Theweekendleader

Govt asked to approach the issue with an open mind, not a nuclear-only policy

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M G Devasahayam

17-November-2011

Vol 2 | Issue 46

While preparing for his ‘conquest of the world’ and brainwashing the ‘patriotic’ Germans for the purpose, Adolf Hitler wrote in his Mein Kampf: “The great mass of people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” We all know what happened to Germany and the world.

It is this ‘Big Lie’ theory of Nazi Hitler that the proponents of Nuclear power are following in this country. Since they are losing the ‘nuclear debate’ they are getting paranoid.

At Koodankulam, protests show no sign of abating as people from all sections are joining the anti-government demonstrations

Nuclear scientists, crusaders, apologists and a whole lot of hangers-on are swarming the seminar halls and planting stories in the media pronouncing the virtues of nuclear power and stop short of saying that India will perish if Koodunkulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) is shut down.

Politicians from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Minister Narayanasamy to local Congress busybodies and attendant drum-beaters proclaim that anti-nuclear protestors are anti-national and have taken hundreds of crores of Rupees from some ‘foreign hand’

When this did not work they have unleashed the communal bogey of fisher-folk versus non fisher-folk and Christians versus Hindus as if the latter groups are solidly for nuclear power!

Earlier India’s former President and missile-icon  APJ Abdul Kalam had gone to Koodunkulan for ‘assessing the safety of the plant and assuage local sentiments’ after publishing a two page article in THE HINDU extolling the virtues of KKNPP and abusing the protesters as ‘fools’! 

He took a two-hour tour of the nuclear plant and instantly released a pre-written report certifying it  as "clean and safe" while declaring that the 2,000-MW plant was essential for "power hungry" India.

To add insult to injury, honourable Kalam called KKNNP a boon to the local population and added a bureaucratic incentive component of Rs.200 crore PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas) project-an idea borrowed from some of his erstwhile advisors.

Maverick Subramanian Swamy has gone to the extreme. He has ‘discovered’ that the anti-KKNPP agitation has been financed by anti-national, foreign inspired Christian missionaries, aided by the LTTE left-overs. 

He therefore wants the Prime Minister to declare the whole Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts as disturbed areas and order para-military forces to take over the administration.

Soon he may even ask for deploying the Army and enforce AFSPA in these districts thereby creating a perfect foil for Kashmir in the southern-most part of India! Can there be a worse manifestation of fascism?

Government scientists and their cohorts led by former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, MR Srinivasan are ad nauseam stating that KKNNP is the safest nuclear plant in the world and the safety features are the most modern and state-of-the-art.

In the same breath he is also saying that the two 1,000 MW reactors of KKNNP are not governed by the nuclear liability law as the agreement signed with Russia in 1988 did not have any such provisions and there is no scope of amending this agreement since ‘It is already signed!’

This means Government of India has thrown the lives and livelihoods of lakhs of people inhabiting the areas in and around Koodunkulam to the wolves without any compensation and safeguards in the event of an accident or disaster!

It is famously said: “In public domain truth is not the truth, perception is the truth”. Vast majority of population in and around the KKNPP have the perception that it is not safe and extremely detrimental to the pursuit of their livelihood.

No amount of assurances and endorsements from government scientists, partisan politicians and nuclear-tourist Abdul Kalam is going to change this perception.

Government may be able to suppress the protest and forcibly start the plant by raising the anti-national charade suggesting the ghost of ‘Foreign-hand’ and adopting repressive measures. But the wounds would be too deep to heal.

Everyone should realize that nuclear energy through fission (destruction of atom) is a dark principle. Its destructive potential is high right from mining to production to scrapping.

Nuclear energy through fusion will be different as it is energy from unification but it is still under research.

KKNPP is based on fission technology and should therefore be abandoned. But at the same time we need electric power and therefore alternatives should be looked at instead of endlessly repeating the same arguments over and over again.

