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Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board cautions, based on the sparse specifics available in the public domain and comments by authority figures that the government may be concealing information about the magnitude of the accident at KAPS (Kakrapar Atomic Power Station) Unit 1


The Kakrapar Unit-1 PHWR Primary System Leakage Incident on March 11, 2016

The Kakrapar Unit-I nuclear reactor in Gujarat is undergoing a moderately large leakage of heavy water from its Primary Heat Transport (PHT) system since 9.00 AM on March 11,2016. From the very limited information released by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) of the government , as well as from the conversations I had with press people who have been in touch with nuclear officials, few inferences can be drawn.

Till 7.00 PM on March 12,2016 , the DAE officials have no clue as to where exactly the PHT leak is located and how big is the rate of irradiated heavy water that is leaking into the reactor containment . However, some reports indicate that the containment has been vented to the atmosphere at least once , if not more times , which I suspect indicates a tendency for pressure build up in that closed space due to release of hot heavy water and steam into the containment housing . If this is true, the leak is not small , but moderately large , and still continuing. No one confirms that any one has entered the containment (in protective clothing) for a quick physical assessment of the situation , perhaps it is not safe to do so because of the high radiationfields inside . When NPCIL officials state that the reactor cooling is maintained , I believe what they may be doing is to allow the heavy water or light water stored in the emergency cooling tanks to run once-through the system and continue to pour through the leak into the containment floor through the break .

All this points to the likelihood that what Kakrapar Unit-1 is undergoing is a small Loss-of-Coolant Accident (LOCA) in progress. It is most likely that one or more pressure tubes (PT) in the reactor (which contain the fuel bundles) have cracked open , leaking hot primary system heavy-water coolant into the containment housing . The reactor cooling is said to be maintained which , in view of the PT breach , can only be by supply of heavy water or light water from the storage tanks of the emergency cooling systems . While it may perhaps ensure bulk coolant temperatures in the PHT system to be well under control , it could still mean fuel centreline temperatures in the channel which may have a breach could be quite high . The seriousness of the accident and the potential high risks to the plant and personnel in the near vicinity are yet to be assessed , because NPCIL and AERB do not yet know where the location of the leak is or how to initiate actions to stop it. They were waiting for a team of AERB Specialists to reach Kakrapar in the afternoon of March 12 th. (today) to jointly decide between AERB & NPCIL how to proceed from here on. This is therefore a potentially serious accident in progress , and the DAE, NPCIL and AERB appear to be clearly saying at the moment that they know very little of what is happening. I was just told that a senior team from AERB has reached Kakrapar this evening and now the serious accident investigations will hopefully begin and decisions initiated .

In August 1983 , the Pickering Heavy Water Reactor in Canada had a serious Small LOCA , due to a sudden two-meter long rupture of a pressure tube (PT). Upon later analysis , the cause was found to be the mislocation of annulus gas spacer springs which allowed the pressure tube to sag and contact the calandria tube , leading to hydrogen enrichment of the cooler areas of the PT. This made the tube more brittle in such cooler locations and it ruptured due to the internal fluid pressure. In 1983 , when this accident in Canada occurred , India was under international nuclear sanctions following the Pokhran-1 test and it took some time before root causes of this accident were understood by our Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) institutions. But , the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) did commendable work immediately in analysing the phenomenon of hydriding of PTs in a PHWR , and carried out experiments, developed computer programs and the appropriate PT Integrity Inspection Equipment within the next decade. Based on all this work , a Pressure Tube Aging & Integrity Management Program was develop jointly by BARC & NPCIL , for strict adherence to and use by NPCIL in all their PHWRs. Besides , it was found essential that the PT material has to be changed to Niobium-stabilized Zircalloy , and accordingly all previous Indian PHWRs including Kakrapar Unit-1 were re-tubed with the new alloy tubes in subsequent years . But , this re-tubing did not preclude the need for strictly following of the PT Aging Management Program and the periodic checking of the garter spring position between the PT and the Calandria tube to minimize the PT sagging within the calandria tube. It may be possible that , having built more than 20 PHWRs , NPCIL and AERB in recent years have become overconfident and relaxed their strict adherence to this Aging Management Program , which might have been the reason for the current accident.

