Nuclear madness

The closure of Chernobyl sends a clear message. Nuclear power is dangerous and unprofitable

Published: Monday 15 January 2001

It was the site of the world's worst nuclear accident and its closure marks the end of an era. The Chernobyl power plant, which best symbolises the potential dangers of atomic energy, has finally -- after years of limping along in defiance of international criticism -- been shut down.

The future looks bleak for nuclear power. The last reactor order in the us that has not been cancelled dates to 1973. No order has been placed by European utilities outside France since 1980. Therefore, it is not surprising that the nuclear lobby is trying to use the climate change issue for its survival. The lessons of Chernobyl go unheeded.

What is unacceptable is that India is playing into the hands of the nuclear lobby. It is actually wooing Russian technological assistance. After all it was this very technology that provided the recipe for the Chernobyl disaster. Yet, during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to India in October 2000, it was made clear that Russia would provide the knowhow for two 1,000-megawatt units for the Kundalkulam project near Kanyakumari. It is akin to asking Union Carbide India Ltd to set up a pesticide plant near Moscow.

The power ministry's 1998 figures show that nuclear power generates only 2.29 per cent of India's total electricity output, despite the fact that there has never been any dearth of funds or governmental support for the nuclear sector. The Nuclear Power Corporation is proposing an expansion of 10 times in India's nuclear power capacity by 2020 -- from the present 2,020 mw to 20,000 mw. This will surely require enormous investments. Where will this money come from? More importantly, even if the money is available, will this investment in dinosaurs bear fruit?

Deregulation of the power market has made nuclear power unprofitable in Europe. A very expensive and dangerous proposition, it will eventually need subsidies to run in India. Definitely not worth investing in. Nuclear plants are money guzzlers. The Indian government would be better off following the example of the West. And it should promote public policies to make renewables competitive with fossil fuels. The answer to fossil fuels lies in renewable energy, not in nuclear.

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