Saturday, 6 July 2013


Some people believe that civilian nuclear energy programs are going great guns and will grow more in future. 

Nothing can be further from the truth. They will not.

In fact, its slow death is already on and can only accelerate in future. 

Let us understand why.
The nuclear energy industry has had a charmed existence for over half a century. The western world is attempting to disown their nuclear weapons and reactors but it is finding this horribly expensive and complicated to do. Yet, India wants to fall into the trap that the nuclear transnationals such as GE, Westinghouse, Toshiba, Hitachi, Areva etc have layed out. This is a near as well as a  long term disaster because this technology is not only inherently dangerous but is an upcoming disaster for India.


What essentially started as military research for the development of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was subsequently and subtly packaged as a benign and clean source of energy. But at heart, the roots of nuclear energy are firmly linked to its military and destructive use.

The cold war was an occasion that offered the nuclear industry access to massive funds, research facilities, government grants (subsidies) and huge freedom to conduct more and more research into making more and more deadly weapons.

Civilian Nuclear Energy was simply a byproduct of this Military work.

Companies and governments worked overtime to create a veil of secrecy around atomic energy so that the common person would not be able to link the two. To their credit, they succeeded for a large part. In the days before the advent of the internet, information was scarce and was expensive to procure. People, by and large, tended to believe whatever the nuclear 'scientists' and their governments told them.

Essentially, they were sold two stories via massive propaganda -

1) Nuclear industry equals 'national security' and 'national pride.' So, any opposition to nuclear energy automatically makes you an anti-national.

2) Nuclear Energy has no alternative because of its "cleanliness" and ability to deliver large amounts of power at the cheapest cost.

It is said that if a lie is told a thousand times, people start to believe that it is the truth.

Yet, it is also a truth that 'You can fool some people all the time, you can fool all the people sometimes but you cannot fool all the people all the time.'

The tipping point for the nuclear industry came after the end of the cold war. Contrary to what most people believe, Chernobyl had no major effect on the growth of the nuclear energy business. After a tiny blip, the industry was back to its own self.

Concealment, fabrications, misrepresentation of facts, propaganda, censorship of news, strong arm tactics were all part of the overall cold war game.

The world knew that a huge nuclear accident had happened in Russia.

But beyond that, they had little more knowledge. The Russians painted a picture of "all-is-well." On the other hand, the West tried to malign Russian nuclear technology and its safety. Neither really questioned nuclear energy as a whole.

Sure, there were enough independent researchers who risked their lives and limbs to bring out the truth. But it was easy for the governments in those days to tackle these civilian groups. After all, government agencies were trained to play the big spy games - for these masters this bunch of civilians was a piece of cake.

The disguise continued unabated until the unexpected end of the cold war. The end of the cold war meant that there was little need for military deterrence (?) Clearly, future wars would be fought on economic fronts and smart wars would take center stage.

Tactical weapons, quick surgical strikes on specific small strategic targets which do not require the kind of arsenal needed during the cold war days became the name of the big game. It is no longer fashionable to parade the missiles and war heads on National days and gloat about technological prowess.

These new weapons do not require plutonium but need a material that is far easier to procure - depleted uranium (DU).

DU is easily and openly available from nuclear reactors without the need for complex and
expensive re processing technologies. The guided missiles tipped with DU are hundreds of times more powerful compared to ordinary bombs and can cause massive damage to over and underground structures. Because of the fact that they do not leave a huge visible impact (like that of an Atomic Bomb at Hiroshima or Nagasaki) people do not realize that effectively a nuclear weapon has been used.

A DU slug or shell used widely

These shells and missiles have been extensively used in the wars in Iraq Serbia Afghanistan and elsewhere by the NATO forces. Sometimes they may have ensured that the targets are taken out; but mostly not. They are as deadly as a nuclear attack and leave behind vast amounts of radiation in the environment. People affected by DU develop the same conditions as those in Hiroshima or Nagasaki - the only difference being that of immediate visibility and localization. (More)

The US and NATO troops have got away by using these weapons of tactical attack for many years now and the effects are showing up in the local population there - increased cancer, deformities, mutations and all the other radiation induced diseases are seen here. The soil and ground water is polluted with uranium and will continue to do so for many decades to come. The radiation has spread wider and entered the food chain and will continue to irradiate for a long time to come.