Let me caution the reader that the above conjecture is based on bits and pieces of reliable and not so reliable information gathered from different people close to the accident details and in positions of authority. Future detailed evaluation may or may not prove my entire set of conclusions or part of them to be not well-founded. But , technical experts are compelled to put out such conjectures because of the total lack of transparency of the Indian cilvilian nuclear power sector and the atomic energy commission (AEC) , the Dept. of Atomic Energy (DAE) , the NPCIL and the AERB . Public have a need to know and , therefore , the AEC and its sub-ordinate organizations need to promptly release status reports on the progressing safety incident which could affect their lives , to alleviate their concerns and anxieties . It is a series of such lapses in communication over the years which has built up the ever-increasing trust deficit in the DAE system among the general public. All future plans for expanding the civilian nuclear power sector should be put on hold until a truly independent nuclear safety regulator is put in place , who is not controlled by the AEC or the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) , who will then be answerable to openly communicating with the public on all civilian nuclear power matters.

(Dr. Gopalakrishnan is a Former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board , Government of India. He can be reached at )

This article was originally published on the Dianuke website.


On the day after ASN (The Nuclear Safety Authority in France) quietly published the findings of a serious fault in the reactor built by Areva at Flamanville, headlines in India proclaimed our Prime Minister Narendra Modi was out "shopping for nuclear power" in France. Incidentally, this is the reactor India plans for Jaitapur. One would imagine that the discovery of a serious flaw would at least postpone negotiations, if not bring a halt to them, but the Indian media and government both simply seem to have ignored the safety concerns, because today, it seems Modi is also "proud" of achieving this deal.

I suppose as a major world power without a serious nuclear disaster, we are lagging behind the world or something.

The flaw had been found in December, though disclosed only now. Murmurings of quality problems with the reactor have been rife with anti-nuclear activists (who are now supposed to be anti-national in a country aspiring to its own nuclear catastrophe) demanding investigations and tests and data to be made public and opposing it in every manner possible. Well, Areva itself has disclosed this flaw and it has been made public on the official site, so unless Areva is its own foreign-sponsored enemy, it is rather difficult to find a conspiracy here.

Contrast this with France, where the reactor already installed with the flaws is now waiting on an investigation as to its fate. It remains to be known whether the flaw can be corrected. Does it not then appear premature and unwise to invest national commitment on a potentially flawed design that may not be possible to improve on? Contrast this with the alert to China over two reactors also manufactured at the Creusot Forge, in Burgundy, France (owned by Areva) that could potentially contain this flaw. Contrast it with Europe, which is looking at nuclear power as an action against climate change, where the discovery of this flaw has led to calls to exercise caution in proceeding with a similar project and the chances are that the fate of the two reactors to be built at Hinkley Point will likely have to wait till the results of this investigation are known.

The scale of the Flamanville reactor - during installation
The scale of the Flamanville reactor - during installation

The 410 ton reactor in Flamanville was already installed in its concrete well when the flaw in the steel was discovered.The carbon content of steel in the pressure vessel cannot exceed 0.22 per cent due to risk of cracking during operations as well as reducing its operational lifetime. The steel in parts of the Flamanville plant was found to contain 0.30% of carbon. It is not going to be easy to move the 410 ton reactor vessel - if at all it is possible - and it is unclear what method could be used for repairs.

Technical clarifications concerning the manufacturing anomalies on the Flamanville EPR reactor pressure vessel

Investigations are on. An unfavorable review could well mean the final nail in the coffin of France's Nuclear Power industry, already plagued with delays and cost escalations. The plant, already 7 years overdue, had more than doubled its original estimated cost as per EDF's recent estimate from an original 3.3 billion Euro to 8 billion Euro. And this is before this flaw was found. Its start date, already pushed to 2017 is looking extremely unlikely at this point.

The release from ASN is explicit.

