<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans%3A400italic%2C700italic%2C400%2C700">Nuclear labor issues Archives « Aam JanataSkip to content

The last post ends with a table of nuclear incidents in India. The thing is that when it comes to radiation, there isn't too much difference between clean and safe. Contamination is unsafe. It is also expensive. So, these posts may take specific perspectives, but they are interlinked.

Radiation is not safe. Experts are increasingly in agreement that while we all get some dose of radiation as a part of normal life, there is no level of radiation that can be declared safe. However, for purposes of this article, that will sound paranoid, so let us look at only the more outstanding examples.

I have absolutely no clue and have not encountered anywhere the parameters that have been used to conclude nuclear power as safe. In a world hyperventilating over nuclear war, we have in any given reactor hundreds of times if not thousands of times the quantity of fuel found in a nuclear bomb. Security can be breached as was spectacularly demonstrated in a recent Greenpeace protest in France, where the activists got into the nuclear plants by stealth to make their point. The last activist took ten hours to be found. The activists were hounded for compromising security, but it could just as easily have been a terrorist.

Humanitarian expectations would be that nuclear facilities are not targetted in times of war. The question here is if things have come to such a breakdown of relations between two entities that they are resorting to killing each other to find a winner, which side would trust the other to not target facilities? Is it a worthy risk to count on non-targeting of facilities by enemies for own civilians to be safe? Sure, the facilities can be defended, but all it would take is to knock a power plant off whack - be it a direct strike or damage to any of many factors keeping the reactor safe. It could be done with operatives. If a Mumbai style assault were made on a nuclear plant, would our security still be able to prevent penetration? What if twice the number of terrorists came? Twenty, even fifty isn't such a large number. One busload.

Like I said, these are dramatic examples, but a security problem can be much smaller, like uh... the dome of a reactor voluntarily collapsing without being attacked. It has happened. Just google Kaiga Dome collapse to see what I mean. This was during construction itself. Expert assesments were clear that if the reactor had been in operation, the dome collapse would have prevented a safe shutdown  very difficult. 130 tons of concrete falling 13 meters to the automatic control rods below would be messy to put it in very polite terms.

In Narora, in 1993, problematic turbine blades recommended replacement by the manufacturers themselves (BHEL) had not been replaced, and resulted in a massive accident where a blade sheared off during operation, cut off other two blades and the resulting disturbance broke pipes carrying hydrogen, which caught fire, which spread and the safety back up wiring being installed along with the regular wiring, got destroyed at the same time, and workers took risks to stabilize the plant, and manually dump liquid boron into the reactor to slow the reactions because the power lost in the accident - both regular power and backup was restored after a blackout of 17 hours. This could have gone very, very wrong and we could have easily had our own dead zone if not for gutsy workers and a heck of a lot of luck.

These are just a few samples. Kaiga First? Kaiga and Other Nuclear Stories by M V Ramana and Ashwin Kumar is a mind boggling read on the state of security of Indian nuclear installations a jaw dropping collection of everything from patterns of minor accidents and fires to missing people and heavy water leaks that can only be blamed on people with security clearance acting in irresponsible ways for whatever reason. No, you will rarely find persistent questioning of these issues - issues with the capacity to turn vast tracts of the country into permanent no-go zones - in the regular media. On the subject of nuclear power, the mainstream media is impeccably coloring within lines drawn by a government determined to pursue nuclear power at all cost without paying it the due respect of safety.

In fact, our determination to ignore risks of nuclear power is so great, that there is a voluntary gag on events unfolding at Fukushima Daichii in Japan. You simply don't hear all this in Indian media. As far as India is concerned, the accident in Japan was a terrible thing, but it is under control, procedures were followed, and lives were saved. A far cry from the reality of devastated livelihoods, crippling economic losses, contamination above safety levels repeatedly raised after the accident even outside the dead zone. India rarely gets to hear of the contaminated buildings, mutated vegetables, radioactive pollen and other excruciatingly sad stories coming out of there.

A nuclear plant that is still spreading contamination, dead workers, children with holes in their hearts, thousands of animals mercilessly killed, abandoned pets starving and freezing to their deaths, a seafood loving cuisine forever blighted by unacceptable contamination, desperate farmers marking their contaminated produce as coming from other places in order to make a living..... the list is endless. The government is not even able to monitor all the things that need monitoring, and where they do monitor, the results have often been so shocking that they have been silenced, only to emerge through independent monitoring or leaks. To put it mildly, this is not safe. Japan is not safe. For that matter, by the time this crisis is over, there is no telling how far this unSafety will have expanded.

In India itself (and other parts of the world) independent studies have established a greater incidence of cancers near nuclear plants that nuclear bodies have consistently dismissed. And here's the deal, after both Chernobyl and Fukushima, the trend is fairly clear that a chunk of radiation related deaths other than the immediate ones from radiation poisoning happen not of cancer, but heart attacks - which is something we aren't even monitoring - or at least nothing has been released to the public.

