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The following post was originally published on dianuke.org The site seems suspended under questionable circumstances. The message is being republished here in solidarity of the struggle and with a view to the time sensitive nature of the appeal for help.

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With the Idinthakarai-based anti-Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) protestors gearing-up for their ultimate agitation to ensure the permanent closure of the ready-to-be-commissioned nuclear power programme within a next few days, Collector R. Selvaraj has extended the prohibitory orders promulgated under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code to seven km from the KKNPP site.

The announcement was made last night shortly after 10 p.m. that enabled the officials to implement the orders from the existing 2-km radius from KKNPP site to 7 km. It will be in force till 6 p.m. June 7. After the district administration received intelligence reports that a few thousands of protestors, mostly from coastal hamlets, might block the roads leading to the KKNPP site and lay siege to the nuclear power project site, the existing prohibitory orders was extended up to 7 km under which Idinthakarai, the protest hub, also falls.

Additional reinforcements are being rushed to Kudankulam and its surroundings. Armed Reserve Police, 100 personnel from Tamil Nadu Commando Force and 100 personnel from Tamil Nadu Special Task Force had been deployed till Wednesday evening.

[satellite]

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There is a prevailing fiction actively promoted by the government that Nuclear Energy is the only way out of the energy crisis for India. Every time I write about issues with nuclear energy, there are people making comments like stay in the dark ages, etc. So let us look at some facts around this scenario.

To begin with, before getting into serious data, let me state the overwhelmingly obvious. There are many ways to boil water – which is what a nuclear reactor does and still more ways to produce electricity – which is the purpose of building a nuclear reactor. The rest of the process is no different from any other boiling water driving turbines like a coal or diesel plant or other force driving turbines – like a windmill or water falling from a height from a dam. Nuclear Energy just happens to be one with an incomprehensibly destructive potential, however small the chance of occurrence may be.

Here is a table with data of money invested in Atomic Energy and Renewable Energy Sources from Official budget figures.

[table id=3 /]

Or, in other words,

 

Comparitive chart for budget expenditures for nuclear energy and renewable energy in India. AE = Atomic Energy; RE = Renewable Energy

As you see, the money invested in renewable energy sources is a fraction of that invested in nuclear energy. However, when you look at the energy being produced in the country, it is clear that Renewable Energy contributes far more than Atomic Energy.

To use statistics from the monthly executive report provided by the Central Electrical Authority in February 2012, out of 190592.55MW, Coal (105437.38MW), Gas (18093.85MW), Diesel (1199.75MW) Together as Thermal Energy (124730.98MW) are the largest chunk. Followed by Hydroelectric Energy (38848.40MW), then Renewable Energy (22233.17MW) and finally Nuclear Energy (4780.00MW).

Breakdown of the electricity production capacity of India by source

Compare that with the money being poured in, the risks inherent in nuclear energy, the known risks and emerging data on previously unknown risks, conflict and trauma to local populations with agitations and suppression, and the longterm responsibility of managing safe processing and storage of radioactive waste. Then the costs of the construction, maintenance and shutdowns (India has had at least three accidents that put plants out of action for over two years), local community welfare expenses and the potential for incalculable costs in damage to land, livelihoods, health and environment in the event of an accident. The US has long given up the initial belief of nuclear power being so cheap as to provide virtually free energy. Currently, the costs are estimated to be only slightly lower than other forms of energy. Japan has actually reevaluated to put the costs of nuclear energy as on par with other energy resources. It is quite puzzling to perceive a need for nuclear power specifically when it offers little advantage and considerable disadvantages.

We have been pursuing nuclear power almost since the creation of our country. The Department of Atomic Energy was established on 3rd August 1948 – just short of completing a year of independence. Our estimations of nuclear energy production in the 1960s was for 8000MW by the year 1987. It is now 2012 and we have just over half of that capacity (incidentally from little resisted plants compared with what lies in our future). However, our optimistic projections continue unabated, and these are at the root of a lot of propaganda related with the “necessity” of nuclear energy. The projections of 20,000MW by 2020 and 207,000MW to 275,000MV by 2052 are extremely unlikely to be achieved considering our track record so far, and the growing resistance to nuclear energy. The kicker here is that even if by some remote chance we did manage to pull this one off, it would constitute 8-10% of projected electricity capacity in 2020 and about 20% in 2052 – not even remotely the energy savior of the country it is projected as.

In comparison, while the Commission for Additional Sources of Energy (CASE) was created in 1981 and the Department of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (DNES) was established in 1982, the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES) itself was formed in 1992 and it was renamed as Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) in 2006. We are in 2012 and enjoying 4.65 times the energy production of nuclear energy for a 1/7.7th of the budget investment with New and Renewable Energy.