The nuclear pressure equipment regulation requires that the manufacturer limits the risks of heterogeneity in the materials used for manufacturing the components most important for safety. In order to address this technical requirement, AREVA carried out chemical and mechanical tests on a vessel head similar to that of the Flamanville EPR. The results of these tests, in late 2014, revealed the presence of a zone in which there was a high carbon concentration, leading to lower than expected mechanical toughness1 values. Initial measurements confirmed the presence of this anomaly in the reactor vessel head and reactor vessel bottom head of the Flamanville EPR. ASN received a proposal from AREVA for a further detailed test campaign on a representative vessel head, starting in April 2015, in order to precisely identify the location of the zone concerned and its mechanical properties.

ASN will make a decision on the acceptability of the test programme, check its correct performance and examine the file to be submitted by AREVA to demonstrate the robustness of the Flamanville EPR reactor vessel. It will also call on the services of its technical support organisation, IRSN (Institute of Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety), and the Advisory Committee of Experts for Nuclear Pressure Equipment.

"If the weakness of the vessel is confirmed, I wouldn't hold out much hope for EPR's survival," a former nuclear safety official told Le Parisien.

(FILES) - A photo taken on July 16, 2013 in Flamanville, northwestern France, shows the installation of a dome on a reactor's building on the construction site of the third European generation Pressurised Reactor (EPR). A new "anomaly" in the construction of the EPR at Flamanville was detected in the nuclear reactor, the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire (ASN - Nuclear Safety Authority) announced on April 5, 2015. AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAUCHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images
(FILES) - A photo taken on July 16, 2013 in Flamanville, northwestern France, shows the installation of a dome on a reactor's building on the construction site of the third European generation Pressurised Reactor (EPR). A new "anomaly" in the construction of the EPR at Flamanville was detected in the nuclear reactor, the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire (ASN - Nuclear Safety Authority) announced on April 5, 2015. AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAUCHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images

We discovered with the Rafale deal that India will simply succumb to an agreement against our interest if the other side holds out. We now seem to be discovering that India under Modi is so eager to claim credit for opportunities started but left incomplete by the previous regime that it does not even care for practical considerations for cost or safety. All this, of course is apart from the staunch opposition of locals at the site of the proposed plant - which neither government cared or cares much about, though I suppose the new Land Grab Ordinance (also known as the Land Acquisition Ordinance) will leave the locals with little right over their own land to refuse "development".

It is unclear what exactly Modi claims to be proud of in concluding such a deal.

When news like Fukushima hits, people start thinking of nuclear radiation leaks. Then, mistakenly, they imagine that risk from radiation is a very rare thing. While accidents on such a scale are rare, radiation leaks in themselves are not. For one, every running nuclear plant is already venting "acceptable amounts" of radiation into the environment on a daily basis.

Now, there are doctors who swear that there is no way to determine an amount which has no health risks. However, this post is about actual leaks, not releases. News from the last one year from my bookmarks and a few simple searches. Some of the news may be developments on long term contamination on radiation leaks, others may be new radiation leaks.

No particular reason for this beyond some reactions to the leak at RAPS a few days ago, that seemed to see this as a rare and acceptable thing.

