Because the energy industry dictates our lives

Published: Monday 31 August 2009

Trade freely, free of liability

THE Indian government's efforts to limit the accident liability of nuclear power plants show a disregard to the principles it swears by (the principles themselves are questionable, but that's for another day). The apparent motive is to increase India's power production, though there can be no mistaking it is an effort to ease the entry into India of US nuclear power companies (Minimum nuclear liability). Promoting industry is an honourable cause, but not when it is at the cost of public health, the public exchequer and accountability. The Bhopal disaster taught us that; the corporate need to limit liability also stems from that inglorious chapter of industrialization.

For one, this defies the principles lining the idea of free markets, which both the present upa government and the nda government espoused. A reasonable market would require that the cost of risk posed by the generation of a service or a commodity is included in its price, so the users pay for what they use. Nuclear power poses large risks to health and environment. By limiting a company's liability in case of an accident, the government is offering to pay for a serious accident, if it happens, which the company did commit but cannot pay for.

This is too big a social price for private profit. This could also be an incentive for a nuclear power company to cut corners when it comes to investing in health and safety.

The government argues nuclear power companies will not enter India if it does not extend them this safety net. Why should we buy this? Nuclear power in India has always promised a lot and delivered little. It was touted as the solution to our power crisis, got major budget allocations, and failed to deliver. Does the government represent the interests of Indians or US companies?

Two, it gives nuclear energy an unfair edge. Renewable energy like wind and solar is in dire need of financial and regulatory support. Nuclear's promoters have touted it as part of a low-carbon energy paradigm, along with solar and wind, that could mitigate climate change. This is hotly debated and nobody who doesn't have an interest in the industry takes nuclear seriously on this front. Even if it is, it should get only the subsidies and incentives they get, not risk cover.

Nuclear power must be made accountable for the risks it poses. Public money should never be committed to cover the costs of its risks, to pave the way for private nuclear companies to have it easy--all for a power source that has disappointed India.

Brighter than a thousand nukes

INDIA just announced the world's most ambitious solar power generation plan--if it succeeds it would produce three-fourths of the world's solar energy by 2020 (India's new solar system). By commiting Rs 91,000 crore to it, India has laid down the gauntlet at industrialized countries in climate talks, which will intensify in the run up to the Copenhagen meeting in December.

Rich countries have failed to meet commitments to reduce emissions, and are non-serious about further action. This is hurtling the world towards a grave climate crisis. India has shown leadership in taking on such a plan. But it is too early yet to congratulate the prime minister's council. Only when the details are made public will we know the quality of the commitment. Already, it lacks an emphasis on solar thermal, though research shows it is efficient and cost-effective when compared to solar photovoltaics.

A promising technology

THE future of lighting is light emitting diodes, agrees the Bureau of Energy Efficiency. But led manufacturers do not have it easy (Visibly efficient). They desire a tax structure similar to what the government offers solar photovoltaics panels. Industry bodies like cii and ficci could show some leadership in lending clout and support to this fledgling technology (and industry) that promises so much in its salad days.

What industry can do

hero electric's success in the e-bikes market indicates the demand for energy efficient products beggars entrepreneurs. Navin Munjal's company has made money from it (Unorganized players give e-bike a bad name). Another article on getting more out of less energy talks about making concrete last longer. There are positive ideas for the keen.

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