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India: Nuclear power's Achilles' Heel

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asians Against Nukes May 4, 2008 URL: groups.yahoo.com/group/SAAN_/message/1115 ... Nuclear power s Achilles Heel Nuclear power will create more
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4, 2008
      South Asians Against Nukes
      May 4, 2008
      URL: groups.yahoo.com/group/SAAN_/message/1115


      Nuclear power's Achilles' Heel

      Nuclear power will create more problems,
      including water stress, displacement and
      environmental hazards, than any other energy

      by Praful Bidwai

      (Published in: Handnews, April 2008)

      In all the debate that has taken place in India
      over the past 44 months on the nuclear deal with
      the US, there has been little questioning of the
      claimed appropriateness, relevance, safety and
      environmental soundness of atomic energy,
      especially in the Indian context.

      This is strange considering nuclear power has
      proved extremely controversial in those very
      countries, the OECD states, which have invested
      the most in it. For instance, the US has not
      ordered a new reactor since 1973, and Western
      Europe is only now constructing its first reactor
      since 1991, in Finland.

      Nuclear power bristles with safety problems,
      because of its deadly radiation hazard, routine
      releases of toxic substances, potential for
      accidents like Chernobyl, and its legacy of
      radioactive wastes, which remain dangerous for
      thousands of years. Science has found no solution
      to the problem of storing high-level wastes,
      leave alone disposing them of. Several European
      parliaments have resolved to phase out nuclear
      power unless a solution is found.

      No less significant is the issue of the burden
      that nuclear power places on resources, and its
      relatively limited utility in societies like
      India where the central electricity grid is
      relatively underdeveloped and where decentralised
      energy generation is sorely needed.

      Nuclear reactors can only provide base-load
      electricity because they can't change their
      output to meet variable demand. But in India, the
      more critical issue is peak load, determined by
      the day-night differences in demand,
      non-industrial needs like agricultural operations
      and seasonal variations. Here, nuclear power is

      And yet, US lobbyists like assistant secretary of
      state for South and Central Asian affairs Richard
      Boucher have been hard selling the deal claiming
      it's "a good agreement for the Americans and the
      Indian people. In terms of turning on the lights
      for kids to do homework, I think we ought to just
      go ahead with it." In his interview to Outlook,
      an Indian weekly, Boucher repeated: "This is an
      enormous opportunity to provide clean power for
      Indians, an enormous opportunity to turn on the
      lights in places of India where they need power"-
      guess for what?-"for kids to do their homework."
      This statement is doubly obnoxious. First, it
      arrogantly asserts that Indians won't have
      electricity without America's munificence: no
      deal, no power, no progress! And second, it
      wrongly assumes that nuclear power is
      indispensable to providing domestic lighting in
      India's villages, when it's manifestly incapable
      of doing so.

      Nuclear power poses acute safety problems in
      India. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has
      an appalling record of exposing hundreds of
      workers to radiation doses well above its own
      permissible limits. Almost all DAE installations
      have had accidents, including a fire at the
      Narora power station in 1993, the collapse of a
      containment dome at Kaiga in 1994, and a valve
      failure exposing workers to massive radiation
      doses at Kalpakkam in 2003.
      At Koodankulam in southern Tamil Nadu, the DAE is
      building two 1000 MW Russian reactors in
      violation of its own regulations. These stipulate
      that a 1.6-km radius zone around a nuclear
      station must have no habitation. The next five-km
      radius area must be a "sterilised zone", where
      "the density of population should be small so
      that rehabilitation will be easier." Finally, in
      the outlying 16-km radius, "the population should
      not exceed 10,000".
      However, three large settlements lie within the
      five-km zone: Koodankulam (population 20,000),
      Idinthakarai (population 12,000) and a new
      tsunami (rehabilitation) colony (population
      2,000-plus). Koodankulam and Idinthakarai are
      just two to four km from the plant as the crow
      flies. And parts of the tsunami colony are less
      than one km away. The population in the 16-km
      radius is at least 70,000! So either the DAE will
      flagrantly violate its own norms, or thousands of
      families will be uprooted-and separated from
      their livelihood as fisherfolk.

      A serious problem with the DAE is that there's no
      independent regulatory agency to oversee its
      safety and enforce norms. The Atomic Energy
      Regulatory Board (AERB) is part of the DAE and
      reports to the Atomic Energy Commission, which is
      headed by the DAE secretary. The AERB does not
      have its own staff or equipment.

