Sunday, March 03, 2013

Nuclear India at Crossroads!

To Nations existing in the Cold War era discovering the atom's secret  was a supreme aim as it signified arrival at the zenith of its power. It was  natural that newly independent India should accord top priority to this mission and leave no stone unturned in reaching its destination. In Dr.Homi Bhabha we had the right person to lead our nuclear programme which as we loudly proclaimed was only for peaceful purposes for we were then a civilisation living up  to the ideals of that apostle of non violence Mahatma Gandhi..In 1973  a nuclear explosion was conducted at Pokhran and I remember the Illustrated Weekly coming out with an issue titled 'Poor India joins the Nuclear Club'. For we were then on e of the first ten countries to have conducted a nuclear explosion. Pakistan Prime Minister Bhutto declared that even if his people had to eat grass they would do so for their country to join the atomic club. This invited sanctions from many countries and Canada denied us the heavy water required for the Trombay Atomic plant.

I'm sketching this history to point out the transition from an earlier state of affairs when ruling elites convinced their subject populations that atomic energy signified the height of their nation's prowess to the present times when the masses are up against their governments demanding a total scrap of nuclear programme stating that it no  way helps the ordinary folks. this began with a spate of nuclear accidents starting at Three Mile Island  in USA. Chernobyl in Russia exposed the helplessness of might governments when a nuclear reactor decides to run riot. The latest of these at Fukushima in Japan was relayed in to millions of homes through the revolutionary transformation in communication systems and alerted people of their sheer vulnerability in the event of a nuclear accident which could transcend barriers of nature and time in minutes.

It was in these troubled times that India's Planning Commission formulated, in 2006, an Integrated Energy Policy to create capacity to generate 63,000 MW of nuclear power by 2032. This was after the Congress Govt signed a nuclear deal with United States in July, 2005.It was decided to import 40.000 MW's worth of Light Water Reactors which would cost about Rs.8 lakh crores at current prices. All this was done without any transparency as Nuclear Policy in India is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the way other departments of government are.

The ongoing agitations against a nuclear plant at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu and  one to be set up at Jaitapur in Maharashtra show that people have strong doubts about the safety, integrity and requirement for such projects.The  state responded to these protests in a repressive manner and even the courts could offer little solace. The agitation and the repression are continuing while writing this and it is too early to predict what prevails.

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