Lack of nuclear sanity in India

By Anaya Shahid

Ironically on March 14, 2011 after the Japan’s nuclear disaster, India was the first country to announce that Fukushima reactors were safe. Top officials of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) were of the view that Indian nuclear reactors will continue to work as they are safe and also claimed that what happened in Fukushima was not a “nuclear accident”.

S.K. Jain, the Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation was propagating on Fukushima accident that, “There is no nuclear accident or incident in the Japan’s Fukushima plants. It is a well-planned emergency preparedness program which the nuclear operators of the Tokyo Electric Power company are carrying out to contain the residual heat after the plants had an automatic shutdown following a major earthquake.”

Now it is really scary that on the 5th anniversary of Fukushima, an emergency has been declared at the Kakrapar nuclear plant in Gujarat near Surat after a major heavy water leak in a nuclear reactor. The authorities are disseminating the situation by saying that all safety systems worked fine and the technicians has successfully been able to shut down the unit. The declaration of an on-site emergency and the fact that the heavy water leak affected the reactor’s cooling system, which also has high radioactivity, raises many questions on Indian nuclear expertise.

Fukushima disaster forced Indian nuclear establishment to initiate a safety audit process and it was conducted within by NPCIL. After the extensive review, Indian auditor general informed that the nuclear program of the country is insecure and unregulated with many disorders. Furthermore the parliamentary report on nuclear safety regulation in India had pointed out serious organizational flaws and numerous failings relative to international norms.

When in opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party was the major contrasting party to civil nuclear expansion and had strong reservations on limiting nuclear liability. It was also supporting the just protests in Kudankulam and wanted environmental clearance for Jaitapur nuclear power plants. Now in government, it has taken a complete U-turn and seeks to bring same old vine in new bottles. This year, Dr. A Gopalakrishnan labeled the Indian government plans punier than the existing regulatory framework and despite this the government is introducing the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority bill in Parliament.

This is not the first time that India is facing safety issues regarding its nuclear program. In historical context one can generate a list of leaks, fires and structural damages that have been faced by India’s civilian nuclear power sector.  There are abundant examples of oil leaks, hydrogen leaks, fires and high bearing vibrations which often shut down numbers of nuclear reactors in India.

March 1991: Heavy water leak at Madras Atomic Power Station takes four days to clean up.

July 1991: A contracted laborer mistakenly paints the walls of Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS) with heavy water before applying a coat of whitewash.

December 1991: A leak from pipelines in the vicinity of CIRUS and Dhruva research reactors at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Trombay, Maharashtra, results in severe Cs-137 soil contamination of thousands of times the acceptable limit.

January 1992: Four tons of heavy water spilt at RAPS.

May 1992: Tube leak causes a radioactive release of 12 Curies of radioactivity from Tarapur Atomic Power Station.

March 1993: Two blades of the turbine in Narora Atomic Power Station’s (NAPS) Unit I break off, slicing through other blades and indirectly causing a raging fire, which catches onto leaked oil and spreads through the turbine building.  The smoke sensors fail to detect the fire, which is only noticed once workers see the flames.

February 1994: Helium gas and heavy water leak in Unit 1 of RAPS.  The plant is shut down until March 1997.

May 1994: The inner surface of the containment dome of Unit I of Kaiga Generating Station collapses (delaminates) while the plant is under construction.

March 1999: Somewhere between four and fourteen tons of heavy water leaks from the pipes at MAPS at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, during a test process. The pipes have a history of cracks and vibration problems. Forty-two people are reportedly involved in mopping up the radioactive liquid.

April 2000: A leak of about seven tons of heavy water from the moderator system at NAPS Unit II.

November 2001: A leak of 1.4 tons of heavy water at the NAPS I reactor, resulting in one worker receiving an internal radiation dose of 18.49 mSv.

May 2002: Tritiated water leaks from a downgraded heavy water storage tank at the tank farm of RAPS 1&2 into a common dyke area.

January 2003: The failure of a valve in the Kalpakkam Atomic Reprocessing Plant in Tamil Nadu results in the release of high-level waste, exposing six workers to high doses of radiation.

April 2003: Six tons leak of heavy water at reactor II of the NAPS in Uttar Pradesh.

November 2009: Fifty-five employees consumed radioactive material after tritiated water finds its way into the drinking water cooler in Kaiga Generating Station.

April 2011: Fire alarms blare in the control room of the Kaiga Generating Station in Karnataka.

India’s nuclear establishment is hasting for nuclear energy though it has obstinately missed targets and delivered a portion of the promised electricity with uncertain safety. The Indian government is irrationally pursuing for nuclear power without explaining its destructive potential and answering critiques. Nowadays, the U.S. and major powers are trying to “normalize” India’s nuclear weapons through special waivers and numerous nuclear deals. Therefore, France is using such normalizing strategy to bargain for cash-strapped Areva. Meanwhile, its complement is the disaster-in-waiting called Jaitapur. The secrecy shrouded to Indian nuclear program has subjugated its energy policy and budgets to an unaccountable, self-propagating, pampered technocracy and degrading their democracy.

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Anaya Shahid

Anaya Shahid is a social activist and political scientist who had graduated from the Department of Defense & Diplomatic Studies, Fatima Jinnah Women University Rawalpindi.

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