  1. Fukushima, of course continues to leak radiation into the environment. The description of this is beyond an entry in a list.
  2. Chernobyl too continues to leak radiation through its crumbling sarcophagus, though on a lesser scale than Fukushima.
  3. Kansas State University - 29th June 2011: Radiation leaked at 149 times the Derived Air Concentration (DAC) limit for Iodine during a trial run of its reactor. Though four different systems caught the excessive radiation levels, operators reported their belief that this was due to the proximity of a radioactive sample near the monitors.  They did not disclose what kind of sample nor why it was near four different monitors, if that’s even possible. Plus, the sample they discuss showed Cesium, not Iodine.
  4. North Carolina State University - 7th July 2011: Officials said Thursday that there is a low-level water leak in the liner that surrounds the campus nuclear reactor, but that it poses no danger to the public.
  5. Submarine, off northeast China - 29th July 2011:  A rumor began spreading on the Chinese Internet sites that there was a radiation leak on a submarine stationed near Dalian in northeast China. As the story went, the accident occurred while technicians were installing new electronic gear on a Type 94 SSBN ( nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine). Not verified, but detailed. China denies, but no one believes denial.
  6. Kakrapar Atomic Power Station, Gujarat - 1st August 2011:  An incident from 30th May 2011 came to light where four temporary workers were exposed to 90mSv from spent fuel due to operator error. Health concerns were dismissed citing absence of immediate symptoms of radiation poisoning (usually with fatal doses). As per AERB, the dose limit for workers at a nuclear plant is 20mSv, which was deliberately ignored by station director P K Dutta when he made the following quote "A radiation of 90 mSv does not cause any harm. If we get our whole body CT scanned, we would be exposed to a nuclear radiation of 60 mSv,'' who also mentioned contract workers demanding regularization because of this incident as "taking advantage of it". Temporary workers being exposed to radiation and abandoned without adequate health support or information is an ongoing problem with nuclear plants.
  7. Dounreay Nuclear Plant, Scotland21st September 2011, Guardian: Scottish nuclear fuel leak 'will never be completely cleaned up' - Tens of thousands of radioactive fuel fragments escaped from the Dounreay plant between 1963 and 1984, polluting local beaches, the coastline and the seabed. Fishing has been banned within a two-kilometre radius of the plant since 1997. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has decided to give up on its aim of returning the seabed near the plant to a "pristine condition". Staff from here has been consulting at Fukushima to share experience.
  8. San Onofre Nuclear plant, California had trouble with premature wear in the cooling tubes leading to leaks of water and gas last summer. First one, then both reactors were shut down for investigation earlier, but this seems to now be a permanent shutdown currently. The exact amount of leakage is unknown, but officials say that it shouldn't be harmful. Only harmful enough to shut down a nuclear plant, I suppose, not health.
  9. Dounreay Nuclear Plant, Scotland - 8th October 2011: Radioactive liquid effluent is understood to have leaked inside a treatment facility. It did not exit the building. Dounreay was constructed in the 1950s as an experimental nuclear power complex, but has not generated electricity since 1994 and is currently being decommissioned by Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) who got a top safety award for their work in May 2011.
  10. Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), Pakistan - 30th October 2011: heavy water leaked from a feeder pipe to the reactor leading to a seven hour emergency till it was contained. The plant was already shut down for maintenance.
  11. Point Lepreau, Canada - second half of November 2011: 23 barrels of water laced with the toxic chemical hydrazine was released into the Bay of Fundy.
  12. Point Lepreau, Canada - December 13th 2011: Almost 6 litres of heavy water splashed to the floor, requiring an immediate evacuation of the building. Point Lepreau had been shutdown for refurbishment since 2008, and the leaks happened during the preparations to restart it. Currently, it is stopped till further investigation.
  13. Orchid Island, Taiwan - 30th December 2011: Tao Aborigines from Orchid Island protested on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, saying radioactive material was leaking from a nuclear waste dump on the island. They demanded that the storage facility be removed. Although residents of Orchid Island have long suspected that a radioactive leak has occurred, it was first officially confirmed when Academia Sinica research fellow Huh Chih-an detected radioactivity on the island after being commissioned by Taipower in November.
  14. Prarie Island Nuclear Power Plant - 5th January 2012: Leak found. Alert declared.
  15. Exelon Byron Nuclear Generating Station, Ogle County, about 100 miles west of Chicago, near Rockford - 30th January 2012: The supply of power from off-site (needed to maintain backup for safety systems) went down, forcing Exelon to take Unit No. 2 offline. Steam containing tritium had to be vented from the reactor triggering panic.
  16. North Anna, Virginia, US - 17th February 2012: water taken from an on-site groundwater sampling point contained an unusually high level of tritium — more than twice the EPA's standard for drinking water.
  17. Bruce power, Lake Huron, 240km northwest of Toronto, Canada - 17th March 2012: Leaks were discovered as the reactors were being powered up after an earlier shutdown.
  18. EDF Nuclear Power Plant at Penly, Normandy, France - 5th April 2012:  A faulty joint on a pump leaked lubricant from the pump used to cool the reactor, which caused two small fires and a low level leak inside the reactor building.
  19. Point Lepreau, Canada - 21st May 2012: A third leak. 300 litres of tritiated heavy water spilled on May 21 when a valve opened too soon during pressure testing at the plant. Poor training has been cited as one of the causes for the accident.
  20. Rawatbhata Atomic Power Plant (RAPP), Rajasthan, India - some time near 25th May 2012 - 38 workers working on heavy water and tritium supply channels were exposed to tritium leaks (unspecified quantity), 3 of them in doses exceeding allowed dose.
  21. Davis-Besse nuclear station in Ohio - 6th June 2012: Small amount of radioactive water sprayed through a minor leak and no radiation escaped the plant.
  22. Dounreay, Scotland - 7th June2012: A steady decline in urine levels for uranium and plutonium has been reported for workers here.
  23. Prarie Islands Spent Nuclear Fuel pools - 8th June 2012: A U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the NRC violated a federal act by neglecting to run in-depth studies on how storing radioactive waste at nuclear power plants impacts health and the environment. Read document. 1,500 tons of high-level irradiated waste is stored in heavy steel and concrete casks on a tarmac a few hundred feet from the Hudson River. The Westchester-based plant produces about 30 tons of radioactive waste every 18 months, which is then crammed into two overcrowded, 40-foot deep spent fuel pools. Each pool holds about 1,000 tons of radioactive waste and has been leaking into the ground and river for years.
  24. Pallisades Nuclear Plant, Michigan, US  - 12th June 2012: The plant was shut down and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigation has been started over a year long leak of approximately 31.8 gallons of borated water per day (not heavily radioactive - used to stop fission) from a cooling tank into the reactor's control room. The operator believes there may be several leaks involved, but the leaks have not been found yet, so repairs are pending. Pallisades had five unplanned shutdowns in 2011. NRC has downgraded the safety rating for the plant.
  25. Susquehanna Nuclear Plant - 20th june 2012: PPL Corp. shut down the Unit 1 reactor at its Susquehanna nuclear power plant near Berwick on Tuesday to investigate what it called a minor water leak inside the container structure surrounding the reactor. Unit 1 had been online only 11 days since a 69-day shutdown starting March 31, during which the company repaired cracks in Unit 1 turbine blades.

