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Responding to a debate on the Kudankulam struggle against nuclear energy

March 22, 2013

Taking the debate on nuclear energy forward (after the wonderful review of MV Ramana’s book by Nityanand Jayaraman), here’s an exchange between Rahul Siddharthan and Madhumita Dutta in The Hindu in September 2012, Siddharthan advocating nuclear power, Dutta pointing to its utter indefensibility.


Jal satyagraha at Kudankulam in September 2012

Dutta says, in her response to Siddharthans initial article:

In the case of Kudankulam, the fisherfolk have been…asking to see the disaster management plan which, till date, remains a secret, even under the Right to Information Act. Given the inherent uncertainties of natural disasters, questions about preparedness to mitigate impact of calamities such as tsunami waves of higher magnitude are being asked. An inadequate reserve of fresh water for cooling as well as a lack of back up electricity are concerns that have been raised by people and their expert committee many times but consistently dodged by the government and officials of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. Secrecy shrouds the fate of the radioactive spent fuel, its reprocessing and transportation. All these questions and more remain unanswered. 

As the initiator of the exchange, Siddharthan had the last word:

Ms Dutta’s points about the necessity of transparency and availability of information are valid, and I made those points myself. It is in the Department of Atomic Energy’s own interest to make as much information available about Kudankulam as possible. 

So, Mr Siddharthan, a few simple questions:

You don’t think this information should have been made available long before (long, long before!)  the lives, habitats and livelihoods of the people of Koodankulam were uprooted by the construction of the plant and its operationalizing?

You don’t think the people of Koodankulam should have had the option of making an informed choice – who knows, they may have been entirely persuaded by solid information about the absolute safety of the plant and its disaster-preparedness?

You dont think there is a reason why this information is still not made available to the affected populations, despite its being “in the DAE’s interest”?

Perhaps after all, it would not be in the DAE’s interest to reveal the information, if indeed, any studies have been done at all?

And who or what is the shadowy DAE, which apparently has an interest of its own, separate from and independent of, the interests of the citizens of Koodankulam?

Another casual claim made by Siddharthan in his response is that “nobody died from radiation exposure in Fukushima”.

Not yet. But  a minimum of 1300 could die from radiation effects,  an extremely conservative estimate according to the co-author of the study in an interview to Japan Real Time:

“The whole 15 to 1,300 range is probably in reality, in my personal opinion, a conservative number. I certainly wouldn’t go lower than that,” Mark Z. Jacobson, co-author of the study and an environmental engineer at Stanford, told JRT in an interview.

In the study, which was published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science this week, the scientists’ best estimate within the range was that the radiation would eventually be responsible for 130 deaths and 180 cancer cases.

Mr. Jacobson described those figures as “very conservative,” especially once non-cancer related illnesses such as cardiovascular and respiratory ailments are considered. “In fact there is a huge health effect from particles, but we didn’t even calculate those effects,” said Mr. Jacobson, who has researched the health impact of other environmental pollutants prior to this study.

And how about genetic mutations in butterflies?

Genetic mutations have been found in three generations of butterflies living near Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. The gruesome discovery has led scientists to fear that the leaking radiation could affect other species…

Though the insects were mated in a lab well outside the fallout zone, about 18 per cent of their offspring displayed similar problems, said Joji Otaki, an associate professor at Ryukyu University in Okinawa, in southwestern Japan.

That figure rose to 34 per cent in the third generation of butterflies – even though one parent from each coupling was from a group unaffected by radiation.

A mere 1300 people? And mutant butterflies? Bah, I imagine Mr Siddharthan scoffing.  He’s a very brave man, you see. I know because he said so in his response:

Clearly some people find the record of nuclear power terrifying, but I am not one of them.

Let’s hope one of those 1300 is not someone he knows, or loves; let’s hope that butterfly with the crippled wing does not presage crippled babies, and that nobody he knows or loves will bear that child. I sincerely hope this for him.

But Mr Siddharthan, what about ordinary mortals who are terrified by the established record of nuclear safety; by information about the dangers of nuclear energy, death being in fact the most knowable and indeed, the most bearable of them? What to do about foolish people who do not measure disaster in terms of numbers of human lives lost – for whom even one death is one too many?

“Ha-ha”, I imagine Mr S saying. “They lose.”

