Saturday, March 12, 2011

An unnecessary debate starts again on Jaitapur....

The earthquake and Tsunami tragedy in Japan and the connected crisis of leakage of radiation at a nuclear plant in Japan has revived the still-simmering issue of setting up a nuclear power plan at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. Politicians who understand exactly zero about scientific issues are raising hurdles.....sensing political gains. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray....who must be worried that his party stands almost no chance of winning elections in Maharashtra visiting the site himself to lend support to the agitators. It’s an expected pattern really. Politicians taking over when they should actually be staying out.

There is no doubt that safety standards must be reviewed after this Japanese incident. Review and upgradation of safety should be a routine affair in any case. But a review does not mean that all future plans must be put to a stop. In fact, a paper story indicates how the Indian nuclear power plants at Kalpakkam remained unaffected when the Tsunami hit the shores of TN a few years back. Likewise the power plant at Kakrapar in Gujarat was unaffected by the earthquake of 2001. The nuclear power plants are anyways designed to withstand Japan, it was a rare combination of a massive earthquake and the Tsunami which caught the country by surprise.

Such surprises can happen at any time and no amount of preparation can protect humans from the wrath of nature. Japanese homes were built using modern earthquake-resistant technologies and hence the loss of life was lesser than could have been. But the losses could not be fully prevented. People who argue against nuclear power plants should suggest alternatives. Is it their case that an earthquake cannot damage thermal power plants and hydroelectric power plants? What about the pollution caused by thermal power plants? Further, it is said that coal itself may disappear from earth in 200 years. Besides, there is simply not enough capacity that can be created using thermal and hydro power plants. A certain amount of risk with nuclear power plants simply has to be taken.

There is always a trade off in life. There is a risk involved in driving a car on the streets. In fact, as many as 80,000 Indians die every year from road accidents. This does not mean that one does not drive. Likewise, there are so many train accidents every year. Nearly 3500 people die every year in just the Bombay metro system. There are even air crashes once in a while. Risks to life are a part of living and one cannot get overwhelmed by them. In power production also, there are trade offs. There are risks with nuclear power plants but they can be mitigated to the extent that risks in other types of power plants can be mitigated. We cannot change future strategies on account of a recent incident or event. Just because there is a plane crash, we cannot stop building more airports and ordering more planes. Just because there were terrorist strikes on tall buildings in the US, we cannot stop building tall buildings.

The present objection to Jaitapur is nothing but politically motivated. The opposition wants to derail what could be claimed by the ruling party to be its big achievement. If the power plants come up in the next 7 years or so, Maharashtra will suffer from zero power cuts. Millions of farmers who get power for only a few hours a day will see tangible economic progress. Maybe there will be lesser farmer suicides. Industries that suffer severe power cuts will revive again.....maybe Maharashtra will regain a part of its past pride. All the noise and air pollution caused by DG sets that operate all over the country on account of power shortages will not be needed.....this will reduce pollution. There are so many advantages. Shiv Sena should not object to Jaitapur.

What the politicians may debate is if adequate safety measures have been taken or not. If any short-cuts have been taken on account of budget reasons, they may want to increase the budgets. If there are technology weaknesses, they may want to choose proven technologies. But they should not debate whether nuclear power plants should come up and where they should come up. Those decisions should be left purely to the scientists. Politicians must know where to get off the bus.

The real truth is Jaitapur will be delayed. Or maybe even totally scrapped. The Japanese tragedy will be exploited by the Shiv Sena. The Congress in Maharashtra anyways has no spine left to take tough decisions. In any case, the political atmosphere in the country is so vitiated; no one wants to take any decisions, leave alone tough decisions. Babus are worried that their reputations may be tarnished even after they have retired. What do they have to gain by taking decisions? But it will be a sad day if Jaitapur is shelved. Along with that, India’s hopes of becoming a strong economic power will also be automatically pared a bit. And that would be very unfortunate.

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