Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why Don’t They Listen?

Let’s face it. Nobody- I repeat, nobody- wants nuclear power. We all know coal won’t last much longer. We all know oil is already running out. We all know that an energy crisis is almost at our doorstep. Yet, nobody wants nuclear power. From the South Coast in England to at least 5 different states in India ( Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, Gorakhpur in Haryana, Mithi Virdi in Gujarat and Chuttka in Madhya Pradesh), people are agitating against the establishment of nuclear power plants. Their reasons for this are valid, and their fear well- founded.

The serious outcomes of nuclear radiation outdo the most grotesque of imaginations. And one doesn’t need imagination to picture the worst- History does it for us. The World War II atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at worst and the 1979 nuclear reactor accident at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania at best (figuratively speaking), is what can happen. In both the cities of Japan, tens of thousands of people were killed. Many others suffered either painful, fatal diseases or genetic mutilation which they passed on to their children and grandchildren. In Pennsylvania, cases of thyroid cancer witnessed a rise, as did plant mutation cases. In Chernobyl in Russia, most of the immediate victims were school children, some of whom had unknowingly played in the dust emanated from the plant after the accident. Cancer cases were reported by the thousand, the area became more than just infertile for plant growth- it became toxic. Babies in wombs were affected, as were children born generations later. Till date, the town is a ghost- town; it probably always will be. It had happened in 1986. It was an accident. So was Fukushima, the biggest alarm bell in recent times that was steadily ignored by governments everywhere.


The most serious effects of nuclear radiation (be it even by accident) are death, cancer, and genetic mutilation that carry through generations. The milder impact of nuclear radiation is serious environmental degradation. There is no reason for people not to believe that if there is commercial generation of nuclear power, accidents will happen. Three Mile Island is in the U.S.A. The accident was attributed to human error. In an article written post the accident for Jstor, Gordon K Macleod, the 12- day old Pennsylvanian Secretary of Health (at the time of the incident), admits that there was no fund established for the training of physicians and nurses, nor any facility for health insurance for the people connected to the site (read: http://www.jstor.org/pss/4312623). If this be the situation in a nation where the health insurance policy becomes an election issue, is there any reason to believe that India will give its people better? Or even the UK, for that matter? The risk is not one worth taking.

Even without accidents, nuclear power generation provides multiple dangers. The most common raw material for nuclear power is uranium, followed by plutonium. Both of them, when being produced (Uranium is mined), create radioactive isotopes with long half- lives (the time taken for 50% of it’s molecules to decay), which remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years. In addition to this, there is radioactive waste produced in the reactor itself. A typical reactor creates around 20- 30 tons of nuclear waste annually. This waste cannot be destroyed- it can either be reprocessed (which only creates further waste), or dumped, which essentially renders a fresh area of land not only infertile and inhabitable, but highly toxic, every year. Obviously, neither of these is a permanent solution, or even a solution at all.

Yet, governments across the world insist on pursuing nuclear power, on giving it greater wieghtage and bigger investment than solar, geothermal, or biomass. Their reason for doing so escapes logical understanding; their explanations, as yet, are not forthcoming.

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