11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2013 10:14 AM

    Dear Author, there has always been a marked hostility against anything “nuclear”. I often wonder, is it not better for us to fight for safeguards rather than fight the technology itself. Is it safe and prudent to ban fire just because it is hot, yellow and can burn? Is it not true that we are going to run out of fossil fuels soon and are going to face an unprecedented energy crisis in the near future. Nuclear energy offers us a timely and effective solution. It can be called the proverbial “Idea Whose Time Has Come”, and consequently one cant stop it – but be prepared for it, mould it and make peace with it.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      March 22, 2013 11:03 AM

      Rambler, why is that despite the most scholarly and well researched material available (some of it on Kafila) that establishes that nuclear energy is neither clean nor safe nor cheap, the utterly unsustainable and stubborn superstition endures that “nuclear energy is an idea whose time has come”!?
      It’s time has decisively gone, and it has been exposed as the biggest hoax of the 20th century. You could start by reading Ramana’s book reviewed on Kafila, and take a look at earlier posts on Kafila and responses to comments listed below (assuming, that is, that you really want to know what the issues are. From your comment I have a suspicion you have made up your mind in advance, but hopefully I’m wrong):

      Koodankulam – Anti-nuclear Struggle Continues

      The nuclear energy debate in India: Response to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam from Dr Surendra Gadekar

      Some FAQs about Koodankulam and Nuclear Power: Nityanand Jayaraman and G. Sundar Rajan

      • March 27, 2013 11:20 PM

        Dear Author, The idea persists because you have failed to make your idea mainstream. Unlike me, a lot of people still depend on the medium for their daily dose of knowledge. You will have to make them a part of your idea. By failing to make this idea acceptable to the prime time media, your ilk will be looked down as mere rebels out to create trouble for development. I have gone through the links, and yes my mind is a lot clearer now. So I hope your suspicions are cleared. But convincing me is only a beginning – there are millions out there. I beseech you, reach out to them in a language they understand. Even if the ways appear tacky to you!!

  2. Sajan permalink
    March 22, 2013 10:22 AM

    Madhumita Dutta says, “Given the inherent uncertainties of natural disasters, questions about preparedness to mitigate impact of calamities such as tsunami waves of higher magnitude are being asked.”
    Such fears are needless, as our own Dr. Abdul ‘Strangelove’ Kalam said in a speech on disaster risk reduction in Nov 2011. He dismissed the fear of danger to the Kudankulam plant in the event of a tsunami, saying the wave height would not exceed 5.44 metres whereas the reactor is located at 8.7 metres height.
    I traced this magical figure of 5.44 metres, precise to two decimal points, to NPCIL. The calculation is based on the wave-height of the 2004 tsunami, on the natural assumption that all future tsunamis will respect precedent (if not an ex-president). Unfortunately, according to figures easily available outside NPCIL, tsunamis can throw up waves tens of metres high. The 2004 tsunami surged 15 metres high in some places and — according to one well-known tsunami researcher — south Tamil Nadu could see wave heights of up to 9.5 mts in a future tsunami, which would have interesting consequences for the nuclear plant.
    The NPCIL site report confidently states that “in October 2010, NPCIL has calculated tsunami height at Kudankulam based on recently developed forecasting method in Japan and arrived at a figure of 2 meters. Thus, the considered design value of 2.5 meters wave height is adequate.”
    Fortuitously, within months of developing their impeccable forecasting method, the Japanese were able to put it to the test … in Fukushima. In their analysis of the Fukushima ‘event’ (Safety Evaluation of Indian Nuclear Power Plants Post Fukushima Incident – Interim Report), NPCIL notes that “the earthquake was followed by a Tsunami of 14 m height and significant aftershocks. The [Fukushima] Plant was designed for withstanding Tsunami height up to 6.5 m”.
    Bully for Japan’s forecasting methods.
    When the Great East Japan tsunami hit in March 2011, wave heights along the coast of the 20-kilometer exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 plant “substantially exceeded the expectations of nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.”
    TEPCO planners, no doubt using their recently developed forecasting method, had said that a wave of 5.7 meters “was the maximum possible at the Fukushima No. 1 plant”. Wave heights at Fukushima ranged from around 7 mts, up to 21 mts in one place between Fukushima No.1 and No.2 reactors.
    The Indian nuclear establishment’s touching faith in Japanese forecasting methods remains intact. In another Task Force report (‘Safety Evaluation of the Systems of KKNPP post-Fukushima Event’) NPCIL speaks, with the sublime confidence of those who live miles away from a nuclear reactor, of coping “with unanticipated and rare severe and multiple natural events having very low probability like the one that took place at Fukushima Nuclear Plants”. My math isn’t very good, but I’d assume the probability of an event that has already taken place is, like,100%.
    With state-of-the-art Japanese forecasting methods, technicians on sub-par govt salaries and nuclear reactors from the people who gave us Chernobyl, what could possibly go wrong with Kudankulam?