And there are more. I have gone through about half the tabs I opened. Bored now. This list is nowhere near comprehensive. An astonishing 75% of all US nuclear reactors were found to be leaking tritium last year.

The simple point I am trying to make is that claims of safety by the pro-nuclear lobby are highly exaggerated.


The following post was originally published on 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.


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.



Is it time for India to Quit Nuclear Power?

Once, US stunned the world with the power of nuclear bombs. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed, and a messy war abruptly ended. Then, atomic energy could also be used for peaceful purposes! India was a newborn country with little more than a reputation for crippling poverty and a colonial self-image we were clawing out of. But we had a lot of people, and a lot of smart people too. Pursuit of nuclear power was a goal as important for military might as for a certain technological status. I don't think it was ever about electricity for electricity's sake.

The world has changed. Nuclear energy no longer has the fiction of "near free" attached to it. In fact, it is so expensive, that nuclear energy in any country is not feasible without government subsidies and government responsibility in the event of an accident. For all the claims of "safe" and "cheap" no insurance company insures a nuclear plant. The world at large seems to be moving away from nuclear energy. A quick look at the age of reactors worldwide:

Operational reactors by age - worldwide

A more telling way to look at this is the Nuclear Capacity Installed by year chart - all official IAEA PRIS:

Nuclear Capacity Installed By Year

There have been very few reactors commissioned since Chernobyl which happened in 1986. The chart hits a peak for two years before that. But slowly, in recent years, there were construction charts, which peaked in 2010 and crashed after 2011 - Fukushima.

Construction starts on Nuclear Reactors

An analysis by the WorldWatch Institute mentions still smaller numbers (IAEA has a generous view of nuclear energy - to put it mildly*). It says:

Although construction on 16 new reactors began in 2010—the highest number in over two decades—that number fell to just two in 2011, with India and Pakistan each starting construction on a plant. In addition to this dramatically slowed rate of construction, the first 10 months of 2011 saw the closing of 13 nuclear reactors, reducing the total number of reactors in operation around the world from 441 at the beginning of the year to 433.

India, however is still stubbornly plodding along in its commitment to an obsession for nuclear energy in the face of all logic. Government and media collude to minimize perceptions of costs - financial or human as well as viable alternatives.

