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Here are a list of ideas I can think of to make India more self-reliant even in today's world of mega imports and consumer mentality. India may not have a lot of money (at least among the masses) or enough jobs for all to earn, but one huge resource India has that we don't use is manpower. With a population of 1.2 billion people, we have a lot of people who can invest effort to make their own lives better.

Decentralize power

This one is the biggest. Lack of electricity is a multi-faceted problem. It isn't that India isn't adding capacity, it is also that use of electricity is increasing recklessly. I think offering an amount of electricity completely for free per month combined with enabling people to produce their own electricity which they can use for free will help improve availability of electricity for all. I am basically talking of turning the National grid from the main source of power to a back up source of power for as many people in the country as possible, while the main source becomes electricity they produce and use for near free using whatever means are suitable for their home.

Some ideas:

  • Rooftop water heating. This water can be used not only for bathing, but speeding up cooking. Rooftop water heaters can be made at home for very cheap and purcased ones are also available.
  • Solar cooking - for people with rooftops, gardens or sunlit balconies, solar cooking can offer healthier food along with fuel savings if fuel is only used when solar cooking is not possible.
  • Alternative power production. Many homes can produce power from solar panels, small windmills, local streams, sea power, biogas or other means, drawing power from providers only if/when they fall short.. If the main source of power can be shifted to self-produced renewables, you will not only reduce dependence on National grid, many people will be able to completely eliminate one expense from their life - not a minor achievement for a country with many people fighting for affordable living. Obviously not all will be able to do it, but it is a big enough incentive for homes to start being designed to be energy efficient and energy producing. Not to mention those who cannot will have better electricity available if those who can adopt these methods (and profit from savings too - not "sacrifice in larger interest" type exploitation)
  • Outdoor installations using electricity - like hoardings, street lights, traffic signals and so on, can easily be producing their own electricity.
  • Innovative cooperative power production should be encouraged - for example, villagers contributing manure to a biogas plant to fuel biogas vehicles and sharing profits according to their contributions (and getting the discards as fertilizer).

This is a general idea. Obviously far more specific ideas are possible, like societies using solar power to light all common areas or NGOs that help more and more people be self-reliant on electricity, or people selling surplus electricity to the state (or "banking" it for use when they fall short).

Fuel self-reliance

AAP should study the Cuban Special Period for the drastic reforms they brought about that ended up creating a healthier country that worked on 10% of the fuel it used to use.

"The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" is a must watch film.

But more can be done. For example, stress on making roads bicycle safe and requiring parking lots to have bicycle stands (so you can lock your bicycle to it, and it can't simply be carried away and stolen) will automatically increase the people who can use bicycles for transportation without any fuel costs and minimal maintenance costs (in the whole of last year, I have spent Rs.330 on my bicycle - more than half of it on a seat I didn't "need", but liked).

Food self-reliance

Shifting to organic farming is among their biggest revolutionary moves that not just reduced costs related with fertilizers and pollution, Cuba saw drops in heart attacks and diabetes and such statistics as well. From Wikipedia:

Manuel Franco describes the Special Period as "the first, and probably the only, natural experiment, born of unfortunate circumstances, where large effects on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality have been related to sustained population-wide weight loss as a result of increased physical activity and reduced caloric intake".

A paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology, says that "during 1997-2002, there were declines in deaths attributed to diabetes (51%), coronary heart disease (35%), stroke (20%), and all causes (18%).

Home food growing, urban gardening, encouraging use of all available land to produce food, reclaiming damaged soil with natural manures, advice for home farmers, local farmer markets and more are among many things Cuba did out of necessity and now embrace as normal life. 80% of food in Cuba is organically grown.

Encouraging local economies, investing and purchasing locally will bring resilience to rural economies, as well as keep money in the area instead of draining it into cities. Communities should be encouraged to produce what they need to buy from a distance.