Renewable energy is considerably healthier for the planet than say your garden variety coal plant or nuclear plant. It is also more likely to be cheaper once the initial investment is done. To quote from the MNRE’s excellent book on Solar Radiant Energy over India that publishes detailed information on solar radiance all over the country:

The solar energy received by the earth is more than 15,000 times the world’s commercial energy consumption and over 100 times the world’s known coal, gas and oil reserves. And this energy is readily available during the day for anyone to tap and that too free and without any constraint.

This is no quantity of energy to sneeze at. India has excellent natural sunlight. The Direct Natural Irradiance maps provided by the Ministry of New and Renewable Sources of Energy shows that most of India gets excellent sunlight and areas like Rajasthan, for example getting very strong sunlight. Solar Energy is very viable in India. It is almost free to use once the initial installation is done and has the added suitability of being able to be deployed to remote regions with no access to an electrical grid.

Direct Natural Irradiance - Annual averages map data from the Ministry for New and Renewable Sources of Energy

While building solar plants will be more suitable in Rajasthan and other areas with strong sunlight, there are many other uses that can be started all over the country. We spend energy on heating water and cooking. Solar energy is very useful for this, and it does not require the strong sunlight that is needed for optimal performance from photovoltaic cells. Solar electricity generation for distribution will be better in areas with strong sunlight, but solar electricity for home use can be generated from rooftop panel installations almost all over the country.

As the cost of grid power rises, and that of photo-voltaic panels from China and US drops, it makes increasing sense to shift funds to this area, where there is massive potential for expansion and quick and dramatic transformation in this much neglected area. Currently, only 1% of our energy needs come from solar power, and funding will help this area grow much faster, as the main prohibitive factor for solar energy is its initial investment. This potential for near free energy is a treasure mine in energy in a country where abject poverty is common. In addition, the tentative forays into public lighting, traffic signals and so on can be expanded to become more and more autonomous. This has the obvious advantage of not requiring electrical connections to the grid, not having bills to pay and functioning reliably.

Other forms of energy like wind and tidal enegy can be used to generate electric power. Although a relative newcomer to the wind industry compared with Denmark or the United States, India has the fifth largest installed wind power capacity in the world. In 2009-10 India’s growth rate was highest among the other top four countries. As of 31 March 2011 the installed capacity of wind power in India was 14550MW.

Another vast treasure potential in energy is bio-fuels. 80% of our population being rural and agriculture and livestock being widespread, biofuels help generate gas for cooking or lighting. The waste from the bio-gas plant serves as cheap and excellent manure, which in turn will help heal our lands destroyed by rampant use of chemical fertilizers and boost the increasing movement toward organic farming and the production of healthier food.

The potential is endless, and the results from this area have so far been gratifyingly efficient. The amount of money invested in the pursuit of nuclear energy being available to this would likely wean us off the coal plants and get started on the large and harmful dams in the kind of time nuclear energy has taken to get here.

I cannot fathom the logic behind calling nuclear energy “necessary”.

Note: I am no expert on any subject related with economics or energy generation or nuclear energy. However, all data is from government sources and seems fairly straightforward.

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Twitter is ablaze with news of nuclear meltdown being imminent in Japan and some tweets are along the lines of "OMG! the reactors are going to explode! God save the world". This sounds a little extreme, and I thought I'd share what I found out in extremely non-tech terms for anyone to get an overall "panic-rating" kind of grip on the subject.

The Japanese reactors are light water reactors. Without getting into the scientifics of it, in the words of an expert, Naoto Sekimura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, a major radioactive disaster is unlikely.

"No Chernobyl is possible at a light water reactor. Loss of coolant means a temperature rise, but it also will stop the
reaction," he said.

"Even in the worst-case scenario, that would mean some radioactive leakage and equipment damage, but not an explosion. If venting is done carefully, there will be little leakage. Certainly not beyond the 3 km radius."

IAEA seems to agree on the whole, though they are concerned and actively monitoring.

Nuclear reactors use radioactive fuel to generate electricity. In the process, the fuel gets hot, and much like say, the engine of your car, it needs to be kept cool. This is a big deal, because unlike your car, if this stuff explodes, we can forget using that area of the earth for a long, long time because its radioactive contents will get scattered in the blast. Thus, the fuel is kept at desired temperatures and prevented from overheating. There is massive planning and enginnering around this, with several methods used simultaneously, each capable of cooling the core independently. In addition to that, each method has back ups and fail safes till a mind numbing redundancy is achieved. This is in order to set things up so that once the reactor is in operation, there is absolutely no possibility that there is a failure in cooling it down. The fuel needs to be cooled for a day or two after shutting a nuclear reactor down.