In December, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh dismissed the idea of letting the Koodankulam plant stay idle anymore, because 14 thousand crore rupees had been invested in it. Forget junking the plant, it can't even remain idle any further because it is expensive. Not that the people of Koodankulam had asked for a single rupee to be invested there. Nor had anyone asked the construction to proceed without the appropriate assessments made with a genuine interest in safety rather than pushing papers through because the plant had to be made. The investment bulldozered over all resistance and now is the reason to bulldoze over any further resistance. One can understand the point being made by the Prime Minister. That plant costs one million dollars per day to sit idle, according to some.That would be rupees 5 crore, give or take. Per day.

This is the money for Atomic Energy and Renewable energy in the budgets from 1999 to our current one for 2013

[table id=3 /]

Here's an easy graph.

There are other costs involved

India does not have large uranium reserves, and we depend on imports for our fuel. If in the future, India did something that displeased the other nations (or its allies - or US - which is like Godfather), disallowing uranium exports to India would be a massive pressure to bend the country into conformity.

And it is already happening in the form of unnecessary purchases of reactors in order to have access to uranium. A scathing article by A Gopalkrishnan in the DNA outlines many of the opaque and irregular ways of nuclear power in India. I think you will find the foreign hand our Prime Minister was talking about, except that it is not the activists. And why should you pay attention to what this A. Gopalkrishnan says? Because he is a former chairman of the AERB - our supposed watchdog that is firmly caged in by our nuclear mafia. Thus, apart from the cost of importing fuel, there is a hefty political and economic toll we pay. And the threat is not insignificant. Our nuclear power production dropped 12.83% from 2006 to 2008 before we signed all the flurries of agreements and what-nots. More reactors only means greater potential for such drops because more reactors run out of fuel.

We have plenty of Thorium, but our tech for it isn't capable of producing electricity at the moment. Our normal "indigenous" method of importing almost everything that can be imported will not work here, since there are no functioning thorium reactors in the world. This will need more money to develop, and for all thorium's much publicized advantages, a big challenge is fabrication. Thorium fuel is considerably more difficult to fabricate and will also require us to develop the capacity to fabricate it in complete isolation and remote operation - apart from the difficulties of the so far unprecedented technology itself. Do not believe stories about reactors in Kalpakkam running on thorium. They don't. They use a uranium-plutonium mix - easy to verify for yourself. They will *eventually* use thorium, but seeing as how we have achieved about half the nuclear power capability we had predicted for ourselves for 1987, don't hold your breath and wait for the electricity.

Other costs include devastating potential for human damage, environmental contamination, health problems and more. This article is long, so running through this very briefly. The potential for accident is not as small as you imagine. Guardian lists 32 serious nuclear accidents with radioactive releases since 1952. It is now 2012. It works out to slightly more than one accident every two years as a general trend. Considering that there are only 436 reactors in operation, even considering 5 that were decommissioned (though newer ones counted came up after them) we come to 441 - and 32 serious accidents resulting in release of radioactivity in the environment and requiring decontamination. The three biggies - Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Daichii - required considerably more than that. They have put entire areas of our planet out of bounds for people. And this list does not include serious accidents that did not result in radioactive releases, like the Naroda fire, which was an INES 3 and the plant was closed for over 2 years for repairs.

A superb investigative story by Kunal Majumder in the Tehelka: Accident Sites - radiation, cancer, blindness, tardiness, cover-ups. The lessons from the Kalpakkam nuclear facility. An NGO called ASPIRE was commissioned by the DEA itself to conduct studies on the health consequences on people near nuclear plants. Accordingly, they did a study of 22 villages within 8 km of the plant and three villages at 50km. The report stated a morbidity 2-3 times higher, an activist who examined it closely says it shows a 350% higher morbidity. Read the report, it also mentions earlier research linking nuclear plants with health risks. And then there is DNA Investigations: Deaths Confirm Cancer risks near Nuclear Plants:

In response to a Right to Information (RTI) query in October last year, the DAE said nine people, including three employees working at the Kalpakkam atomic reactor, about 70km from Chennai, died of multiple myeloma and bone cancer between 1995 and 2011. The department had earlier refused to divulge information despite an RTI query in 2010.

