To begin with, he contended that there were intense anxieties about the safety of nuclear energy. "While the protogonists of nuclear technology persistently try to justify proliferation of nuclear power on the ground that the probability of occurrence of a Fukushima-like accident in a nuclear power plant is low, none of them can ever deny that such accidents can take place one time or the other, either as a result of a natural disaster on which we have no control or as a result of a human failure that we cannot wish away," he wrote.
He also claimed that nuclear power is unaffordable for a country like India. "When the global climate negotiations have their focus on replacing new megawatts with “negawatts” (saved megawatts) and green megawatts, it is anachronistic for the world to cling to expensive energy sources like nuclear power," he said.
Here is the full text of his letter.
After protracted negotiations, involving several contentious issues, often pressured by the western nuclear manufacturing lobbies and the nuclear establishment within Japan, India and Japan seem to be on the threshold of concluding a nuclear supply agreement during the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to India around the middle of this month.
As a resident of north Andhra Pradesh where India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) proposes to set up a coastal 6,000 MWe nuclear power plant near Kovvada village, I feel intensely concerned about the safety of the people here in the event of an unfortunate accident taking place, similar to the one that struck the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear complex in March, 2011. I am sure that those residing in Gujarat and in the other States in India, where DAE proposes to set up new nuclear power plants, feel the same way.
While the protogonists of nuclear technology persistently try to justify proliferation of nuclear power on the ground that the probability of occurrence of a Fukushima-like accident in a nuclear power plant is low, none of them can ever deny that such accidents can take place one time or the other, either as a result of a natural disaster on which we have no control or as a result of a human failure that we cannot wish away.
The Three Mile Island accident (1979), the Chernobyl accident (1986) and the more recent Fukushima accident (2011) are grim reminders of this, not to mention the 99 potential, well-documented disasters that took place in the five decades that preceded Fukushima. The world would have known about them and their potential havoc, had the nuclear establishment been more transprenct and better regulated.
Japan is still struggling to clean up Fukushima even four years after the accident. I wonder whether Japan will ever be able to decommission it fully and declare the area to be 100% safe! Fukushima has cast an unfair burden on the Japanese tax-payer for decades to come.
In Chernobyl, decades after the accident, Russia is trying to find funds and technology for setting up the so-called New Safe Confinement (NSC) but one can never be sure whether it will make the old Chernobyl shelter and remnants of the damaged reactor safe and environmentally secure.
Better than anyone else, it is the people of Japan who are familiar with the scourge of nuclear technology as it was they who bore the brunt of Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions during the last World War. In view of this, one would have thought that Japan would be at the forefront of global resistance to nuclear technology, not be a proactive partner in commercialising it and exporting nuclear components to other countries like India.
In the recent years, globally, the pace of growth of nuclear power has escalated in leaps and bounds, causing a great deal of public concern and apprehension. It is ironic that Japan should become a major actor in pushing nuclear power like never before, especially at a time when the people of Japan are yet to come to grips fully with the aftermath of Fukushima.
I wish to remind the Prime Ministers of both the countries that, apart from the safety concerns, the global experience during the last decade has shown that nuclear power is highly expensive and unaffordable in a country like India. When the global climate negotiations have their focus on replacing new megawatts with “negawatts” (saved megawatts) and green megawatts, it is anachronistic for the world to cling to expensive energy sources like nuclear power.
In my area, near Kovvada village on the coast, DAE proposes to set up a nuclear power plant comprising of reactors and components supplied by the US and Japanese companies. The proposed nuclear plant will displace thousands of farmers and fisherfolk, destroy precious agriculture, deprive the local communities of their livelihoods and, in short, disrupt their lives in multifrious ways. The only agencies that benefit from such a project are the manufacturers of nuclear reactors and their components in the US and in Japan and the nuclear establishment whose survival depends on the survival of nuclear power.
Let me therefore appeal to you, the two great leaders of India and Japan, to pause before you plunge into signing any nuclear supply deal. Please ponder over the disruption that a nuclear power plant will cause in the lives of the local communities and how it exposes vast stretches of thickluy populated areas to the scourge of a Fukushima-like disaster, as and when it happens. We owe this to our children and grandchildren.
I have no doubt that the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, followed by the more recent Fukushima disaster, will motivate both India and Japan not to rush into a nuclear supply deal that raises more questions than it provides answers.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary (Power)