A Nuclear Power Plant At Kovvada Is An Invitation To Disaster

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) calls upon the Government of India to immediately drop the proposal to set up a nuclear power plant at Kovvada Matsyalesam, a fishing village in Ranasthalam mandal of Srikakulam district. An HRF team visited the area on Nov. 5, 2009.

We are of the opinion that nuclear power has to be rejected because it is intrinsically hazardous, extremely dangerous and is a deadly legacy for future generations. Contrary to popular perception, nuclear power is actually more expensive than power from conventional sources like coal, gas and hydro. Furthermore, nuclear power is not a solution to the climate crisis.

Nuclear power remains the most dangerous form of energy. Even during normal operations of a nuclear power plant, radioactive materials are regularly discharged into the air and water. Radiation is routinely released at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. What is more, nuclear power operations produce a radioactive legacy of waste. There are huge problems associated with the safe storage of nuclear waste and safe disposal of outlived power plants, given the fact that the half-lives of some of the radioactive substances involved are over even millions of years. A solution for the long-term storage and treatment of radioactive waste has yet to be found. Highly radioactive spent fuels need to be isolated from the biosphere for hundreds and thousands of years as radiation leads to cancer and birth defects. Nuclear waste is produced at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining and reactors to the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. It needs to be remembered that there is not a single safe disposal option for the highly radioactive waste produced by nuclear power stations worldwide.

Moreover, considering the complexity of the technology of a nuclear reactor; there is no way to ensure that a major accident at a nuclear power plant will never take place. And a major accident, given the nature of things, will turn catastrophic affecting a very large number of people, over a large territory, over a very long period. The disastrous accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in the Ukraine province of the then USSR, on April 26 1986 is a chilling illustration. The history of the Nuclear Age is a history of accidents. Almost a quarter century after Chernobyl, people are still suffering from health problems caused by it.  An accident can occur at any nuclear reactor, causing the release of large quantities of radioactivity into the environment. Transport of large quantities of low and intermediate level wastes also increases risks to populations.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said that India could increase its atomic electricity generation capacity to 470,000 MW by 2050, if new power plants and technologies were in place. According to him: “This would not only sharply reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels but also contribute to global efforts to combat climate change.” 

This is a false assumption. Nuclear power is not a solution to the ongoing climate crisis. The promise of nil greenhouse gas (GHG) emission is nothing more than a myth if the entire fuel cycle – including mining, milling, transportation and construction of the power plant – is considered. In the complete production chain of nuclear power, a considerable amount of carbon dioxide is released.

Nuclear power is the flip side of nuclear weapons. The strong linkage between nuclear power and weapons – in terms of large overlaps in technology, in turn triggering strong political push – of which India itself is a graphic illustration, can also be overlooked only at our own peril given the suicidal character of nuclear weapons.

It is because nuclear power is economically unattractive and socially unacceptable, on account of radiation hazards and risks of catastrophic accidents, that no order for new nuclear reactors was placed in the USA and most of West Europe during the last 30 years, since the Three Mile Island accident in the US in 1979. The US and European companies in nuclear power plant equipment and nuclear fuel business are thus looking to Asia for markets – India, China and Japan spearheading the current expansion programme.  It is unfortunate that the Indian government is becoming their willing collaborator in this pursuit. India has recently decided to take a quantum leap in installed capacity for nuclear power generation, from the current level of 4,120 MW to 63,000 MW by 2032. As part of this, the government has reportedly already approved 15 new plants at eight sites, including the Kovvada Matsyalesam site. The HRF believes that this entire decision is an invitation to disaster.

The contention that nuclear power is indispensable to meet future energy needs is also false; for energy demand, and ‘need’, is obviously a function of the development paradigm chosen and pursued. And ‘energy security’ is not an autonomous entity or objective, but must be in alignment with other chosen objectives which must include equitable growth and concerns for ecology. HRF believes that ‘energy security’ can be achieved by increasing efficiency of electricity generation, transmission and distribution, doing away with extravagant and wasteful use of energy, pursuing a path of low-energy intensity and decentralised development and most importantly, making optimum use of alternative energy options. The Government must radically raise investment in development of sustainable and renewable energy sources and technologies, especially wind and solar energy.

The mad rush for more and more power plants is matched by an accelerated drive for uranium mining in newer areas, mainly in Andhra and Meghalaya. And this, despite the horrible experience of uranium mines in different parts of the world, as also in our own Jaduguda in Jharkhand. The HRF therefore demands that the government put a complete stop to the construction of all new nuclear power plants and uranium mines.

VS Krishna
(HRF State general secretary)

KV Jagannadha Rao
(HRF State secretary)


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