In still other news, if you read the archives of Tehelka, you will discover the appalling lack of safety in our uranum mines where people working in radioactive dust don't even wear facemasks, and radioactive ore is carried for refining in open trucks covered with tarpaulin sheets that do little to prevent contamination of areas they pass through. Villages often have contaminated objects in them. There have been instances of contamination of local streams through the run off from nuclear plants or breaches in the tailings ponds.

There is a vocal condemnation of anti-nuclear activists as anti-national, criminal, funded by foreign interests and what not, and the usual process of pulling suspects out of hats has happened. However, while the government has been able to fund radio jingles (of all things) to try to make nuclear energy sound attractive to people, it apparently hasn't found the time to answer crucial questions raised by them, or the commitment to safety to address important issues with existing facilities as a token of intent with regard to safety.  For example, there is absolutely nothing unreasonable to want to know evacuation plans in existence. Or to want evidence based reassurances with regards to risk to livelihood (in other words, more than "Don't worry, nothing will happen"). I think it is absolutely vital for local communities to be provided equipment to monitor radiation levels at will and to call for shutdowns or inspections if alarmed - after all, is is their lives, livelihoods, lands and entire ways of life at stake. In fact, it can prove to be an excellent failsafe - except that the government doesn't want to do anything that gives locals any power over what happens in their vicinity. Would you trust our government this blindly?

On the other hand, the sweet talk continues. Articles continue to be written about the foreign funded NGOs that have nothing better to do than to harass governments. Latest advances in nuclear energy are flaunted . You have PR exercises launched to influence public opinion. Massive nuclear reactor clusters are called "nuclear parks" - sounds most health conscious - a place you'd definitely take your kid for a pecni Another article describes a stage in the storage of nuclear fuel as thus: "radioactive waste is first converted into inert and stable materials which are kept inside stainless steel canisters sealed with lead covers." Understand this straight. If radioactive waste were rendered inert and stable, there wouldn't be any need to store it safely, no? But few stop to question. It sounds exceedingly safe with further redundant safeguards and such, but the reality of the matter is that we have had serious security issues that are not being owned, serious information missing that can make all the difference between life and death. For example there is no plan B if something were to happen to a BARC reactor - incidentally a site that also has a lot of used fuel stored. What is a Mumbaikar to do if there is a nuclear alert? Nothing is freely available to the public explaining precautions to be taken, preparedness tips and other information that ought to be freely accessible.

The safety concerns around nuclear reactors are so high that it is impossible to cover them comprehensively here. US has not built  a nuclear reactor in the last three decades. Last month, DAE in India finally admitted to employee deaths to rare bone cancer linked with radiation exposure.

There is no nuclear reactor in the world that is insured by an insurance company. None. Strange, seeing as how nuclear power is promoted as safe. If the probability of an accident was as low as claimed, the high premiums would have insurance companies dancing to the bank and more lining up to get a piece of the action. Instead, you have reactors subsidized by tax payer money, and insured by the government. In other words, if a reactor goes kaput, it is the tax payer bailing out everyone, because the dumb tax payer doesn't stop to ask why should something safe be refused insurance.

12

"Uraniam found in 241 water samples" the headline could have screamed, but it didn't. It made modest appearance and slid into obscurity, unheralded on the news site's social networks. This was Times of India reporting on drinking water samples from Punjab as reported by chief engineer, department of water supply and sanitation in the High Court in response to a PIL in front of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Mahesh Grover.

It says "The petitioner, Mohali-resident Brijender Singh Loomba, had sought directions for adequate relief to affected people and kids due to discharge of uranium in water and soil of Bathinda, Faridkot and Ludhiana districts of Punjab. The petition had also sought directions for investigation to find out sources of leakage of radioactive material and uranium in drinking water and steps required to check its spread." among other things.

It said nothing that the people of Malda district didn't know already since investigative tests on the hair of about 88% of their higher numbers of disabled children didn't turn up stuff like arsenic as anticipated, but URANIUM in 2009.There have been vague reports on and off in local (read non-corporate) media about Uranium contamination in Punjab since 1995, which is inexplicable since there is no source of Uranium nearby.

But understand this. If there is radioactive contamination in the soil, NOTHING except not eating food grown in it at all will prevent you ingesting it. Cleaning the drinking water will not prevent radioactive isotopes from grain, for example from entering your body. That's right. "Granary of India" has areas with radioactive contamination in an era of increasing inflation and food insecurity.

Indian Express did cover it, but it covered it up as a story on the allegations of discrimination in the installing of the ROS - Reverse Osmosis plants that BARC recommended to clean the water. Adding as an afterthought "The affidavit states that the failed samples from the 49 villages include Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Barnala and Fatehgarh Sahib. The state has submitted that ROS plants are being installed in 118 villages, of which 74 villages fall in Barnala."

Anyway, the whole High Court and PIL and shocking testimony at least got it to mainstream newspapers, if not to fame and glory.

In other news - I really mean - In other news.... DNA published an investigative report about increased incidences of cancer among the employees and their families at the nuclear reactor at Kalpakkam. No! Wasn't this supposed to be crap raised by activists to prevent India's progress? Apparently not, because the report uses data from an RTI filed for the second time (The first time, the information was not provided).

