Nuclear Power and India

Nuclear Power and India

Now is not the time for energy-starved India to increase nuclear dependency

Soaring costs and safety doubts post-Fukushima mean India is unwise to plan a doubling of its nuclear plants

Police officers guard the proposed site of the nuclear power project near Jaitapur

Police officers guard the proposed site of the nuclear power project near Jaitapur. Photograph: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images

Japan’s nuclear disaster has fuelled fear and uncertainty among all of the world’s producers of nuclear power. For India, an energy-starved country with big nuclear plans, much is at stake.

The wider fear over nuclear power has two main causes. Firstly, although it ranks as a “clean” source of energy, it is accompanied by the terrible shadow of nuclear war and Japan’s last reckoning with nuclear catastrophe 65 years ago at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Secondly, the secrecy that attends all things nuclear has left people not knowing enough to feel confident.

The additional fear inspired by the Fukushima disaster will be reflected in soaring costs for nuclear power worldwide, largely owing to demands for improved safety and insurance. Indeed, nuclear plants are prone to a form of panic transference: should a reactor of one design go wrong, all reactors of that type will be shut down instantly around the world.

In India, the dilemma is this: it has 20 nuclear plants in operation, with an additional 23 on order. With the country desperately short of power, and requiring energy to grow, concerned citizens are asking if nuclear is still the answer for India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has cautiously announced a “special safety review” of all plants. “Not enough,” say about 50 eminent Indians, who at the end of March demanded a review of the country’s entire nuclear power policy for “appropriateness, safety, costs, and public acceptance”. The group also called for an “independent, transparent safety audit” of all nuclear facilities to be undertaken with the “involvement of civil society organisations and experts outside the department of atomic energy”. Until then, they demanded a moratorium on all nuclear activity and a revocation of recent clearances. This is as explicit as opposition can get.

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