Decentralization of education

Diversity in education needs to be developed to address practical use. Apprenticeships, vocational education needs to be developed for specializations for practical jobs that are in demand - think "night school certificate in business management, law and strategies for running a street stall". Advanced education should be subsidized only on the condition of mandatory service in government projects/initiatives/organizations - and I'm not talking of token years, I'm talking of govt institutions being used to fulfill urgent national needs.  Ten years minimum, till a point where country stops needing advanced professionals this badly, and years can be reduced. It does not make sense to provide cheap education for those who will go on to earn many times the unsubsidized amount privately, while the country continues to suffer for lack services it is subsidizing heavily, but still not utilizing. It will also encourage private organizations to develop quality education in critical areas like medicine if they can be assured of students who do not wish to do mandatory service and are willing to pay well for a career that in turn will pay them well. Right now, a private college cannot compete with drastically and artificially reduced government college fees - particularly in areas like medicine. So you simply don't have very many of them.


New qualification for a kind of doctor should be created who are trained to deal with the bulk of usual needs - cough, cold, fever, small wounds, etc and refer to larger hospitals for anything beyond that. Such "doctors" should be available in every village and training courses should be short duration. Priority must be given for applicants from an area without access to medical care rather than marks and such.

Midwives should be trained professionally at government expense and midwivery should be encouraged in areas where hospitals with maternity wards are not available - considerable research shows that hospitals can be a source of INFECTIONS for newborns. Natural birthing techniques have also proved to be considerably more stress free and birthing facilities should be encouraged to research and provide more caring environments. Ideally, maternity hospitals/wards should be increased.

Government healthcare should offer ALL procedures commonly used in diagnosis and treatment. For example, try asking for a government MRI scan facility in Mumbai - a fairly common procedure. And this is Mumbai we are talking about. Not some village in the back of beyond.


Asking children to take notes from their teacher to their parents should be banned. Teachers should contact parents independently and children must not be forced to carry humiliating words about themselves between adults and be on hand to face any ensuing anger.

Schools should have independent child welfare worker (paid by government) desks freely available to all children to contact and discuss their problems or needs or complain of abuse. These child welfare worker must be routinely reposted between schools to prevent collusion.

Revision of Intellectual Property laws

Any government funded research - however minimally - must mandatorily be open content and available for citizens to learn from and use.

Recovering research and investment from research must be encouraged to seek alternative means other than "passive income" that restricts use, prevents challenges to cost effectiveness or peer review for effectiveness or peer improvements. It is difficult to believe that a company that makes a drug and knows it inside out cannot produce it cheaper than a "copycat" who must reverse engineer and learn it before producing. Or that it has no means of earning from it other than making everyone who wants to use it PAY. Clearly this is an exploitative model aimed at making the government uphold private property. Knowledge doesn't end with production. Exceptional cases should have to apply for an exception to be made in a court of law - that establishes how it is in the country's interest to protect that monopoly.

Also, the current propaganda would have you believe that generics go to the neighborhood zerox machine instead of having proper labs, which is bull shit. They still have to make their product - which may be a copy - test it, produce it, quality control it, and so on.

Music, for example. A day spent on making a sound track can pay you for years. But if I have purchased a copy, is that copy mine, or not? I didn't purchase the sound track, I purchased copy, but I should be able to do what I want with MY COPY. Why cannot I use it as I wish including making copies of the copy or sharing? The idea of "stealing" is nonsense. I am copying what I purchased, not what is sitting in the composer's home. We have created these "passive income" ideas, that result in those with the means to own such ideas to earn infinitely from them. The corollary is that if you cannot own such property, you will forever be at a disadvantage. Inequality will keep you there. The chap making chairs will forever be poorer because he can sell that chair only once. Thus perpetually keeping those who create tangible products poorer than those who can create easily duplicated ones, but charge for each duplication (which requires no effort/investment on their part)

For a farmer to create a pump that uses three of the best innovations will not be possible. Not because he can't, but because he can't afford the "permission". Why shouldn't he have access to all twenty designs, use, mix, make them all, test, choose the best, and make a hundred of it for all farmers of his area and profit? If they are really good and competitive, he will make one for himself, but won't be able to produce to sell at a cost lower than the available invention. Anyone say free market?

Strangely, those arguing for free markets are the biggest advocates of government protected monopolies - only in areas other than the current ones.

Investment risks are a fact of all business, not only innovation. Investing all your money into a shop won't give you the right to prevent someone from copying your design and USP if it becomes popular (check out the proliferation of coffee bars and number of "outlets" selling vada paav variants). Is the loss of monopoly by the shop any less a risk? Or are the investments of some more valuable than others?

An innovator unwilling to take the risk will not take it, someone else will. Just like everyone else. Human innovation is hardly going to stop because you can't turn it into a passive cash cow.

