How should one describe an industry that promised abundant, safe, environment-friendly energy that would be “too cheap to meter”, but has delivered only one-tenth of the projected electricity, caused catastrophic accidents, contaminated millions of square miles, poisoned lakhs of people and proved “too costly to matter”? Nuclear power has globally inflicted losses exceeding a trillion dollars—in subsidies, abandoned projects, cash losses and other damage. It inspires fear and loathing. In most countries, it can only be imposed undemocratically.
Nuclear power is in global decline. The number of reactors worldwide peaked in 2002; their output peaked in 2006. When production was at a peak, nuclear power contributed 17 per cent to the world’s supply. It has gone down to 11 per cent. After Fukushima, nuclear power stands irredeemably discredited and is probably moribund.
In India, however, the elite treats it as the technology of the future, promising an unending supply for unbridled consumption. And we have a State that considers peaceful anti-nuclear protests seditious. It wants to multiply India’s nuclear capacity a hundred-fold to 470 GW by 2050. Forgotten is the Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE) abysmal failure to deliver. It projected 43.5 GW for 2000, but achieved a pathetic 2.7 GW. It has since missed every target. Also erased is the department's appalling record on safety, health, transparency, accountability and technology absorption. Cost overruns are routinely over 200 per cent.
This excellent book explains why, despite this, official India remains obsessed with nuclear energy and the DAE remains politically powerful. The two pillars of DAE’s power, Ramana says, are the promise or future projection of limitless energy, and the deadly attraction of nuclear weapons. An elaborate charade rationalises India's economic and political investment in nuclear power: vanishing fossil fuels, unviability of renewable sources, the imperative of consumption-driven “development” and N-power’s claimed advantages.
Even assuming that breeders are viable, this knocks the bottom out of the DAE’s mid-century target. These ultra-high-risk, very accident-prone reactors have been abandoned worldwide, and thorium cycle Uranium-233 reactors haven’t been industrially proved. India’s 12 MW Fast-Breeder Test Reactor has worked at only one-fifth its capacity amidst numerous accidents. But the DAE declared it a “success” and is building a 500 MW breeder!
Ramana shows how the DAE was craf–ted and run as an institution unanswerable to Parliament and the public. It abuses its power to mess up everything, violates its own safety norms, routinely makes extravagant claims about developing technologies indigenously while importing/borrowing them and hides costs with accounting tricks. Nuclear power in India, like elsewhere, is far costlier than electricity from fossil fuels, and increasingly, from truly abundant, benign, safe, renewable sources. The French erp, proposed for Jaitapur, is the world’s most exorbitant reactor. It has suffered an unconscionable 265 per cent cost escalation in France. It will haemorrhage India’s power sector.
One of the book’s best chapters analyses the DAE’s safety, health and environmental record and failure to learn from accidents. The DAE gets away because there’s no independent safety regulator and no real obligation to disclose relevant information. One wishes Ramana had addressed the Koodankulam and Jaitapur reactors’ safety issues at greater length, evaluated Fukushima’s long-term global impact, and discussed sustainable alternatives to nuclear power, including decentralised renewable ene–rgy. Nevertheless, this seminal book will contribute significantly to the cause of halting the nuclear juggernaut.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
>>process of manufacturing solar panels produces toxic by products.
No technology comes pre-designed to solve all existing problems. they are just supposed to improve on them and I believe solar does.
Apart from distributed generation model, there is also renewed interest in DC power:
All in all, energy technologies are undergoing (or likely to undergo) major changes worldwide in coming years and we should not be dogmatic about options we pick.
however unpalatable to the green/leftist activists, economics will eventually pick the winner(s). But, I do think renewables have a fighting chance this time around (primarily because competing technologies like nuclear are largely subsidized due to military aspect, not really viable on their own)
>>average Joe or Jane who drives a car to work but opposes higher tax on gasoline
Gas tax is one of the holy rails of American right-wing politics (after Guns, Gays and God). Most Europeans do indeed pay much higher tax on gas; primarily to encourage cheaper and fewer trips.
>>so what if sea level rises, people move on to higher ground.
and who needs fish (we are all vegeterians after all :))?
>> rich nations are more interested in preserving self interest
so should we and I would argue that mitigating pollution is in our own self interest.
>>we cannot lift people out of poverty without cutting some trees and clearing some jungle land and throwing some waste on that land.
Quite often, they are clearing out people to lift the trees and jungles in India :)
>>urbanization is the way to go but that will happen over period of time, as people need time to change their skills
this is the biggest challenge facing India. 60% of the economy is still agriculture (mostly unorganized) while contributing much less to the GDP. Yeah, Kerala could benefit from urbanization and industrialization (given its highly educated population) but I guess they can import some Gujjus to take care of that while they all fly out to Gulf :)
>>You are suggesting germany model which I agree, but that means free power cannot be given to any section of soceity and the utilities must run profitably.
German or any other model, no enterprise can run without profitability over a long term.
>>But these nuclear power plants will again be opposed by leftist activists.
More opaque the conception/execution/operation of these plants, more reason for activists (leftist or not) to doubt its "truth-in-advertisement" aspects.
I agree that coal will remain essential to India's energy sector for quite sometime and therefore it needs to be privatized with appropriate govt oversight to be able to meet increased demand domestically.
>>Suppose, India were to order some 100 GW of Solar power panels, the price will simply soar to sky.
Indians also like to smuggle lot of Gold but that hasn't shut down the electronic industry yet :) I see your point but I think solar panels or storage technologies are currently looking to benefit from economy of scale and therefore prices may actually fall if China and India were to deploy it vigorously.
1. yes, preventing pollution is in our own interest but it does matter who is responsible for existing mess when it comes to paying for the cleanup. Although, in Indian context this is somewhat moot because most toxic chemicals banned in west are out-sourced for manufacture to India because Union Carbide was a shining example of what one can get away.
2. he made a case for cities/mega cities. I believe that is appropriate for most of Asia. If we get super-rich we may even plan http://www.songdo.com. But seriously, generally speaking existing densely populated mixed residential/commercial neighborhoods are indeed envrionmentally sound; if we can just clean them up a bit and make them affordable.
3. Sunrise Powerlink here is trying to obtain solar electricity from desert and provide it to populated areas and running into quite vocal opposition from environmental groups. There is also legend of Senator Ted Kennedy refusing to allow ugly off-shore Windmills near his home while Robert Kennedy Jr specializes in environmental law :) So, green field is also a minefield of controversies but regardless I see future possibilities there. If Macondo well in Gulf can be built with associated challenges, then technical problems with renewables can also be solved.
4. India has abundant Thorium reserves to last for a few centuries.
That is the alluring dream of "limitless energy" Praful is referring to in his article.
I am not against the limited funding of research in this area but commercial reactors should be pursued by private entities (with govt being minority stakeholder if necessary).
But, open-ended no-questions-asked blank-cheque approach currently pursued is highly questionable.
In US, share of Nuclear is about 20% and declining and India could also leave it at about same. Only difference is that there is profit/loss (and even safety to some extent) accountability in case of US but none whatsoever in India.
5. Jaitapur seems to be a disaster designed by laid-off Enron employees. I am neutral about Koodankulam as I have not read much details beyond protests by the green peace.
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