Madhumita Dutta claims that nuclear power has a “horrendous” reputation, and lists nine accidents that “killed, maimed and exposed large populations of worker and local residents.”
Nine accidents in a half-century seem a respectable record for an industry, but nuclear power must, of course, operate to higher standards than other industries. Of these nine, only one — Chernobyl — qualifies as “horrific.” As noted in my earlier article, nobody died from radiation exposure in Fukushima. In Idaho (1961) and Mihama (2004) there were fatalities but no radiation leakage. In Windscale (1957) and Three Mile Island (1979) there was significant radiation leakage but no immediate fatalities, and the epidemiology of radiation-induced cancers is not very clear. In Seversk (1993) there were no fatalities and only a mild leakage of radiation. In Tokaimura (1999, not 1989) there were two fatalities and radiation leakage but no known after-effects. In both Seversk and Tokai-Mura, the level of exposure for nearby people was a few tens of millisieverts at most: about three-four times more than what one would receive in a CAT scan. And Marcoule (2011) was not a nuclear accident at all.
Clearly some people find the record of nuclear power terrifying, but I am not one of them.
Ms Dutta’s points about the necessity of transparency and availability of information are valid, and I made those points myself. It is in the Department of Atomic Energy’s own interest to make as much information available about Kudankulam as possible. And I reiterate the necessity of an independent Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority with real powers. I intend to explore these issues in a later article.
(Rahul Siddharthan is with the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.)