      All this contravenes the International Convention
      on Nuclear Safety, which India signed in 1994.
      The DAE notoriously interferes in the AERB's
      functioning. Former AERB chairman A
      Gopalakrishnan is on record saying so in respect
      of the important Kaiga accident investigation.
      A serious problem with nuclear power which is
      entirely missing from the Indian debate concerns
      water, in particular the high dependence of
      atomic power generation on freshwater. This is
      proving to be its Achilles' Heel in many
      countries, including the US. Nuclear power
      stations everywhere need huge amounts of water
      for cooling the reactor core and condensing
      low-temperature steam.

      Nuclear plants' freshwater needs exceed the water
      requirements for power generation based on coal,
      gas or oil. Nuclear plants have thermodynamically
      lower steam conditions than these, and thus
      produce less electricity for the same quantity of
      circulating steam.

      In general, thermoelectric generation of all
      kinds withdraws enormous quantities of
      freshwater. In the US, the thermoelectric plants'
      withdrawal of water accounts for 39 per cent of
      the total, only slightly less than water for
      irrigation (40 per cent). A small amount of the
      water is converted to the steam which drives the
      generator producing the power. Most of the water,
      however, is used for condenser cooling.

      This is posing a serious problem in
      water-stressed areas. Nuclear power can only
      aggravate the problem. High withdrawal rates mean
      that nuclear plants cannot operate unless they
      have access to huge pools of water. Droughts
      entail their closure.

      Why is so much cooling necessary? Because
      generation processes can only convert 40 per cent
      of the fuel's energy into usable electricity. The
      rest is waste heat. Water is used in large
      quantities to remove waste heat by cooling down
      the condensers. This requires a continuous flow
      of cooling water. Most of the water is returned
      to the environment, but much warmer.

      There is, besides, the problem of net consumption
      of water through evaporation and other losses.
      Nuclear plants also consume much more freshwater
      than fossil-fuel plants. Generation of one unit
      (kilowatt-hour) of electricity requires about 140
      litres of water for fossil fuel plants and 205
      litres, or 46 per cent more, for nuclear plants.

      Nuclear plants will become extremely predatory on
      freshwater sources in India's water-scarce or
      drought-prone regions. For instance, the
      Environmental Impact Assessment report for
      Koodamkulam says freshwater would be drawn from
      the Pechipparai dam, 70 km away. Each of the
      reactors-and six are planned-will draw 5 million
      litres a day (mld).

      This has triggered vigorous opposition from the
      public because the dam is the area's only source
      of irrigation and drinking water. The DAE is now
      considering expensive desalination technology. It
      has awarded a Rs 116-crore contract to Tata
      Projects for a desalination plant to supply about
      7.6 mld. Six reactors would, however, require
      four times as much water. Nobody knows where this
      will come from.
      In addition, seawater is also needed to cool down
      the reactors. According to the Ministry of
      Environment and Forests, the temperature of the
      discharged water should not be higher than 7°C
      above that of the sea. But temperature increases
      at India's coastal nuclear reactors exceed this
      norm: 7.7°C (Tarapur 1&2), 8.4°C (MAPS 1&2) and
      9.5°C (Tarapur 3&4).

      If six 1,000 MW reactors are built at
      Koodankulam, they will release over 13 times the
      heat discharged by the two MAPS reactors (220 mw
      each). Either the increase in the temperature of
      the water will be higher than at Kalpakkam. Or
      the amount circulated will be minimally 13 times
      greater. In either case, the impact on marine
      life will be significantly higher.

      Koodankulam lies at the edge of the Gulf of
      Mannar, one of the world's richest marine
      biodiversity areas, with 3,600 species of flora
      and fauna, 377 of them endemic. Thermal
      discharges from the plant will affect this
      precious biological reserve. No less important is
      the plant's likely impact on the region's marine

      Koodankulam isn't as exceptional as might appear.
      The DAE is planning to build big clusters of
      reactors, each generating 6000 to 10,000 MW, in
      three other coastal locations too: Maharashtra,
      Gujarat and West Bengal. The first two are
      notoriously drought-prone. And there's no large
      freshwater source in the third!

      Nuclear power will create more problems,
      including water stress, displacement and
      environmental hazards, than any other energy
      source. We stand warned!


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