Why the nuclear establishment and Kudankulam protesters fail us equally
Has the debate about Kudankulam shifted from the topics that matter to concerns that are more dramatic than genuine?
The Kudankulam anti-nuclear agitation has entered a ludicrous phase in which the drama, theatrics and alleged police brutality have begun to trump the real issue and start self-breeding a human rights situation which even a pro-nuclear DMK wants to exploit.
What gets buried in the fancy “items” of public protest near the plant, that are all-too-familiar now, are the convenient half-truths and tall claims by both the nuclear establishment and the agitators.
Both of them speak to us, but only things that are convenient to them.
During the last two weeks, when the protestors clashed with the police and attempted amphibian guerrilla tricks; undertaking a “jal sathyagraha” in which one person died; and set off a series of “graveyard” protests, the main attention has been on police atrocities.
The villagers now speak more about police atrocities than their fear for the nuclear plant. Willy nilly, the protestors have created a situation of police brutality that has successfully opened a new front for their agitation and propaganda.
Perhaps this is the time to dispassionately look at the facts and reality once again.
First of all, the claims of the nuclear establishment. What was said to be a commission-ready plant, according to media reports on Wednesday, will take several more months to produce electricity. One has to wait till 2013. The power-strapped state had thought that bulk of the electricity generated by the plant will be connected to its deficient grid by June itself. Earlier reports had said that the plant would be ready by the end of 2008.
This is what our nuclear establishment is best at - selling us a fantasy and living off it. Although the department of atomic energy has been in existence for more than five decades, of the total 2,07,000 MW electricity that India produces, nuclear energy contributes just 4,780 MW - a mere 2.3%.
Kudankulam has been in the making for 20 years and a fast breeder test reactor, that is said to produce more nuclear fuel than it consumes and the key to India’s nuclear future, has been under construction at Kalpakkam for ages.
And their plans?
60,000 MW by 2032 - that is in another twenty years. One should be happy if they could add at least 5000 MW in the next two decades, the department becomes more transparent on safety and the country’s atomic energy regulator becomes independent.
Given such a marginal role for the nuclear sector, there are two options - either ignore them or ask them to scrap new plants altogether. In fact, it would make more sense if the Kudankulam protestors asked the nuclear sector to get lost for non-performance than for safety. To be frank, nothing is safe in India - from our highways to trains.
Now let’s look at the propaganda of the agitators.
The agitators keep telling us that western countries, both Europe and America, are not adding any more nuclear plants. It is true, but they don’t tell us the humongous nuclear capacity these countries have already added. America has more than 60 nuclear power installations and produce 95600 MW of electricity, compared to India’s 4780 MW.
The situation is similar in European countries such as France and Germany. There are indeed safety concerns, financing difficulties and push for renewable sources, but their growth story has already benefited from nuclear power and now they can easily use non-conventional sources of energy. Just the way they want the newly industrialising poor countries to emit less carbon.
The protestors also tell us about the dangers of nuclear accidents, but we hear only three names: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Given the hundreds of nuclear power reactors in the world, is this statistically significant? Or are they outliers? It is for the people to decide.
Now the feasibility of non-conventional energy for meeting all our power requirements. Tamil Nadu is a great example of wind energy. It has the highest installed capacity of wind energy in India - about 13,000 MW. In fact, this is also the total requirement of the state, but it hardly meets the demand.
Because the efficiency of wind power is less than 30 per cent, that too for a few months in a year. The enormous spread of land required for wind energy is another dissuading factor. Solar energy too has a low efficiency and requires massive amounts of space. One can fantasise about the rooftop panels that feed the grid in Europe; but given the poor housing and power infrastructure, we maybe light years from such efforts.
The point is, we need growth which needs a lot of power. Nuclear has risks, hydro electric projects are ecological disasters, coal and gas emit a lot of CO2.
This is where we fail listening to both PMANE and the nuclear establishment.
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