The nuke bazaar calls

An open nuclear industry would hardly indicate that India hasachieved desired safety levels

Published: Saturday 15 March 1997

the recent announcement by Prime Minister (pm) H D Deve Gowda that full foreign ownership of nuclear energy plants will be allowed in India, is likely to see pro-nuke lobbyists working overtime to push the agenda through the ministry of science and technology and the planning commission.

Although Gowda made the statement during an interview to the Japanese business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun on February 8, the government seems to have been thinking on these lines for nearly two months now. Y K Alagh, minister of state for science and technology as well as planning and programme implementation, has been repeatedly quoted to have said that more investments are needed in the nuclear energy sector, and that the government was considering proposals to allow private parties to set up nuclear power plants.

The Atomic Energy Act, 1962, gives monopoly to the Centre to produce, develop, use and dispose off atomic energy and carry out research in related matters. Speculation is rife that the Act may be amended to facilitate private sector participation in the nuclear power industry. Speaking at a recent meeting of the International Association for Energy Economics, Alagh said, given that India needs more than 10,000 mw of power by the turn of the century and considering the environmental costs and problems involved in hydel projects and thermal plants, nuclear power was a better option.

Analysts attach a lot of significance to Gowda's emphasis on "100 per cent foreign participation". Apparently, several developed countries are looking towards India for investing in the nuclear sector, especially because of the uncertain future of this sector in their own countries due to pressures from environmental action groups. They also feel that the proposed move would bring in transparency as far as India's nuclear policy is concerned, as well as explain its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and the Comprehensive Test Ban treaties.

However, anti-nuclear activists decry the need for expanding India's nuclear power programme, especially when many countries are retrenching on their existing plans. They point out that the management of the country's atomic energy programme has been pathetic, with a poor safety record.

Says Praful Bidwai, noted columnist, "We still do not have the report on why the containment dome of the Kaiga nuclear reactor (under construction) collapsed three years ago. All promises of atomic power being abundant, cheap, environment-friendly and safe have been betrayed again and again. In my opinion, we need a total moratorium on the issue of nuclear power."

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