Opening knowledge and its free use to all citizens will go a long long way toward allowing access to new knowledge for all in a country where some people have incomes larger than many countries and the vast majority have to do creative maths from month to month just to afford normal living.

Not just exposing and punishing, but FIXING damage from corruption

My favorite example here is the Irrigation scam, but really, every scam. If people are found to be seriously deprived of their rights and particularly if there are serious consequences, apart from exposing scams and punishing the accountable, it should be the government's responsibility to treat the damage from the scam on the scale of a national crisis and make immediate provisions to provide relief. The black paper and white paper business apart, what was done to restore or provide immediate relief for 10 years of missing irrigation and the resulting problems for the farmers? These actions should happen from regular funds for dealing with crisis situations like earthquakes - for example. When the legal process of the scam is complete, including punishments, these costs must be recovered from the assets of the accused. But the relief to those harmed by the scam must be immediate - as soon as the denial of necessity is confirmed.

Food quality control

There needs to be clear information provided for people who may need to complain about quality of food sold - either as product or restaurants or stalls, with clear procedure for investigation and punishment, including banning product or business if problem is serious enough. I suppose the same should handle things like MidDay meals or quality of govt rations related complaints. These facilities should include labs for testing and teams to conduct sting operations.

Reduce taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, introduce quality control and 50% of tax collected must go to associated healthcare

Every budget sees a rise in taxes on "addictions", which rarely are questioned, because no one wants to "defend a wrong" it is also usually peddled as a deterrent to improve health, but in reality is a cash cow for a government perpetually overspending and planning badly. Rising prices of cigarettes and alcohol rarely cause addicts to quit. Instead, those who cannot afford, switch to poorer quality products and ADD risk to their health. Furthermore, the government that apparently cares so much for the health of smokers/drinkers is not visible doing anything in particular to help those they claim to care about while milking money.

There is a need for quality control. Who do people approach when your cigarette has twigs, or smells more like dry leaves burning than tobacco? Who should people approach if some country liquor tastes "off"? This is important. These are huge industries with equally huge potential for corruption and little oversight, because of the "shame" factor. Why do smoking "lounges" have to be humiliating? Are those who use them criminals? Poorly ventilated rooms full of acrid smoke that are worse than smoking and used pretty much like one uses a public urinal. Go in, smoke, come out, back into civilized society. Is this deliberate marginalization of smokers at the cost of their health fair? All because open areas - where no harm from passive smoking has ever been proved - must be kept sanitized for the "real" citizens?

For that matter, there is nothing inherently wrong with country liquor if quality can be ensured. The main fear about it is risks related with dangerous substances being mixed or byproducts of risky ingredients. This should not be so difficult to govern. Yet we have so many deaths related with country liquor.

But most importantly, 50% of taxes collected from cigarettes and alcohol should be spent on research and free healthcare and deaddiction support. Tuberculosis is a menace in India. While it isn't solely caused by cigarettes, why can't the funds from taxing cigarettes fund research and better treatments (or increased reach) for attacking this mega killer that is growing resistant to treatment? Why can't more treatment centers be made for alcoholics with 50% of funds from taxing alcohol? Treatment for liver failure, counselling? Humanitarian aid to abused families in many instances? Why is there no connection between what the country earns from and what it spends on, even where desperate needs are visible?


And more. This page will keep getting updated. Drop back later to see what's new.


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.


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.


My friend Haresh Raichura wrote an interesting post on the power of attention to magnify things. You can read it here: New Laws of Science about Which We Are Not Ready Even To Listen

Apart from it being a subject of my interest, it mixed several concepts to come up with ideas that were worth talking about. Some of them, I bring up here.

Scientists say that, from the day they measured distance between Earth and Sun, the distance has started increasing. ........In same way everything they measured, started growing and expanding.

In my opinion, you misunderstood what was being said. Esoteric meditation and visualizaiton types often speak of the universe expanding. What they mean is that your awareness is expanding, and this must not be taken literally 😀 Though the physical universe is expanding in a measurable, physical way. It will expand pretty much in the same way whether you measure it or not. This is not the distance between earth and sun which is one Astronomical Unit and varies only slightly depending on the position in orbit. It does not increase with measurement. Nor does the size of the earth as such, though there is evidence of a very, very slow change of shape.