There are actually plenty of these and I will do a separate article on health risks. To get buried in an avalanche of very accurate reports from the ground around nuclear plants, mines and other facilities, do a search for "nuclear plant", or "radiation", etc on the Tehelka website. They have been doing an amazing job. Get overwhelmed.

Depending on whether you are concerned about India's horrible sex ratio, or whether you are fine with us having fewer and fewer girls or perhaps would like the reduced chances of girl children without feeling guilty, this news story in National Geographic may hold importance for you. Scientists studied data from 1975 to 2007 and found links between the birth of more boys than girls and events with large releases of radiation. Tellingly, it is titled Millions Fewer Girls Born Due to Nuclear Radiation? Read this. Seriously. Is it possible that India's failure to control its sex ratio may have causes beyond actions of people that should be investigated?

Here is an environmental dose analysis from background radiation in the environmental gamma monitoring stations at Kalpakkam in the Indian Journal of Environmental Protection - it measures radiation from routine 41Ar radioactive releases from the plant - these are deliberate and routine releases and part of how nuclear reactors work, not leaks. The annual dose from the plume for various stations has been tabulated. This kind of material should be public on the sites of DEA, but it isn't. In this opaque landscape of information, Dr. Sangamitra Gadekar is an oasis of numbers. His measurements at our Jadugoda Uranium mine were reported in the Times of India in 2001:

A vent from the underground mines was as high as 5,851.68 millirem a year, which is 58 times more than permitted limit... The radiation is high everywhere. The reading in the mechua village football field where radioactive tailings lie scattered around was 1,296.48 millirem a year. The readings in the area of the first tailing pond were as high as 5,291.04 millirem a year. Readings on the road (constructed by ucil using tailings) were as high as 5,256 millirem a year.

You know the beauty of quoting radiation readings from an article in 2001? They are unlikely to have vanished - naturally, or as a coverup. They can only be more. Radiaoactive contamination is persistent. Just like the governments affidavit admitting radioactive contamination of water and marine life in the Thane Creek by the BARC (yes MUMBAI) can be verified and taken further whenever activists are able to break through the mafia, because it is going nowhere.

The same article quotes prof N K Upadhyay of the centre for applied ecology, Jamshedpur, who conducted a study on the radiation-related problems at jadogoda.

The radiation affects bone marrow cells, intestines, skin, immune responsive cells, entire stem cell population and also the lymphocytes. It wrecks the hormonal system and even causes mutation. But worst of all, it affects the sperm cells, altering the genetic characteristics of their DNA and RNA. The children of these miners are born mentally retarded, and deformed.

And again Dr. Sanghamitra:

Cses of thalasemia, leukemia (blood cancer), severe anemia, physical deformities such as missing limbs, mental retardation, and even cases of external stomachs due to the absence of the abdominal wall are commonly found in the children of the area. In my opinion, this has been caused by the extremely high radiation levels.

The world at large seems to be moving away from nuclear energy, and most developed countries are decommissioning reactors faster than they are building them.

Much of the cost is unclear. To put it in the blunt words of Ramchandra Guha - a historian:

No ordinary citizen can get anywhere near an atomic installation, and even the most well-connected historian cannot get anywhere near the records of the AEC or its associated bodies.

But this is not all, there are no independent investigations of radiation leaked to the environment. There are no police or CBI investigations into reports of criminal scams - like allegations in the 70s-80s of irradiating diamonds in the Apsara reactor at BARC (this link has massive information) to produce fake black diamonds that got sold in the market for a higher price and worn by people and were dangerously radioactive, leading to the DTC to directly ask the government to ask this practice to be stopped. No police or CBI investigation happened. There are reports of laborers exposed to dangerous levels of radiation while working who are simply replaced without any continuing assistance, compensation or even information on risks to their health. Many of these don't even make it to the records as having been employed at all. Let me simply repeat - there is no body that can make our nuclear machinery do anything. AERB reports to and gets funds from the AEC which includes heads of NPCIL and DEA. That is like your employee vouching for your lack of corruption.