Another factor is the pressure. Evaporating coolant can create high pressures that can threaten the integrity of the containment dome. This can be released by venting, which is a management mechanism and not procedure, since it means that some quanitites of radiation can get released along with the steam. This isn't radioactive materials, but the water itself absorbing neutrons from the cooling process, which are shed off quickly. This radioactivity isn't supposed to last long because the water used is specially demineralized for the purpose, thus making it extremely resistant to this kind of radioactivity. Not that the core cares what cools it, but the water not being radioactive makes it easier for managing the plant.

Sometimes, this system can fail, like it is failing in Japan, right now. When the earthquake happened, the reactors were shut down. This was pretty much instantly. Well before the tsunami. It means the control rods came and fitted in between the fuel rods, so that the ricocheting neutrons had less space to move and less power and less targets, till it would finally wind down and stop in a day or two. This is normal. Nuclear reactions are like that.

And the backup generators took over the cooling since the reactor was no longer producing electricity (and there were back up generators for the ones in operation too). This worked well for about an hour till the tsunami hit and took out all the generators. This was unfortunate, because the cooling system needs constant power. However, the third line of back up kicked in and the generator switched to battery power, which would last for 8 hours or so. Post this point, things seemed to go into chaos. For some reason, they were not able to use the time provided by the battery to rig up yet another power source, and when the battery was exhausted, the reactor started heating up. Without a circulation mechanism for the coolant, the whole thing is overheating and pressure is increasing from the evaporating water.

There are plans to let off steam. US has flown in coolant. Japan has been extremely transparent and proactive in dealing with the exposure to people. The area was evacuated well before any radiation could be found.

My suggestion would be to not panic. Yes, it can blow up, like the US Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island Meltdown. Mushroom cloud and all. Nothing is impossible. The venting could run into problems (though I don't see how). Everything to prevent a disaster could fail. But more likely it won't.

The domes that are so characteristic of nuclear reactors are basically built to contain any meltdowns. You can read about the architecture/engineering of a nuclear reactor facility, but I have, and without boring you with the details, there are vastly reassuring quantities of steel and very, very thick leak proof concrete structure. Its purpose is to contain any explosion/radiation that may occur. And there is no evidence that this integrity is breached.

Japan is a country with a reputation for engineering and efficiency. It has survived the only two atom bombs explosions in the world. I think its fair to say that they aren't going to give this up without a good fight. And, their expertise, ready aid from the world and the inherent safeguards built into every aspect of a reactor are on their side.

So, like the Hitchhiker's guide says, "Don't panic".... if the worst happens, I promise you you will have plenty of time.

Update: there has been an explosion OUTSIDE Japan's nuclear power plant at Fukushima 1. Doesn't seem to be a nuclear explosion, but building is damaged. 2killed, 4 workers injured. Uh... don't freak out just yet. Unlikely that a nuclear blast will result in 4 injuries at ground zero. More likely to do with the pressure building up or steam from some drastic cooling measure or hydrogen exploding from the venting. Let's wait for news. The only thing I am worried about is the radioactive stuff outside the containment - like spent fuel. Building gone means that is exposed, right? Or worse - exploded? But nothing in the news, so obviously I don't know as much as I imagine.

Update 2: Yep, like I said - steam. People within 20km asked to evacuate. Radiation leaking from damaged building. Residents advised to remain indoors, not drink tap water, and to cover their faces with wet towels (? for how long with covered face - but I guess for as long as it takes to get a green signal ?)

Update 3: Early, unconfirmed tweets on mushroom explosion spotted over reactor, but from an Australian, from the look of it. Could be a reaction to earlier blast, or something new? Scientists didn't seem to have invested much belief in the explosion idea for a light water reactor (like these are). Wait n watch  - you'll get to panic or breathe a sigh of relief soon.

Update 4: Stray initial tweets about pressure having been successfully released from the reactors, but paranoid Tweeters on and on about "Japanese reactor just exploded, OMG!!!" The links provided are all to the video footage of the earlier explosion OUTSIDE the reactor that damaged the building and *possibly* raised leakage. Nothing remotely like a nuclear explosion has happened yet, nor is it scheduled.

More quotes:

Robin Grimes, Professor of material physics at Imperial College, London

Despite the damage to the outer structure, as long as that steel inner vessel remains intact, then the vast majority of the radiation will be contained.

Professor Paddy Regan, Nuclear Physicist from Britain's Surrey University

"If the pressure vessel, which is the thing that actually holds all the nuclear fuel ... if that was to explode -- that's basically what happened at Chernobyl -- you get an enormous release of radioactive material.

"It doesn't look from the television pictures ... as though it's the vessel itself.

Update 5: For those who absolutely must follow microdetails (like me), a better source is http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/index-e.html you will get all the techy things like timings for different things done, status of reactors, worker accident status, etc.

Update 6: News of problems at reactor 3 at Daichi.