Whatever you focus on, expands: Or rather it takes up more space in your reality. The principle of Appreciative Inquiry. We notice more of what we are looking for would be a more accurate way of putting it. If there are 50 red and 50 blue dots in a square, asking you if red are more will make that seem true, asking if blue are more will do the opposite. This is about perception. The number of dots doesn't change, we register more dots. If thinking of wealth and poverty were to create those, we wouldn't still have our crisis with poverty, because this phenomenon has been observed for quite a long time now. We could simply make teaching thinking rich a part of education and be done with it.

However, there are times when it works to create change. It is also formalized into a method for creating change called Appreciative Inquiry, which magnifies the life giving forces of a [human] system. This uses several behavioral peculiarities - we are constantly responding to things, and responding on a same level. If I say "apples" - you may think/say "oranges/fruit/red" for example, but are unlikely to think "cement, alligator" It is how our process of recall works. Input triggers associated thoughts in our brain.

To form a rational/coherent response, we also are accustomed to responding in a similar way. For example, if I say "What is the time?" you are likely to tell me the time, or say that you don't know, or ask about the date, etc" Maybe follow that with something about you being in a hurry or having free time, or some model of a watch, etc. You are unlikely to say "Deep sea diving has unique safety concerns" - it isn't logical.

So, in a way, what I ask has an influence on what you think and say. If I ask "do you like your new office?" you think one thing and if I ask "what is your new office like" it makes you answer in a slightly different way - even though on one level it is the same question.

So this "think about what you want and it will increase" kind of logic, in my opinion works to create that perception, but if you want it to show results, then that is possible only where your change in perception is sensed by the environment around you and it changes the responses you get. For example, if everyone in you office is irritable and intolerant and defensive, and you start speaking in a more abundant, non-combative way, it will trigger changes in the office. However, your observations about scams and crime are not correct, in my view. You have no direct ability to influence the actions of those generating those statistics. In that case, I don't think whether you look at them or not will cause a difference to the number. Not looking at them will take them out of your awareness and you will think that they don't exist or that things are better now - which is a great goal in itself for things you have no power to change, but the media cannot and should not ignore.

We ignored farmer deaths and India was shining, but a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide. We ignore poverty and think of India as an emerging superpower with world class facilities, but that doesn't change the fact that a majority of our population leads hand to mouth lives even now. It was our perception that changed. We did not register the poverty or agrarian distress, so to our understanding of India, those things didn't exist. It is the same with scams. the scams we are discovering now have been perpetrated way before we thought of this experiment. The scam has happened. All we can change is our perception of it, not the reality.

But this is strictly my view of the matter, and there are other things that imply the possibility of the unconscious mind to have a greater impact on the world manifested than we imagine. Like getting a pain in a physical part of the body due to emotional trouble, or who knows... the unconscious is a realm we can only guess at at best as we touch a sliver of its surface.

I admit that I have encountered happenings that seem to be related on an unconscious level, but I couldn't figure out how. I am not able to rule out the possibility that there are ways in which the unconscious mind manifests tangible and measurable changes without behavioral involvement.

So what I am saying is that even if we look at the part that is true, it takes carefully crafted changes or questions to trigger change outside the individual.

The Central Electricity Authority issues an annual report describing the electricity situation of the country. The latest available information is the monthly power supply report for February 2012, which says our total Peak (MW) requirement was 128,680MW, availability was 113,086MW, so we had a shortfall of 15,594MW or 12.1%. Our Energy (MU) requirement was 861,591, availability 788,355 and shortage was 73,236 or 8.5%.  Our requirement during 2010-11 was 122,287MW, availability was 110,256MW, which means a shortage of 12,031MW or 9.8%. The projected needs for 2011-12 are requirement 136193MW, Availability 118676MW, Shortfall 17517MW or 12.9%. This obviously excludes un-electrified areas. Here is an alternative.

Cutting down on Transmission and Distribution losses

This is a biggie. Seriously. Transmission and distribution losses currently amount to 34% of our electricity production (2010). According to World Bank data, here is the profile of our transmission and distribution losses over the years till 2009. [table id=6 /] To make it graphically clear:

Transmission and distribution losses in India over the years

But this, gory as it looks, is not the worst of it. in 2008, the government created the Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme APDRPwhich became the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme. Current data from it is really unclear.

