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ہفتہ، 4 اگست، 2012

Disquiet in India over frequent N. mishaps

  Indian past record shows various kinds of security lapses in relation to various plants and the related sensitive materials. Coupled with other events of nuclear theft, smuggling and killing have become a regular feature of Indian atomic plants and facilities.

 In India, there are 20 nuclear reactors in operation. Another seven are under construction with future plans to construct more to ensure that India gets 14,600 MW of nuclear capacity by 2020 and be able to cater for 25% of electricity needs through nuclear power by 2050.

Time period for construction of these nuclear power stations may further be shortened as America captures India’s nuclear market for financial and strategic gains. Whatever favours and waivers are being extended to India, they are currently focused on boosting the US and European economies to help them wriggle out from recession. It is therefore no surprise that these countries look the other way on India’s dismal nuclear safety record. 

Incidents of frequent leakages, fires in the plants, high bearing vibrations and surfacing of structural damages are the common norms in India’s atomic power stations. Sometimes respective plants are shut on occurrence of these accidents and sometimes deliberately kept running in total disregard of dangerous affects on surrounding environment and human health. In such cases the accidents are not made public. The authoritative Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has the discretion whether these accidents should be made public or not.

The DAE is headed by the Prime Minister of India. One of the former secretaries to the Indian government Mr. E. A. S. Sharma had to remind the Prime Minister through a letter of his constitutional obligations under Section 4 of RTI Act for public discourse of the first episode of leakage at Rawatbhata nuclear station that exposed 38 Indian workers to tritium in June this year. 

In that particular letter Mr. Sharma also referred to one of his earlier letters of 4th December last year to go public on the leakage at Kakarpar nuclear power plant that occurred earlier in August that year. Still, the Indian Prime Minister boasted India’s nuclear safety record in the Indian Parliament as devoid of nuclear accidents.

 After the leaks at Rawatbhata Atomic Power Plant became public the officials of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NICPL) tried to cover up by denying occurrence of any leaks. Down playing the incident the spokesman of NICPL said that there was absolutely no cause for alarm.

 The Director General of the power station while talking to media persons told the journalists that, “the area….and for that matter, the country….should learn to live with these things. We have to get used to it. We needn’t be unduly scared either. If not, we won’t be able to maintain such stations.

The denials by the officials however, the nuclear watchdogs say, were not new. Dr. Gadekar, an internationally renowned physicist, while commenting on the leaks on website reiterated that India’s nuclear establishment has resorted to similar denials at Kakrapar, Kalpakkam, MAPS, Narora and other sites in the past as well. Despite the Prime Minister’s affirmation of clean slate on India’s nuclear safety records, the recurring incidents at nuclear plants need a serious world view. Before the Rawtbhata’s dual leakages, fire in Karnataka’s Kaiga nuclear facility in April 2011, exposure of 55 workers at Kaiga again in November 2009, leakage of six-tons of heavy water in Narora nuclear plant in 2003 and other many more incidents reminds of global responsibility to force Indian establishment not to remain silent of these accidents and instead of cover ups must bring fore these incidents for safety of not only Indians but also the mankind. 

Another worrisome aspect of the Indian nuclear industry that shocked the international nuclear community however was its practice of employing casual labourers on nuclear construction sites that otherwise ought to be high risk work places and security sensitive zones. It is not known how many of the ordinary casual labourers suffered through nuclear leakages and other accidents and what is their medical status now as their contractual diseases through frequent exposures while they worked on these plants are not recorded anywhere. Dr. A Gopalakrishnan, the former Chief of India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has been compelling India to be more transparent over the issue. Two comprehensive safety audit reports conducted under his tenure have been sealed as top secret to avoid public scrutiny.

The western analysts firmly believe that a chain of errors alqays lead to a particular incident. Single causes in nuclear accidents are very rare. In Indian nuclear industry, the common thread through all of these frequent nuclear incidents is the complete failure of supervision and management of modern day technology in a safe manner.

 These recurrent failures are largely attributed to secrecy that has become essentially endemic in the Indian nuclear culture. India, for the sake of safe regional environment therefore needs a culture where free information is exchanged on nuclear related incidents to avoid both social and technological catastrophes.
Excessive secrecy over time in Indian nuclear industry over reporting of accidents has become a typical characteristic of India’s totalitarian regime that may potentially become its principal weakness at some point of time in future.

 By Bassam Javed

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