While the government was busy reassuring everyone that the Koodankulam plant is safe, CNN IBN released information on 25 intrusions in BARC in 2 years. This is slightly more than one intrusion a month. Intrusion means perimeter breached - as in not detected and stopped at boundary, get it? Last year, two ships grounded at Juhu beach within months of each other. Citizens raised alarm in both cases. Including Amitabh Bachchan getting all excited on Twitter. The Coast Guard then paid attention. Considering how the 26/11 attackers entered India, and how the water near Mumbai is a fairly small area to patrol, this was already incredible.

Turns out BARC got similar intrusions. This is a super high security area in MUMBAI. What kind of security can the plant at Koodankulam expect from such intrusions? Will plant security be able to defend reactors from 26/11 type attacks where elite commandos took three days to control? Does a terrorist need to break reinforced concrete to create a radioactive accident, or will blowing cooling and power systems do the trick? Note that these two reactors are the biggest in India. For that matter, why does an enemy need nuclear missiles, if 100s of times that nuclear material is sitting in reactors? Better targetted missiles should do the trick, no?

Many compare the security risk to a nuclear plant with that for say, a dam or bridge. But beyond the immediate damage, neither the dam nor bridge will cause lasting damage in the future. Do we or do we not have a responsibility to leave our children a healthy world?

Tarapur, for example has a stockpile of 40 years worth spent fuel. We don't yet have long term storage for nuclear waste. Whatever it turns out to be, it will have to be secure from any kind of threat - human or natural - or errors resulting in breaches for thousands of years. Anyone consider the cost of that? The Indian sub-continent is steadily moving up - remember the rising height of the Himalaya? Who knows what the earthquake risks will be for *any* place fifty years in the future? Or do we add costs for more storage construction and then the safe transfer from the highly radioactive environment to another place?

All this is a cost, because these are the undesirable things going hand in hand with our nuclear power.

What are we getting for this cost?

Now here is our power production as a country. The green bit in the lower right is your nuclear energy production. Beats only diesel generators (thin yellow next to it) when it comes to sources - after all this time, money, risks, corruption, suppression of people, international political boot licking, security risk, secrecy and what not.

Breakdown of the electricity production capacity of India by source

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) = Total 190592.55MW

As you can see, after all this investment, nuclear power does not provide any kind of major source of electricity. Nowhere near the savior it is supposed to be. In half the time invested in atomic energy and 1/7.7th of the budget investment, we are getting 22233MW from renewable energy.

And how good are we at doing this?

Here are figures from the IAEA PRIS for unplanned capability loss for up to 2010 - which is the latest available so far. For your convenience, I have kept this a sortable table. Feel free to click around and compare situations with countries. The only country to have an unplanned capability loss that is worse than ours is Pakistan. But Pakistan has only 2 reactors.

For the record, when it comes to IAEA, "unplanned" is not subject to interpretation. Unplanned Capability Loss is described explicitly as:

Unplanned energy loss is energy that was not produced during the period because of unplanned shutdowns, outage extensions, or unplanned load reductions due to causes under plant management control. Energy loss is considered to be unplanned if it is not scheduled at least four weeks in advance.

[table id=4 /]

A quick look at how our electricity capacity is growing. I have again used an IAEA table, even though it is woefully out of date, because it is official. To expand the data to current statistics yourself, you can find the numbers in the "Annual reports of the CEA" at the Central Electricity Authority Website reports page:

[table id=5 /]


But by now you know the pattern. The pampered kid is usually the laziest, no? Growing at this rate, nuclear power is only going to get more and more irrelevant and cost more and more in investments in reactors, fuel, security and what not.


* About the mention of IAEA as a pro-nuclear entity, the IAEA describes itself as "The IAEA is the world's center of cooperation in the nuclear field. It was set up in 1957 as the world's "Atoms for Peace" organization within the United Nations family. The Agency works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies." It is unknown if the IAEA has actually drawn the line anywhere. Its actions consistently take the most accommodating view of any nuclear situation - be it Chernobyl toll or the dubious Fukushima cold shutdown. The matter of fact is that the world doesn't actually have a safety watch dog for nuclear power or nuclear anything.