Nuclear Power for India ?

India is one of the few countries in the post-Fukushima world to have massive nuclear expansion plans.

Official claims say this is based on the country’s growing energy requirements and the need to provide electricity to India’s poor population who continue to live in dark. This has also been offered in the country’s pledge submitted to the UNFCC ahead of the COP21, as a justification for the planned expansion of total installed nuclear capacity to 63 Gigawatts by the year 2032.

Dubbing nuclear energy as a solution to climate change has been a key strategy of the Indian government for selling the nuclear projects to the public as well as justifying the spree of nuclear agreements with other countries. However, there are three reasons why this is not feasible, desirable and cost-effective.

Firstly, India’s current installed nuclear capacity is just 6780 MWe, based on the assumption that the two VVER reactors recently installed in Koodankulam are actually functioning, when the plants have had unprecedented incidents of trippings. Producing 63GWs by 2032 is simply not feasible, because of the terminal crisis facing the global nuclear industry as well as the insurmountable problems associated with Fast Breeder Reactors on which this projection is based. The DAE itself has drastically lowered its projection and is aiming at generating 14,500 MWe by 2024. This target seems more feasible given the pace of projects underway.

Secondly, the poor’s access to energy has been a complete farce, to provide moral justification for what is essentially an eco-destructive and anti-poor nuclear expansion. While India has the largest section of population in the world which is still unelectrified – 20% of all households, much larger in terms of population share – even the claimed electrification is of poor quality. Merely after connecting a single house or office in a village to electric wire, official announcement of electrification is made ceremoniously. Therefore, the enormous expansion of capacity in the past 3 decades has been confined to power-guzzling urban and neoliberal sector, while rural and poor India has received little more than ornamental facade.

Thirdly, all the major reactor purchase promises that India has made are actually in exchange for the legitimisation of India’s nuclear weapons status under the Indo-US nuclear deal, which summarily ended India’s international isolation since its nuclear tests despite being a non-signatory to the NPT and CTBT. Nuclear growth in the country has been far from being a result of any prudent assessment of India’s power requirements and a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. The power from imported reactors being set up is estimated to be as much as 4 times the tariff from conventional sources and even indigenous reactors. Independent studies have shown that despite massive power production in general, it will hardly reach the rural poor as they simply cannot afford electricity. Hence, providing electricity to the Indian poor is much more than just an engineering and management problem. It has to do with the larger questions of addressing inequity, socio-economic marginalisation and the burgeoning disenfranchisement due to the obsession with neo-liberal economic growth.

Predictably, this anachronistic and imprudent nuclear dream has met with massive peaceful protests on the ground

by the affected communities as well as strong objections from independent experts and even former top policy makers. Besides Jaitapur where six French-imported EPRs are being installed to set up the world’s largest nuclear power park, massive and intense anti-nuclear protests have arisen in Koodankulam, Mithi Virdi and Kovvada, where Russian and US corporations are setting up nuclear power plants. Local communities in other places like Chutka, Fatehabad and Mahi Banswara have also been agitating against the nuclear projects. The government has resorted to brutal crackdowns and repression against these consistently peaceful protests. More than 8,000 people in Koodankulam are facing fabricated police cases under colonial-era sedition laws and charges of waging war against the Indian state.

The police have killed, arrested and harassed villagers indiscriminately, including women and children.

They surrounded the Idinthakarai village in 2012 and disrupted its vital supply lines that deliver goods, including food and milk for children and medicines, to force the village to surrender. One of the first steps that the new government under Modi took in 2015 was to come up with a “confidential” report by the Intelligence Bureau, naming Greenpeace, the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, and other anti-nuclear and environmentalist organizations, “anti-national”.

Nuclear issues and climate in India are issues central to lives, livelihoods and safety of hundreds of thousands of Indian and their democracy that they cherish.