  3. March 29, 2013 12:06 AM

    “Few people will develop cancer as a consequence of being exposed to the radioactive material that spewed from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last year — and those who do will never know for sure what caused their disease. These conclusions are based on two comprehensive, independent assessments of the radiation doses received by Japanese citizens, as well as by the thousands of workers who battled to bring the shattered nuclear reactors under control.”
    Go through this please

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      March 29, 2013 11:16 AM

      Arun, this report of May 2102 that you cite is well known, or rather, infamous, and has been widely taken apart.
      Take a look at this for a detailed rebuttal of the UNSCEAR Report – Truth about Fukushima.

      • March 30, 2013 5:25 PM

        If one cant believe the UN what about WHO ?
        28 FEBRUARY 2013 | GENEVA – A comprehensive assessment by international experts on the health risks associated with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (NPP) disaster in Japan has concluded that, for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.

        The WHO report ‘Health Risk Assessment from the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami based on preliminary dose estimation’ noted, however, that the estimated risk for specific cancers in certain subsets of the population in Fukushima Prefecture has increased and, as such, it calls for long term continued monitoring and health screening for those people.

        • Nivedita Menon permalink*
          March 31, 2013 10:39 AM

          By all means Arun, please believe this report. It says, in the portion that you yourself quote above: “the estimated risk for specific cancers in certain subsets of the population in Fukushima Prefecture has increased and, as such, it calls for long term continued monitoring and health screening for those people.”
          I wonder if you even read the stuff you produce so triumphantly – this report says that while for the general population inside and outside Japan, the predicted risks are low, for people inside Fukushima, the risks of cancer have increased and they must be monitored. Monitoring will only help to catch the disease as early as possible, not prevent it.
          Would you like to live in Kudankulam, Arun? Or in Haripur or Jaitapur? Or near other older nuclear plants where studies by Anumukti have shown marked rise in cancers and birth defects?
          Are you so desperate to believe in the safety of nuclear energy that you display such illiteracy in reading a simple report?
          That report goes on to say:
          “A breakdown of data, based on age, gender and proximity to the nuclear plant, does show a higher cancer risk for those located in the most contaminated parts.”
          These most contaminated parts, remember, are located at a distance from the plant that was determined by scientists to be absolutely safe. Nobody lives right next to the plant.
          Then there are people in the “second most contaminated location of Fukushima Prefecture”, for whom the estimated risks are approximately one-half of those in the location with the highest doses. Lower risk than in “the most contaminated” but still much higher than the general population.

          So even if you just take the WHO report seriously, it shows all is far from well, but meanwhile this report is being analysed by experts and this is what they say:
          “The WHO report ignores critical data and sends the wrong message to the public. Increased incidence of thyroid abnormalities in children in the Fukushima Prefecture may be an early indicator of eventual increased incidence of thyroid cancers. Plumes of radioactivity from Fukushima are migrating in the Pacific towards the US West Coast.
          The latest Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey shows that of over 111,000 children examined, 44% had thyroid ultrasound abnormalities, a few of whom have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Last week’s WHO report confirms that there are selected groups of people who will suffer from increased risk of cancer due to the accident, and that women and children are particularly affected. But its chosen methodology ignores other major studies of Fukushima radiation releases, and these would have been likely to have increased its estimation of health effects. The WHO report also dismisses the effects on all evacuees and plant workers, who were the most exposed. Its radiation dose calculations for a population of 120 million relied on select and inadequate data. For example, only 39 eggs and 41 fish samples were tested in the entire Fukushima Prefecture. Exposures from tap water contaminated by radiation were ignored, despite the spread of contamination from Fukushima to surrounding prefectures and northern Tokyo.”

          A symposium was held in March, and I’m sure that more critical analyses from experts of the WHO report are soon going to be available.

          • March 31, 2013 2:19 PM

            Nivedita, I am not for hyping up the fear of Nuclear Energy, nor for blindly saying it is safe. Maximum increased incidence of cancers are expected in infants who were in maximum exposed zones. The total expected increase in incidence of cancer among infants is only 1% as per this report. That is surprisingly lower than expected. We need more studies and monitoring, but overall scientific studies after Fukushima disaster is giving us a broad trend that Nuclear accidents are less harmful than expected.
            I live near a mega dam and I already face more assured risk of death if an earth quake happens in my neighbourhood than in Kundakulam. So if an earth quake come, I prefer living near a modern and safe Nuclear plant than near a mega dam or inside a
            skyscraper. -:)

  4. March 31, 2013 8:24 PM

    But what if I prefer living in a world without nuclear power plants, mega dams or skyscrapers? What if this is not just my preference, but one that is shared by many others? What if it is found that we are in a majority? Will our democracies allow it to happen?

    And further, what if it is found that it is not just a preference, not a mere belief, but an empirically proven, scientifically established fact, that most people’s lives are anything between completely unaffected and totally ravaged by these grand projects? Will rationality allow this preference to be called rational?

    Just wondering :)


  1. Koodankulam Debate: Responding to Rahul Siddharthan |

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