Warnings have, by and large, been discarded perhaps ever since the forbidden apple was eaten. So is the fate of the warning from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown almost on the ides of March last year, on March 11, 2011 to be precise. Nuclear apologists who earlier professed that lessons had been learnt from Chernobyl and that design modifications had been made in reactors to avert another accident are now brushing aside Fukushima as a very rare chance occurrence of earthquake followed by tsunami, something not applicable to Indian conditions. But the bottom line could as well be that the risk in a nuclear reactor is perhaps unpredictable and inherent.
In the cry for ensuring safety and, more particularly, in the proud assurances by the scientific community and the administrators on the state-of-the-art measures of safety, what has been conveniently hidden under the blanket is the unsolved problem of disposal of nuclear or radioactive waste. Annually, 30 tonnes of radioactive waste is generated in a1000-MW reactor. Can any expert panel of the State or the Centre or, for that matter an internationally reputed body of experts, assure us that the problem of the nuclear waste has been solved?
With the half life of nuclear substances in use running into tens of thousands of years, disposal of nuclear waste is a misnomer in phrase. Radioactive wastes are just hidden (vitrified & sealed in containers) with the knowledge and consciousness of the nature of their hazards. Science as it stands now can do nothing to reduce radioactivity of the waste once it has been created on short-term considerations. It is said that in the nuclear countries as much as three lakh tonnes of radioactive nuclear wastes remain accumulated.
What is the sanctity and tenability on which the government and the scientific community seek to consciously and deliberately accumulate a toxic substance on the off chance that it may be possible to get rid of the same at a later date with scientific advancement? Mr. Abdul Kalam says we have to dare to make history. How would we be judged for daring to commit future generations for several millenniums to come to tackling highly toxic waste we do not have the knowhow to make safe except hide it in steel and concrete containers? Is it science at all to speak of its safety not in terms of centuries but in terms of several millenniums, even while the scientific community is quite uneasy, to say the least on its disturbing potential?
The very fact that scientists are thinking aloud on the astounding options of “throwing” the waste beyond our biosphere by launch vehicle, besides sea-based options, deep-hole disposal and geological disposal (an ongoing project of gigantic dimension in Finland) not only highlights their consciousness of its dangerous potential but also pooh-poohs the idea of nuclear energy being an ecologically acceptable and cheaper option.
Above all, the capping of nuclear liability for protecting the interest of nuclear suppliers and the virtual impossibility of extending insurance coverage, speak of the incalculable and unfathomable magnitude and range of risk in the affair.
But then the State plunged in darkness is power hungry. Business houses, manufacturers, traders and perhaps housewives as well lament the delay in switching on the Kudankulam reactor. The fact remains that from 1400 MW in 1947 the electricity generating capacity went up to 1,82,000 MW in 2011 by more than 100 times with renewable energy sources yet remaining to be tapped a great deal.
(The writer is an advocate. His email ID is firstname.lastname@example.org)