Published: Sunday 15 February 2009

Hype about nuclear power

Anil Kakodkar's interview 'Nuclear power is a must' (December 16-31, 2008) should be read along with the interview of Tilman A Ruff, Australian head of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons ('Nuclear arms race will trigger nuclear terrorism') in the same issue. I see this as the beginning of a debate on nuclear energy in India to re-evaluate the Indo-US civilian nuke deal.

Against a sharply increasing trade deficit, scaling up the use of solar power makes sense because it will reduce India's import bill. The raw material is plentiful and everlasting, unlike uranium. The price of uranium has increased sharply over the years and will go up further. The cost of nuclear energy will, therefore, go on spiralling. Investment in research on non-conventional energy generation could help lower the costs.

The power deficit, which Kakodkar is projecting for a distant date, is based on an improbable expansion of the industry. The pursuit of nuclear energy would probably bring about the ruin of the country, and of the globe, long before that.

vinod c nanda

Down to Earth Anil Kakodkar and Tilman A Ruff contradict each other. India's coal quality, dependence on import, adverse effect of mining on the environment and the high cost of solar power do make a strong case for nuclear energy.

But there is a flip side. Other than the known dangers of mining for fissile fuel as referred to by Ruff, the constraint lies in availability of the raw material on a sustainable basis. Like coal, oil and gas, uranium too is finite. Putting a large number of eggs in the nuclear basket is too risky.

c r bhatatcharjee

Mekong holds lesson for Kosi

I enjoyed reading your cover story on the annual flooding by river Kosi ('That sinking feeling', September 16-30, 2008).

In 1962, the length of the embankments along the Kosi was 160 km and the flood prone area was 2.5 million hectare (ha). By 2002, the length of the embankments was increased to 3,340 km and, accordingly, the flood prone area expanded to 6.9 million ha. Now, after the recent floods, the government is preparing to plug breaches in the embankments at an expense of Rs 792 crore.

But have the engineers found out the reasons for the flooding?

Consider the prehistory of the Indo-Gangetic plains: the Himalayan mountain range that feeds the numerous rivers flowing in the valley is actually the elevated seabed of the Tethys Ocean, which formed 65 million years ago. The mountain range thus mostly consists of uplifted sedimentary deposits.

When rivers flow from the Himalaya, they transport a great amount of sediment down the steep gradients of the mountains and deposit it on the plains. In case of the Indo-Gangetic river system, the sediment of the river from Patna to Bhagalpur, a distance of 232 km, has a gradient of four metres or 2 cm for 1.16 km.

Binding the river channel with embankments, as in the case of Kosi, does not allow the sediment to spread over the plains. Instead, the sediment get deposited on the riverbed making the river channel shallow. The Kosi riverbed has risen by four metres due to heavy sedimentation triggered by deforestation, lack of soil conservation practices and excessive land use.

Compare this with the Mekong river system which starts in Tibet and empties in the South China Sea. To check flooding, the river has been tempered with natural flow regulators to control floods; at Phnom Penh, a branch of the river connects with an enormous lake, the Tonl Sap. During the dry season, the flow reverses and water drains back into the Mekong.

Did our engineers study this lake and river system before taming the Kosi?

k v s krishna

Down to Earth I agree with what you say about the Kosi breaking free and causing misery to the people living there.

But what about the floods in Orissa? Was it really necessary for the state government to simultaneously open 44 gates of the Hirakud dam? Was it not possible to warn the people before doing so?

ammu abraham


Suitable boys

The cover story 'They also serve' (November 1-15, 2008) presents well the state of the forest service today. I have served with the Indian Forest Service (ifs) for 35 years and have considerable field experience. I find it unfortunate the forest cadre has been vertically split into ifs and non- ifs. The stress on IQ in the centralized selection system is keeping away candidates more suited for the job.

Forestry is a profession for the conservation of forests and wildlife, but it is dominated by urbanites. City-bred foresters find it difficult to live their life far away from the amenities they are used to. The department needs people who are physically and mentally strong; it needs people from a rural background as they adapt more easily to the natural surroundings in which they are expected to discharge their duty. Local lads recruited as guards and foresters earlier used to work in remote areas without complaint, somewhat like the daily wager attached to the forest guards in Kanha National Park that you feature in your cover story.