Particularly significantly, there is no overall number for Transmission and Distribution losses or Aggregate Technical & Commercial (AT&C) losses as it calls them, so there are gaps in information and uniformity. However, there is something very useful. They have the AT&C losses by region and utility, which is very telling. The table has data for only half the places, but it is current. I was able to find data for 415 towns. Utilities with more than 50% AT&C losses in 38 towns:

TownAT&ClossesData period
Bhind81.98Dec09 to Feb10
Porsa80.92Apr10 to June10
Sabalgarh78.39Jun10 to Aug10
Joura75.51Apr10 to June10
Damoh71.05Feb10 to Apr10
Sironj69.74Apr10 to June10
Ambah68.9Apr10 to June10
Gohad68.81Dec09 to Feb10
Morena68.77Apr10 to June10
Karauli67.72Sep09 to Feb10
Sheopur67.6Dec09 to Feb10
Kodinar67.55Aug 09 to Jan 10
Kodinar67.55Aug 09 to Jan 10
Sarangpur64.12Dec09 to Feb10
Shivpuri63.85Dec09 to Feb10
Bari63.23May10 to Oct10
Gwalior63.16Dec09 to Feb10
Datia61.99Dec09 to Feb10
Mungeli61.97Jul10 to Sep10
Chhatarpur60.55Apr10 to June10
Dabra60.33Dec09 to Feb10
Aland60.15Apr10 to June10
Bhalki59.85Apr10 to June10
Shajapur59.5Nov10 to Jan11
Khetri59.27Jul10 to Dec10
Medak59.09May 11 to May 11
Rewa57.62Jan11 to Mar11
Narsimhapur57.41Feb10 to Apr10
Sehora56.27Dec09 to Feb10
Kaman53.63Sep10 to Feb11
Pipar City53.19Nov09 to Apr10
Khurai52.83Feb10 to Apr10
Shahabad52.51Apr10 to June10
Maihar52.44Feb10 to Apr10
Nowgaon51.89Nov10 to Jan11
Phalodi51.19Mar11 to Aug11
Jaora50.84Jan10 to Mar10
Panna50.72Apr10 to June10

I am not joking - the highest on this list has an 81.98% loss. What does it mean to waste more than half of the electricity produced? This is ridiculous. Like filling a vessel with a hole in the bottom. This will not do. And reducing transmission and distribution losses is possible. South Korea had T&D loss of 4%. It had offered to help us get better during a Power Ministry delegation's visit to Seoul in 2010. However, as it quotes the article:

The official said, "They have reduced their T&D losses by wheeling high voltage current. Now we want to do the same, but there is no testing facility in the country."

At present, power is wheeled into the country at 700 KVA. Though the voltage needs to be scaled up to 1,200 KVA for reducing T&D losses, the country lacks testing facilities for such high-voltage transmission equipment.

"As it would be unviable to get the high voltage transmission equipment tested abroad, we want to set up this facility here in India for which we would need South Korea's help," the official said.

At present, the country faces 30 per cent T&D losses, and the government is making every effort to reduce it to 15 per cent.

As per government estimates, T&D losses in the power sector amounted to Rs 45,000 crore for the fiscal ended March 31, 2010, and were likely to touch Rs 68,000 crore by the end of the current fiscal (2010-11).

This article was 2010. Now it is 2012 and the T&D losses are 34%. What has been done? But here's the deal, we have been able to get our AT&C losses very low in many towns too. Here are the single digit AT&C losses from the APDRP list.

TownAT&ClossesData period
Kurnool9.85Jul11 to Sep11
Ilkal9.61Apr10 to June10
PETLAD8.8Nov09 to Jan10
Chirmiri8.57Feb11 to Apr11
Samalkot8.49Oct 10 to Dec 10
Tuni8.07Oct 10 to Dec 10
Peddapuram7.94Oct 10 to Dec 10
Kovvur7.4Jun11 to Aug11
Bhiwadi6.97Sep10 to Feb11
Anakapalle5.75Oct 10 to Dec 10
Salur5.72Oct 10 to Dec 10
Pithampur4.53Nov10 to Jan11

So, on one end we have a need for better technology, on the other, it is clear that in many places simply not enough is being done. This should be made a priority. Even if we can bring down our T&D losses to half, it covers our deficit. Right there. Nothing further needed. Even if not half, as long as it is over 8.5% on an average, we can solve our energy crisis. Considering the vast amounts of money we have been pouring into nuclear energy, this shouldn't be such an impossibly expensive alternative.

