Can the authorities be trusted?

Post the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Indian authorities have come out in full force to defend the country’s plan for aggressive nuclear expansion.  Heads of various nuclear agencies, both past and present, have joined the Prime Minister in a vociferous chorus on the extraordinary safety credentials of India’s nuclear facilities.  

Can we really trust these reassurances?

 

Dr. Anil Kakodkar

Former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary of Department of Atomic Energy (2000-2009), former Director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
Address to Members of the Legislative Assembly and Members of the Legislative Council of Maharashtra.
14th March, Press Trust of India


Statement: "Compared to Japan, seismic activity is very less in India. In Japan, there are fifty-four reactors in seismic zone four and five. In USA, there are ten reactors in seismic zone five. While Jaitapur is in seismic zone three."

 Reality:

  • Narora Atomic Power Station (with two 220 MW capacity reactors) in Bulandshar district of Uttar Pradesh  is, by the NPCIL’s own admission, situated in a seismic zone four.
  • Documents obtained from the Geological Survey of India under the Right To Information Act of 2005 clearly place Ratnagiri district as a seismic zone four, not zone three. The Environmental Impact Assessment of Jaitapur nuclear power plant states the project to be in Ratnigiri district. This is a clear disjuncture between various assertions by the government.

 

Statement:He also said that countries such as Germany, Italy and Sweden, which had decided not to have nuclear power plants, later had a rethink. 

Reality:

  • On the same day, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced a moratorium on the country's nuclear plants, including a permanent shutdown of 7 reactors.
  • On 23rd March, Italy's Council of Ministers approved a moratorium of at least one year on construction of nuclear power plants in the country, which had been looking to restart its long-abandoned nuclear program.  
  • Switzerland suspended the approvals process for three new nuclear power stations.
  • EU energy commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, moved quickly to try to forge a pan-European response to having a single European nuclear policy. It’s an area where the European Commission has rarely intervened in the past.

Kakodkar is no longer making references to Europe to support his own views, as there is clearly little basis for his assurances. More country reactions to the Fukushima disaster can be seen here.

 

Statement:When asked by a member of the audience as to why solar energy can not be an alternative, he said solar energy was important but it was not available 24 hours and was not economically viable.  Nuclear power plants required less land, compared to solar energy projects, Kakodkar explained.

Reality:

  • The installed capacity of grid-connected renewable energy sources in India is currently 18455 MW, nearly four times the installed capacity of nuclear power (4780 MW).
  • Kakodkar fails to mention other renewable energy options such as offshore wind, tidal or small hydro power, all of which take up very little land.  Similarly, no mention is made of the significant potential of improved energy efficiency measures.
  • The variability of renewable energy is no disadvantage if many small-scale generating stations are installed on a flexible grid system.  Large, centralised power stations are no longer needed.  All power plants fail, and the breakdown of a large scale generating station - such as a nuclear plant - will both remove far more power from a grid, and take far longer to start up again.  

 

Dr. S. K. Jain

Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited
14th March, Press Trust of India


Statement:Regarding the French EPR reactors which are proposed for Jaitapur plant in Ratnagiri district, Bannerjee [Chairman, AEC] and Jain said the design of EPR was based on the design experience of 58 reactors running in Europe, and when the Indian EPR will come up it would have seen the experience of five such similar plants in Finland, France, China and UK.

Reality:

  • Not a single EPR reactor has yet been built, let alone operates, anywhere in the world.
  • Reactors under construction in Finland and in France are years over schedule and way over budget. There is little information available on the relatively new construction site in China. The UK plant construction has not yet begun. 
  • The government has said early construction is planned for the Jaitapur reactors.  Even if other EPRs begin operating before the Jaitapur EPR is complete, there is little opportunity for their experience to modify the design of the power plant in India.

 

Statement:Jain said India was uniquely placed as it had a centralised emergency operating centre with well drawn procedures scrutinised by regulators.

Reality:

  • A nuclear regulator should be an independent authority, yet the institutional structure in India compromises the ability of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to be so.
  • The AERB must regulate and monitor the activities of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and report to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).  Yet the secretary of the DAE is also the chairman of the AEC.
  • The AERB is not even housed in a separate building - it has office space within the DAE premises.

 

Empty promises

It’s not just in India.  The two worst nuclear accidents in history were also preceded (and followed!) by reassurances of safety.

Chernobyl
1983 - “The design feature [of the RBMK reactor - that used in Chernobyl] of having more than 1000 individual primary circuits increases the safety of the reactor system - a serious loss-of-coolant accident is practically impossible.” B. Semenov, Deputy Director General, IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy and Safety (IAEA BULLETIN, VOL. 25, No.2 (1983) p.51)

1986 - Chernobyl nuclear disaster, an accident involving a loss of coolant. The worst nuclear accident to date, and the only one classified as level 7 on the INES scale, the IAEA’s scale of severity for nuclear events.


Fukushima
January 2011 - “Even for a nuclear plant situated very close to sea level, the robust sealed containment structure around the reactor itself would prevent any damage to the nuclear part from a tsunami, though other parts of the plant might be damaged. No radiological hazard would be likely.”
(World Nuclear Association, www.world-nuclear.org)

January 2011 - “Nuclear facilities are designed so that earthquakes and other external events will not jeopardise the safety of the plant. In France for instance, nuclear plants are designed to withstand an earthquake twice as strong as the 1000-year event calculated for each site. It is estimated that, worldwide, 20% of nuclear reactors are operating in areas of significant seismic activity.” (World Nuclear Association, www.world-nuclear.org)

8 January 2011 - In promoting Japan’s nuclear wares to Saudi Arabia, Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akihiro Ohata says that Japanese nuclear programs are “the world’s safest”.

11 March 2011 - An offshore earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale, followed by a tsunami, creates an emergency situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  Radioactive material is released into the environment.  The scale of the crisis is still unfolding.

28 March 2011 - “The up-to-date reactors are fully protected, and if such reactor is taken to the Fukushima location (though, I have mentioned that a few human creations are capable of withstanding a disaster of that force), an up-to-date reactor is capable of withstanding this.” Sergei Kirienko, Director of Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), Russia

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