Nuclear accidents do happen, more so when the planning and regulation process is exposed to industry influence. This is exactly what happened in Fukushima. The earthquake and the tsunami were just a trigger to an already compromised nuclear installation. This is not what Greenpeace or anti-nuclear activists say; this is what the Japanese fact finding committee concluded in their report-back to the Japanese parliament.


Fukushima Nuclear Disaster


The inherently dangerous nature of nuclear technology is such that the slightest lapse can cause catastrophic destruction. Prior to the nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan did not have an independent nuclear regulator. The Government, the regulator, the operators and the suppliers worked hand in glove to suppress and undermine genuine concerns raised in regards to Fukushima nuclear plant. The result was inevitable.

In India, too, people have been protesting against the Kudankulam nuclear plant for many years. Yet, instead of acknowledging and genuinely looking into their concerns, the Government labels them ‘anti-national’. Multiple accidents and shutdowns at the Kudankulam nuclear plant now prove that those concerns were indeed genuine.

There is evidence and reasons to doubt the integrity of Kudankulam nuclear reactor. One of the Russian companies (ZiO-Podolsk) involved in supplying critical equipment for the first reactor was caught producing low quality equipment and embezzling funds. The annual report of ZiO-Podolsk states that equipment were indeed supplied to Kudankulam. Moreover, many within the industry also claim that the Indian nuclear operator is not familiar with the Russian technology and therefore, the risk is even higher.

Kudankulam is just one of the cases where proper due diligence was not done. Jaitapur too demonstrates a clear lack of intent to take regulatory guidelines seriously. A 2002/6 Geological Survey of India report --currently gathering dust in one of the closets of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited(NPCIL) --states that there are several faultlines within the 5km radius of the proposed Jaitapur nuclear site.

This report, NPCIL states, is still under review. An in-principle approval to build a nuclear plant on top of faultlines was granted by the Government in 2005, environmental clearance was granted in 2010 (now lapsed), and nuclear regulatory approval application is being reviewed as you read this article. These steps are being taken despite a nuclear regulatory guideline that strictly prohibits building of a nuclear plant if there are faultlines within 5kms from the site. This condition is again repeated in the site selection committee report of 1972.

All of these examples amount to just the tip of this iceberg, the submerged 90% involves conflict of interest within the establishment. Take for instance the case of Dr. Anil Kakodhkar, a member of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) of India. Besides being a member of AEC Dr Kakodhkar also moonlights on the board of directors for Walchandnagar Pvt Ltd, a private company with interest in the nuclear industry. Walchandnagar Pvt Ltd has signed a MoU with ZiO-Podolsk in 2010 for localization of production. Such is the foreign industry influence on our country’s nuclear plans!


Chernobyl Disaster


These are the exact conditions that led to Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear accidents. Even though Japan, and the erstwhile USSR, had comparatively low population density, the countries were ill-equipped to handle the accident. In India, the population density itself is a challenge let alone containment, decontamination and access to medical aid. Moreover, the emergency preparedness and disaster management plans are based on outdated codes and guidelines. This is obviously a dangerous mix.

When one thinks about a nuclear accident, the first thought of course is the immediate exposure to the radioactive contamination that the nearby residents and the plant workers are exposed to. What immediately follows is the evacuation and containment. But amidst all these immediate consequences, the thought of loss of livelihood, degradation of health, displacement, depression and disruption hardly ever make it to the mainstream discussions.

Fukushima and Chernobyl share many similarities in this regard. The immediate stance of defense from the proponents of nuclear energy was that even though Fukushima nuclear accident was a level 7 accident, “no one died”. Of course, this claim no longer holds true.

Five years since the Fukushima accident and 30 years since Chernobyl, many have died and it seems inevitable that many more will eventually die. For the spin doctors hired by the nuclear industry, what counts are deaths clearly marked with its cause. However, the nature of radioactive contamination is such that it cannot be seen and immediately felt. It is an invisible killer and many of the deaths it causes are unmarked.

Greenpeace’s independent field research shows that the radiation from Chernobyl is still very much present in the contaminated areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. The people living in these areas continue to eat and drink food with dangerously high levels of radiation. This is what is now slowly unfolding in Japan as well.

While even the spin doctors cannot refute the economic losses suffered, the numbers - although stark - can not be compared to the cost of lives lost, not to mention the inestimable cost of long term health and environmental consequences. As to this reality, the ghost towns of Futaba, Namie, Iitate in Japan, Pripyat in Ukraine and Bryansk in Russia, speak for themselves.

 Blog written by Hozefa Merchant, Nuclear Campaigner with Greenpeace India.