As one involved in the power sector for decades, I have the following suggestions to make for exploring and arriving at a viable action plan where in people's fear and panic could be removed and more than adequate power could be generated in the very area where Koodunkulam is located:

1. KKNPP has not yet gone critical. Central Government should therefore seriously consider fuel-switching from nuclear to coal or gas. According to energy experts this is very much possible and feasible.

2. The nearby area comprising Kanyakumari, Thoothukudy and Tirunelveli Districts have large wind farms with installed capacity of about 4000 MW. When these were installed 1 MW required 4 acres of land. Now the need is 1 acre only for I MW.

By going in for re-powering and re-engineering adopting modern technology, large land under wind farm could be released and over 2000 MW solar thermal power could be installed on this land. Tamil Nadu is giving top priority for this source of power.

3. Being dry and arid the area is suitable for large scale 'Energy plantations' and large quantity of biomass based power could be installed. This could provide the base-load.

4. All the three-wind, solar, biomass-combined can provide hybrid-power which can be drawn for 24 hours and combined with fuel switching of KNPP there will be enough and more power to satisfy the needs of Tamil Nadu and even export to other states.

The whole area can be transformed into a serene and peaceful Renewable Energy Park, like the ones being contemplated by the Government of Tamil Nadu instead of a possible site of nuclear horror.

Since the fuel switching solution has been challenged I would like to dwell on it a little more. In the field of electric power generation with whatever fuel – fossil (coal, gas, oil) or nuclear – fuel switching has been going on for years.

The presence of large number of women in the protests is causing worry in the pro-nuclear lobby

Modern generators can switch between gas and coal and vice versa. Though most of the fuel switching takes place from within fossil fuels there have been cases wherein switching has taken place from nuclear to coal or gas.

The difference is that while fuel-switching among fossil fuels can take place after power generation has commenced this would not be possible in the case of nuclear power plant.

I am advocating this course since KKNPP has not gone critical and power generation has not commenced. Therefore fuel-switching is possible from nuclear fuel to coal or gas.

There are certain changes and modification that need to be carried out for converting nuclear plants after mothballing the reactor and its containment building.

For switching to coal, new boiler including pulverized coal system and furnace need to be added. If required steam turbines and generators should be modified.  New coal unloading, transfer and storage system would be needed. For making the plant pollution-free, clean coal technology equipments should be installed.

For switching to LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) new gas turbines, each having its own heat recovery steam generator and stack should be installed. For supply of gas install a new LNG tanker gas unloading, transfer and storage system. If need be, modify steam turbines and generators.

All these no doubt will take additional time and money. It is worth because the solution would be abiding and power will be generated.

Nuclear fuel-switching has taken place at other places and the examples are Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island in New York (nuclear to gas-100 MW), William H. Zimmer nuclear power plant in Moscow, Ohio, (nuclear to coal-1300 MW) and Midland Cogeneration Facility, Michigan (nuclear to coal-1370 MW)

Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Taiwan is likely to adopt these examples to switch fuel in the two 1350 MW Advanced Boiling Water Reactors that are under construction with the first unit expected to be completed in 2012, and the second one about a year after. 

A detailed study and techno-feasibility report is on the anvil. Several other countries that have abandoned nuclear power plants following Fukushima tragedy are likely to follow suit.

Why not Koodunkulam where vast majority of the people are against it backed up by a resolution by the State Government?

This will get three mangoes with one stone - satisfy the protesters who are only against nuclear fuel and not any fuel and the proponents who keep wailing about the massive Rs. 13,500 crores spent so far and those screaming for more electric power for ‘development’!

This alternative would call for sincere and war-like efforts by Tamil Nadu state government, duly supported by the Central Government and institutions.

Governments should approach this sensitive but explosive issue with an open mind and not a confrontationist and cloistered 'nuclear-power only' mindset.

M G Devasahayam is a former IAS officer and an expert member in People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy

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