It is now clearly emerging as a big question mark, not just in the minds of the government and nuclear regulators, but also in the minds of educated citizens, in the aftermath of what happened at Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant.
There are a number of commentaries in the press about the problems that the current nuclear plants could face in the event of an earthquake or a tsunami. While the Kalpakkam Nuclear Plant did face a Tsunami in 2004 and survived, the Indian Government is not leaving anything to chance and has instituted a comprehensive study of the current safety procedures in all of the Indian Nuclear Plants. That is good and hopefully there would be further improvements made in the safety manuals soon, taking the inputs from the Japan incident and the IAEA.
However, what could not be easily addressed is the perception in the minds of both villagers and urbanites regarding the uncertainties of the nuclear future, if the Fukushima Plant situation deteriorates further with radiation clouds attacking Tokyo. There will be immediate parallels drawn in many countries, but with India embarking on a major nuclear power expansion over the coming decade, the spectre of a Mumbai or a Kolkata coming under a nuclear clowd is looming large. Even China, with its aggressive nuclear investments, has just suspended approvals for all new nuclear plant projects.
The Indian Government would now face huge challenges in the Parliament in view of the fact that the Jaitapur site in Maharashtra selected for the first major nuclear power plant is mildly earthquake prone and is on the coast of the Arabian Sea. Given the fact that the nuclear plants of the design being proposed would require huge amounts of cooling water, it is inevitable that the plants are to be located on sea coasts. This cannot be avoided, thereby exposing the plants to tsunami-type attacks.
Apart from the various technical challenges in setting up a massive nuclear plant, one has to contend with displacement of people from villages affected by the plant and the environmental situation on the ground. So, the nuclear future of India has suddenly come under a “clowd”. There is of course, no choice for the government but to invest in nuclear energy, which is clean and does not depend on fossil fuels. However, safety is emerging as the key decision criterion – safety to the workers in the plant, safety to the villagers who would live near the plant, and safety of the huge population centres of urban India such as Mumbai.
One has to wait and watch the situation unfolding in Japan and what learnings can be had from the very serious incident. In the meanwhile, things will move very, very slowly on the ground at various nuclear projects not only in India but all over the world.
19th March 2011