The forest department should function like a pyramid with more staff in the lower rung. The government must stop recruitment for white-collar posts till the lower rung vacancies are filled and it must stop looking for a high IQ where an average score will do.

b m t rajeev

Poznan gives hope

The 14th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Poznan, Poland, has shown a ray of hope in combating climate change. Among the achievements of the climate meet, the reform of the Adaptation Fund ought to be mentioned. The decision will ensure that resources from the fund are made available directly to developing countries. Another important achievement is the introduction of Poznan Technology Transfer Strategy. This will improve the efficiency of technology transfer by properly recognizing relevant needs of developing countries in climate change-related issues.

Harshal T Pandve

Consumptive addiction

Your editorial 'The tale of 21st century's dinosaurs' (December 16-30, 2008) is well argued. I have been involved in car-pool initiatives since 2000. Unfortu-nately, I don't find people enthusiastic. During my stint in Austria, I realized that Europeans prefer moving on trams, trains, bicycles. Americans are not like that and we are prone towards American culture. Do we have to repeat the mistakes of others and spend unnecessarily on perceived symbols of the good life?

navratan katariya

Down to Earth You are right in saying the suave and smooth talking cheats--modern day dinosaurs--continue to do more harm than all the crimes in the world. Then they escape, not only unhurt, but with billions of dollars as bonus from governments. This money comes from people's pockets. The fat salaries, perks and allowances the executives of the auto industry must have received in the last two decades would add up to a big sum. The question is who will uncover the huge frauds played on the nations by these bands of robbers?

premji bhanushali

Down to Earth Your editorial is well-crafted and lucid. But I feel you look at every issue through blinkers. I do not deny the need for developing fuel-efficient cars. Car companies are developing new fuel-efficient cars with reduced emissions. Experiments are on to develop commercially viable electric cars. The need of the hour is to save the automobile industry from the unforeseen fate that will follow the current financial meltdown. India's growth story owes a lot to the automobile sector, which is not restricted to a few gas guzzling luxury car models you referred to. It extends to passenger buses and goods vehicles too.

Madhoo Pavaskar

Vaccination vis--vis autism

It is unfair to attribute autism to vaccination as has been done in the leader 'Doctor, heal thyself' (December 1-15, 2008). You must be aware that 10 of the researchers, who had originally suggested a link between vaccines and autism, have retracted their statements. Subsequent studies have also failed to establish any link between the two.

It is already difficult for health workers in peripheral areas to administer vaccines because of uninformed criticism. Your magazine should refrain from such criticism.

anjan kumar

Our correspondent replies

Our opinion is based on studies linking mercury and autism. Based on these studies, governments in developed countries have removed mercury from vaccines. Hannah Poling, mentioned in the leader, was compensated by the federal court in Georgia based on this linkage ('Cause celebre', April 15, 2008). We have also carried detailed articles on the issue earlier (see 'Heavy metals', April 15, 2006).


An encounter with poachers

On the morning of January 4, I along with some members of Vidyanagar Nature Club went to a pond near Anand Khodiyar temple for bird watching. On reaching the site, we were informed about the presence of some people putting up nets in the pond. We hurried to the site. Despite poor visibility caused by fog, we could see a few people with long sticks, carrying netted baskets and huge knives. As soon as they felt our presence they ran away with a part of the booty.

We found a cage with seven live birds. Eighteen other birds, including ruffs, black winged stilt, little stilt, pheasant-tailed jacana and a red-headed falcon, were rescued from the nets. The falcon probably came to prey on the entangled birds, but got tangled in the net. The way the poachers collected birds from the net was dreadful. They cut off the entangled leg or wings. In one case the head was cut off and the body parts were left hanging in the net. After calling the divisional forest officer, we took the birds to our office. After proper documentation by the forest officials, we released them near the same waterbody.

Vidyanagar Nature Club

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