By SANKAR RAY:
The treaty compromised safety, as all nuclear power plants are capable of undergoing severe accidents that are hugely expensive to deal with. Estimates of the cost of dealing with the Fukushima accident range from around $200 billion to $600 billion. This problem of large financial consequences of nuclear accidents was realised in the 1950s, and nuclear reactor vendors have tried to wash their hands off the consequences of any accident at reactors they have sold and profited from.
THE tenth anniversary of inking of the Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement – known as the 123 Agreement – quietly went away without even a formal celebration. The reasons are obvious and somewhat destined to have happened. A biting critique of the deal, ‘A Decade After the Nuclear Deal,’ in a paper published in the India Forum, by M V Ramana, Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security and Director, Liu Institute for Global Issues, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, Canada, and co-authored by Prerna Gupta, PhD student in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the same university — termed the history of nuclear power growth as that of triple compromise of economics, safety and democracy at the cost of independent nuclear policy which for over four decades has been attuned to the independent foreign policy.
“An increase in nuclear power was promised as an outcome of the Indo-US nuclear deal. That promise has not materialised, but citizens have paid a high price not just in economic terms but also through the loss of democratic rights and environmental well-being,” the authors state. The treaty compromised safety, “as all nuclear power plants are capable of undergoing severe accidents that are hugely expensive to deal with. Estimates of the cost of dealing with the Fukushima accident range from around $200 billion to $600 billion.
This problem of large financial consequences of nuclear accidents was realised in the 1950s, and nuclear reactor vendors have tried to wash their hands off the consequences of any accident at reactors they have sold and profited from. This is the principle that US and other nuclear reactor vendors wanted the Indian Government to agree to in the aftermath of the NSG waiver, namely to indemnify reactor vendors from any liability for accidents,” Ramana-Gupta argue. The authors pull up the former UPA Government for submitting to the ‘diktat’ of the US Government, then headed by the then President George William Bush, that “should there be an accident, NPCIL will have to pay compensation to the victims, up to a maximum of Rs 1500 crores (or Rs 15 billion). Because of the right of recourse, NPCIL can reclaim this amount, up to a cap value, from the supplier if it can be shown that the accident was caused by a design defect.”
This is to protect suppliers “from being forced to pay for the full consequences of accidents creates a classic example of, what in insurance parlance, is called a ‘moral hazard’.” Moreover, the upper ceiling for compensation is Rs 1,500 crores – “a tiny fraction of the multi-billion price tags for each reactor, it is hard to imagine that any nuclear vendor would be so concerned about the relatively low liability for an unlikely accident that they would forego the hugely lucrative contracts for nuclear reactors.” It compromised democracy as every site for such expensive nuclear power plants met with opposition from the local population. The most relevant here is the Mithi Virdi site in Gujarat where the BJP Government was upbeat about a nuclear power plant along with a plant of similar size (both Westinghouse reactors) at Kovadda in Andhra Pradesh, together having a capacity of 10,000 MW. Formidable local protest led to dropping of the project. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani stated in the State Assembly in March 2018, “locals turned against this project after tsunami waves caused (radioactive) leak in Japan (in 2011). After that incident, panicked locals here started a movement against the project, as they felt that the project would prove dangerous for them.
As the movement and negative sentiment gained momentum, the project was scrapped.” Even at Kovadda, people were on their feet against the imposed project. The worst compromise is in economics. Indian Government promised foreign nuclear companies by “committing in effect to paying huge amounts of Indian money to provide business to these foreign entities. The other cost was the disruption to the livelihoods of people living at these identified sites.” Apart from the two afore-stated sites, two other sites are Jaitapur in Maharashtra (European Pressurised Reactors, advertised as ‘the largest nuclear power plant in the world’) and Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu, the French company Areva and two AES-92 version 1000 MWe VVER reactors (Vodo-Vodyanoi Energetichesky Reaktor; Water-Water Power Reactor) to Rosatom of Russia for Koodankulam.
The EPR design is proved to be a major failure, experienced delays and cost increases in China, France, and Finland. “The EPR at Flamanville in France, for example, has been under construction for 14 years when it was supposed to be completed in 5 years; its cost estimates have more than tripled, from €3.3 billion to €10.9 billion”. The Russian reactors are even greater techno-financial disaster. Both the reactors failed to operate on schedule from the beginning and the second one was commissioned illegally. It already made NPCIL incur a loss of over Rs 10,000 crores.
After six decades of nuclear power development, the aggregate generation capacity of all the power plants of the Nuclear Power Corporation is 6,780 megawatts , less than 2 per cent of the total electricity generation capacity in India. “Tellingly, this figure is lower than the figure of 8,000 MW of nuclear capacity that Homi Bhabha, the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, had prophesised way back in 1954 for the year 1980, let alone the much larger numbers touted by those advocating the US-India nuclear deal. In terms of actual electricity generated,” the share of atomic energy in the overall electricity generation veered round to was about 2.93 per cent in 2017-18, according to a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha in February 2019, marginally higher than the 2.6 per cent share in 2007.
The authors, both nuclear physicists, strongly advise against nuclear power generation when it is technologically fraught with catastrophic risks, very prohibitively costly (construction) and very high power generation cost. “The failure of successive Governments and the nuclear establishment to deliver on their tall promises made at the time of the US-India deal adds to the larger failures since the very inception of the programme. Despite over six decades of sustained funding by Governments, nuclear energy has not contributed significantly to electricity generation; the little that there is has been expensive and not cost-effective,” as the alternative, they recommend.
“As of January 2019, the installed capacity of renewable energy sources, including small hydro power, wind power, biomass based power, and solar power, is over 74,000 MW. The corresponding figure as of May 2008 was a little over 12,000 MW. Specific sources grew even more rapidly over the same period: Wind by a factor of over 4, and solar energy by a factor of 286. The right ... to drop emotional attachment to is nuclear power, a failed energy source.” (IPA)