What's new

India's Nuclear Energy Plans Face Post-Fukushima Hurdles

Lankan Ranger

Aug 9, 2009
India's Nuclear Energy Plans Face Post-Fukushima Hurdles

If the phenomenon of nuclear renaissance has a true believer, it is India. In the next decade, India envisages monumental growth in its nuclear energy production. Today, nuclear energy contributes only 3 percent of the country’s total energy mix -- a meager 4,200 megawatts. By 2020, India plans to increase nuclear energy production tenfold, to 40,000 MW.

But the question now facing New Delhi is whether hostile public opinion will scuttle India’s nuclear energy expansion. Massive anti-nuclear protests in India have brought progress on the Koodankulam nuclear power plant to a grinding halt. Before that, the Jaitapur nuclear project ran into trouble over safety concerns.

India’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) finds itself increasingly challenged by local communities resisting the construction of nuclear power plants in their backyards. In Koodankulam, protests have mainly come in the form of a nonviolent blockade of the plant. But local communities have also organized massive hunger strikes, in which women and children are the most enthusiastic participants. In addition to underscoring the tensions between the AEC and local communities, resistance against the Koodankulam plant also reveals the tension between the national government and the state government of Tamil Nadu. Whereas the national government has unequivocally stood with the AEC on the issue, the state government has sided with the locals, in the hopes of satisfying its political constituencies.

Entreaties by political leaders and eminent Indian scientists have not cut much ice with the locals. Several times in the past few months, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone on record certifying the security and safety of the Koodankulam plant. Recently, India’s former president and the country’s most revered scientific personality, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, spoke in favor of nuclear energy and declared that the Koodankulam plant is safe from any Fukushima-like contingency. However, rather than petering out, the protests have only intensified.

A number of factors contribute to this growing popular rejection of nuclear energy. First is the Fukushima effect. The notion that a technologically advanced state such as Japan cannot insure its population against the threat of a nuclear mishap has created deep skepticism regarding India’s capacity to do so, at least among those who would be most affected by a Fukushima-like disaster.

Second, the safety record of nuclear power plants in India is far from reassuring. Though no major nuclear accident has taken place on Indian soil, India’s nuclear history is replete with small-to-medium-level accidents. For example, in 1993, a fire broke out in the first unit of the Narora nuclear plant, which led to a partial fuel meltdown in the reactor core. Only the fourth and last stage of the GRAB system of safety precautions -- the injection of boron into the reactor core to contain radioactivity -- finally saved the plant from the looming danger of a critical chain reaction. Similarly, the Madras nuclear plant suffered a leak of 14 tons of highly radioactive heavy water in 1999. Most recently, in 2009, a radioactive leak was discovered in the Kaiga plant. At least 45 employees were exposed to harmful radiation. Clearly, India lacks a comprehensive nuclear security culture.

Third, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), which oversees nuclear safety and security, is institutionally compromised, because it works under the auspices of the AEC, the principal patron of nuclear energy in India. In the words of former AERB director Adori Gopalkrishnan, “A captive AERB, which reports to the Department of Atomic Energy, makes nuclear safety management in India worthless.” In India, the “regulated have become their own regulators.” The irony of this arrangement is not lost on the anti-nuclear protesters. And although in the wake of Fukushima, the Indian government promised to institutionalize a fully independent nuclear regulatory authority, little progress has been made.

Finally, India’s capacity to handle the planned giant leap in nuclear energy production is under suspicion. India currently operates boiling water reactors, pressurized heavy water reactors and fast breeder reactors. But under its new plan, India will import four different kinds of light water reactors. This will result in “enormous technological diversity,” stretching the abilities of Indian scientists to cope with the multiple challenges of running such a variety of complex technical systems. Without adequate scientific resources and regulatory capacity, managing such diversification will be a herculean task.

Resistance to nuclear energy in India is neither the result of scientific illiteracy, as many in the scientific bureaucracy claim, nor is there a foreign hand behind the protests, as many in the political realm seem to suggest. The anti-nuclear movements are entirely indigenous responses of local communities to the possibility of disaster inherent in the process of nuclear energy production. The opaque nature of nuclear decision-making in India adds further fuel to the fire. The opinions and concerns of local inhabitants are hardly ever taken into account before decisions to build power plants are made, creating a serious democracy deficit in India’s nuclear energy policy.

However, the processes of economic liberalization and globalization have strengthened the power of local communities. New modes of political organization, including through Facebook and Twitter, are readily available, as are new sources of knowledge, especially via the Internet. Moreover, a number of eminent Indian intellectuals, including scientists, sociologists and political scientists, have lent their voices to the anti-nuclear cause.

In India, the real debate on nuclear power has just begun, and in all likelihood it will intensify. The government faces a difficult task in convincing its citizens that nuclear energy is perfectly safe. With tectonic shifts in perceptions about nuclear energy underway, India’s nuclear energy policy may yet see drastic changes.

WPR Article | India's Nuclear Energy Plans Face Post-Fukushima Hurdles


Jun 4, 2010
United Kingdom
Oh FFS!! why has Fikushima been blown so out of proportion all around the world? This incident needs to be looked at but properly understood, the proximity of the plant to a active tectonic zone was a real concern which India does not need to have. What happened at Fukushima was tragic but a culmination of unique circumstances. Every single Nuclear power plant in India is more technologically advanced with more safety and back up systems than the Fukushima plant. Because of VERY strict rules by the Indian atomic agency all nuclear power plants are made with more back-up systems than the industry norm (including present at Fukushima) so a repeat of what happened at Fukushima- all back up generators failing leading to the stopping of water pumps is almost impossible in any Indian nuclear power plant. Additionally according to rules from the India atomic agency all nuclear power plants must also have passive cooling systems free from all electrical input, so if power did go down the reactor could still be cooled. All the measures would prevent an Indian Fukushima-FACT. Not to mention post Fukushima, MMS ordered a review of all nuclear power plants regarding a similar incident in India and all power plants were found to have easily passed the tests because they are all state of the art and more technologically advanced than Fukushima.

The recent protests are really just political point sodding with opportunists trying to make some cheap shots and cater to vote banks and play of the ignorance of most common people. I absolutely hate this sort of news- India already has a significant power generation shortfall so tracking these plans but offering no solutions is utterly pointless and harmful. Renewable energy sources are still not mature or efficient enough and adding coal powered power stations is far from ideal.

But gladly sense is/will prevail, as per recent news, India plans to build 10 new nuclear power plants by 2017 on top of the 9 already under construction.


Mar 14, 2011
even after full assurance from the makers & govt protests are not over yet. it is the same story for other plants as-well.

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Total: 1, Members: 0, Guests: 1)

Top Bottom