in the coastal areas of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat. Six to eight reactors, of 1,000-1,650 MW, will be installed at each nuclear park.

To prove the safety of India's nuclear programme despite the massive tragedy in Japan which has brought out in grim detail the dangers of nuclear energy, India's nucleophiles are making the most outrageous statements. For instance, they are claiming that India's reactors are of superior design and India's safety record is better than Japan's! The truth is that India's Department of Atomic Energy, and its subsidiary, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, are notoriously inefficient and completely untrustworthy. They have built and operated their much smaller 220 MW reactors so carelessly that nuclear experts worldwide have labelled them the "least efficient" and the "most dangerous in the world". There have been hundreds of accidents at India's reactors! Some of these, like the accident at Narora in UP in 1993, very nearly led to a Chernobyl-like meltdown. And now the government is entrusting these organisations with the responsibility of supervising the construction and subsequently of operating imported reactors five to seven times bigger than the reactors presently installed in the country!

To make matters worse, bowing to pressure from its foreign nuclear plant suppliers, the government of India has passed a Nuclear Liability Law, indemnifying foreign equipment suppliers of all liabilities in case of an accident in a reactor supplied by them !! If indeed nuclear energy is as safe as the government and the nuclear industry is claiming it to be, why this Law?

It is quite obvious that India is heading for a huge catastrophe. If an accident were to happen at Madban, in the minimum entire Western Maharashtra, including Pune, would be contaminated; and if it happens at Kudankulam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu would have to be evacuated!

Vol. 46, No. 4, Aug 4-10, 2013

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