The expensive technology from South Korea would be very nice, but for most of India, we will be able to learn from our own places in India that do well, while leaving the expensive tech for cities, where the density and quantity would mean that the higher investment is used with maximum impact.

The real problem is in the doing. The APDRPhas been formed in 2008. So far, we don't even have statistics from all over India on the site, leave alone the possibility of planning change.

Smart Grid in India

A smart grid is a two way communication between the producer and consumer of electricity allowing for intelligent supply of electricity based on needs. A smart grid also provides some capacity for storage, thus blunting outages. India has been hot on the pursuit of smart grids too. The India Smart Grid Task Force is a collaboration between ministries to enhance all aspects of smart grids in India. It also has five working groups focusing on:

  • WG1 – Trials/Pilot on new technologies.
  • WG2 – Loss reduction and theft, data gathering and analysis.
  • WG3 – Power to rural areas and reliability & quality of power to urban areas.
  • WG4 – Dist Generation & renewable.
  • WG5 – Physical cyber security, Standards and Spectrum.

Smart grids are already a part of India's reality with enthusiastic entrepreneurship invited and collaborations seeked. The first renewable energy based smart grid in India went into operation on the 1st July 2011 at TERI Retreat building in which a 3.2 kW wind generator, 10.5 kW solar PV power, 1 kW thin film, 2 kW SPV systems, 100kW biomass gasifier and diesel generator have been integrated to demonstrate optimal evacuation of renewable power. This is an area that will revolutionize the distribution of electricity in India and should be implemented with urgency.

Smart Grid Solutions in India by Arvind Patravali outlines some of the possibilities and potential for the future. And though it is early days yet, there are initiatives taking off as we speak. Echelon is developing a micro smart-grid at Palm Meadows in Hyderabad, an 86-acre integrated gated community with 335 homes and residential services. The Ministry of Power has said that it is finalising eight smart grid pilots worth Rs 500 crore with a focus on building a distribution business that is smart grid compatible and connects the proposed smart grid to the end consumer through smart metering and related technological interventions. Around 14 state utilities are expected to submit plans for pilot projects related to smart grid technologies.

On the 10th March 2012, Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM) launched smart meters to track power consumption in thecity, which faces T&D losses of 15 percent. BESCOM is expected to deploy one million smart meters in the following year. However, this is not without its own concerns, as smart meters can be hacked into and power supply disrupted leading to blackouts. Functionality also comes with its price. It is important to disable unused functionality and secure networks - an area that should be developed urgently. Another interesting thing Japan has done as its electricity supply gets lowered drastically

Improving Electricity Storage

While much research has gone into producing energy, the fact is that the energy requirements are not constant throughout the day. Combining Smart Grids with efficient storage, surplus electricity can be stored and released back to the grid in times of high demand. This is an area that will become important in the future, because as the role of renewable energy increases, making efficient use of the energy produced will require ways of balancing out excess production and low production from the fluctuations in natural resources. This is less of a problem with thermal or nuclear energy, though it still is important with them, because even if production is stable, demand fluctuates.

Siemens has come up with electrolyzer plants as a way of managing this more efficiently than existing solutions. The idea is to divert excess electricity production to the plant, which would use it to generate hydrogen gas from electrolysis of water and store the gas to be used to power gas driven thermal plants during times of low production or increased demand.

Something like this could also be incentivized to the consumer. With smart grids, it may be possible to identify times of low demand when the cost of electricity can be cheaper, and homes can charge inverters at such times to minimize cost of using more expensive electricity during load. This opens the possibility of devices that can be smart - refrigerators that do most of their cooling and store some energy for intermittent cooling at programmed times or possibly directly communicating with the grid? Home electricity managing inverters that can help you save on your electricity bills?

But this is way into the future. Taking a leaf out of something Bangalore did recently (more on that in the article on solar power), it may be possible to offer routine inspections and efficiency certificates for household wiring and devices that translate into reward discounts in the bill in addition to the lowered costs from the efficiency?

Clearly there is much potential to transform our rather inefficient use of the electricity we do have.


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

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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.

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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:

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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.