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Issue 21
January , 2010
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Nuclear Energy bane or boon?

Ravi Agarwal
Source: Ravi Agarwal, Date: January , 2010

India is slated to increase its nuclear energy production from the current 4120 MW to 63,000 MW by 2032. It will need a massive increase from the 17 exiting reactors we have today. To aid this new cooperation agreements have been signed with Canada, France and Russia, etc, and others are on the way. Alongside to encourage entry of private industry into civilian nuclear power, the Cabinet last month approved a Bill to limit the liability of private companies, in the remote and unfortunate event of an accident to a cap of Rs 2400 crores. The balance of the cost will be borne by the GOI, if the Bill gets Parliament approval.

The other side of nuclear power are issues of waste management, its storage, transport, handling and disposal. Unfortunately there is very little awareness or public information about this key issue, which has kept countries like Germany and the US from building new nuclear power plants for several decades now. No doubt the new Indian market, is a windfall for the international nuclear industry which has been stagnating for a long time now.

The lack of public debate is worrying. Even mainstream newspapers have only taken the strategic view on this new thrust, but have not engaged with the issue of cost of risk minimization and waste disposal. It clearly shows that they have not educated themselves on this aspect. Currently all information of the nuclear program is held by the Department of Atomic Energy, which is the main body dealing with the issue. However with the slated building of literally thousands of new reactors, the issue needs information and transparency.

Siting of these reactors is going to be a significant problem. Already at two proposed sited in Ratnagiri and Sindhdurg Districts (Maharashtra), where the projects are at an advanced stage and land acquisition notices have been served on the local people, environment clearances are yet to be granted.Also for very long now, reported problems of health impacts on tribal communities who live near uranium mines at Jadugoda have been ignored or brushed aside. Similarly reports of improper waste management near some reactor sites have been set aside. Clearly in the new phase of expansion, mechanisms for public information and engagement need to set up and these need to be transparent, where they concern the civilian nuclear energy program. In a first report done on this issue, by Toxics Link, Half Life Nuclear Waste in India, (2009) these issues come out clearly. In fact there is no official figure even of the amount of nuclear waste generated so far. Nuclear energy is being revisited in the climate change scenario. However this is one path which needs to trodden upon with great care. This can only happen if citizens decide to participate.