The DNA claims that it is in possession of a DAE funded study by Dr. Manjula Dutta and the report categorically confirms increased cancer risk near reactors "The report states that cancer cases in villages close to Kalpakkam are seven times higher (210 per 1 lakh people) compared to just (30 per 1 lakh people) in distant villages. Morbidity levels in areas near the nuclear reactor are 2-3 times higher than normal. The study covered 22 proximate villages (within 8km radius) and three distant villages (50km from the reactor site)."

However, let it not be said that mainstream media never reports nuclear news. It does report extensively about the NPCIL's efforts to allay fears about radiation safety and there is warm and fuzzy reassurances by the BARC that it is all safe and nuclear power is our future. But then, both earlier stories also contain reassurances by BARC that the levels of radiation are safe and that the illnesses are no more than among the normal population.

BARC is like the Japanese government in India. No matter what the radiation levels, they will be declared safe. No problemo. But BARC is boosting its monitoring capacities on an urgent basis. To prove safety, I suppose. It was a Parliamentary committee that looked into the radiation monitoring of Punjab, West Bengal is examining and checking use of radioactive materials, and it is BARC declaring safe everything I have mentioned or linked here.

These are stories breaking in a country where more nuclear plants are planned amid massive controversy. Where the idea of a "nuclear park" is not some haunting nightmare scene from a Chernobyl film, but an unbelievable concept of a cluster of nuclear reactors made to sound like a health spa.

I have been following events unfolding at Fukushima closely. There is incredible amount of information from local media and bloggers in particular. While some of it is alarmist and unsubstantiated, there is enough carefully documented, including citizen volunteers monitoring data, photographs and footage of details of damage and work, information released from scientific studies, information on spread of radiation, environmental impact, inexplicable heart attacks (which I think are linked to what I mention in Radioactive People), status of reactors and more.

Fukushima is one big reason to re-evaluate the feasibility of having too many reactors too close - at this point, if one of them goes out of control, the area will have to be evacuated, and we will have six of them out of control. Does a thought like this have any implications to the idea of a nuclear park?

Yet there is silence in our media. Corporation owned media worldwide is largely silent, but they do report significant concerns raised, at least. Our news media doesn't seem to see this as an ongoing crisis at all. There is little interest on either a political front or in the media. Two headlines about America's low rating for safety of nuclear materials in India - "India scores low on nuclear security: US Study" and "India rejects nuclear safety rating by American think-tank"

It is a game of table tennis. Rather than see the security implications, we choose to fixate on the political maneuvering and preempt it - which is such a problem, that we can't accept any feedback ever - check news. This of course is about our super-size ego and Australian Uranium we import which could be influenced. There is little introspection, evaluation or consideration of risks. NO changes will happen, because accepting them will mean that we weren't safe and that will not do. How long will it be before we start paying an even greater price?

We don't hear, think or question these things, because our media carefully filters triggers to such debates. From being the first country in the world to set up a Ministry for renewable energy to being one that doesn't question harmful ways energy is procured - be it fly ash from thermal power, radioactive contamination from nuclear power, or exploitation of Kashmiris for power - it has been a long way. There is pathetic little interest in sustainable energy or the environment in our media.

We want nuclear reactors and are following the ideals of a country that has paid a monumental price for its nuclear ambitions and yet has not built a single new reactor in decades. The great fantasy of clean, safe, cheap.

We dismiss reports of workers at Fukushima dying of heart failure after handling radioactive debris. We ignore that heart failure is the most common way for those exposed to radiation to die and call it an "existing condition". We ignore reports of milk in San Francisco having levels of cesium beyond allowed standards. We don't question dubious "cold shutdowns" that have nothing to do with stopping reactors and everything to do with shrugging responsibility for liquidating the damage. We ignore radioactive landfulls and almost a year of daily and massive contamination of the oceans. We turn a blind eye to reports of increasing cancers in the West Coast of USA.

It isn't so much about what we believe. We are smart people. We arrive at conclusions based on information available to us. Which is why it becomes a serious question about intent and freedom of information that the Indian masses are not informed by their media on such things. If the information available can be rigged to make certain conclusions seem reasonable, then they are "the choice of the masses".

This has become so ridiculously extreme, that when people look at archives to find Indian reporting of the largest nuclear disaster in the history of man (hopefully it will still be the largest then), they are going to find a big, fat zero - like Pakistan's text books on Indian history and common roots.

This is also where the usual arguments like "metro media" not having access or wanting to go to far flung areas falls flat. There is an abundance of news to be found without leaving the desk - the largest nuclear or industrial disaster in the world. This leaves me with only one explanation of this radioactive silence. They don't want to.

It isn't like they went to the Andaman to cover the recent shocking news of the treatment of the Jarawa women at the hands of the police. They picked it up from the Guardian and ran with it.

So what is the difference in these fleeting news that seem to catch their eyes and an almost year long crisis involving millions of people, multiple crises with four reactors, unmeasurable environmental damage and abundant news items available freely that slides through every hole in attention and invents a few too?

Why this voluntary censorship?

I suspect the answer is less about the news than the subject of the news and the influence it may have on their interests. I suspect the answer may involve things like corporate owned priorities and investment opportunities.