The West had found the ideal nuclear weapon which can be used easily - without any concern of accountability or justification needed for a full blown nuclear attack.

The need to use nuclear energy and the spent fuel for Plutonium has diminished and the military had a far lesser interest in these reactors now.

Almost at the same time, another and more significant revolution was taking place.

The information revolution.

Almost out of nowhere, the computers, satellite television, instant messengers and the internet were all over the world.

Nothing was hidden. Information previously restricted to libraries or locked away in forgotten cupboards was suddenly openly available.

Information flow meant that there were no longer any holy cows. Discussions happened over emails and internet, ideas exchanged and previous paradigms challenged.

When Data gets analyzed, it turns into Information.

Massive amount of data which was scattered all over the globe earlier was put together and analyzed. Cheaper yet more powerful computers allowed this massive data to be analyzed on desktop computers without the need for super computers.
And what emerged was the naked truth.

Atomic and nuclear science is no more (or less) mysterious or complex than any other science. The sheer eliteness of being part of a select "nuclear club" was shown to be hollow. The cost of nuclear energy in purely financial terms was proven to be the highest, the enormous social damage, the horrible medical conditions and the silent environmental destruction were proven - with irrefutable data.

Troubles as they say come in multiples.

But more was to follow.

With no place to hide, the nuclear industry was hit by developments in renewable energies which took off at a massive scale which resulted in prices crashing beyond imagination. A new, safe and cost effective option had arisen for which the nuclear industry was totally unprepared – it was literally caught with its pants down!

With no business model to survive, shrinking patronage from the Defence and Government ministries; Fukushima was the final nail in the coffin for the nuclear industry. In plain, open view, the incident shamed the industry badly and showed the world that the civilian nuclear operators were leagues ahead of Big Oil and Tobacco when it came to blatant lies and endangering lives for maximizing their own profits. Safety and ethics be damned.

Decommissioning costs and Mixed Oxide Fuel myth:

As the US reactors started to age and reached about 60 years of their commissioning  a deadly truth hurt the companies operating them. They have to decommission these reactors and dispose the nuclear waste (euphemistically called as spent fuel). There was talk of using mixed uranium + plutonium oxide (MOX) fuels for future generation reactors, but that has gone horribly wrong in all countries beyond any realistic or economic horizons and are being abandoned despite the huge government subsidies which they received for decades (read reports here here and here).

Yet, India continues to harbor hopes on this failed and expensive plan which at best can be termed as a laboratory experiment - hence called as the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) that has already cost the country crores of Rupees and is way beyond its projected commissioning year of 2009. 

Also, the cost of decommissioning a nuclear plant is tentatively upward of Rs. 200 crores - reference being  the recently troubled San Onofre Nuclear Generating station in California USA which was shut since the past 18 months following radioactive leakages after being "revamped" and "redesigned" . Plus, it can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years for this and to bring the land back to its original state and safe for residence (if ever). Read more.

Now, can anyone - even in their wildest dreams - explain the logic behind this disastrous folly except for the nuclear hawks and greedy politicians and businessmen? Can any Indian agree - with his hand on his heart - that after spending thousands of crores in building these reactors, India has the will, ability or the spending power to see through the costs of decommissioning  storage and security?

The folly of going nuclear as part of its energy basket is so laughable that it will get thrown out simply for economic reason if not for it's dangerous repercussions.

In the end, the nuclear industry has to blame itself for its death. Nobody - except probably its own nuclear village fraternity - will shed any tears on its death.

This is one death which does not really merit a RIP; it is a well-deserved slow death.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Economic Times looks at Himalayan Profits not at a Himalayan Disaster


he Economic Times this week carried an extremely biased article regarding the Uttarakhand flood tragedy titled “Uttarakhand floods: Why damning the dams is Himalayan blunder” by Avdhash Kaushal  (click here to view the said article.)

While the appearance of such a biased article is only to be expected from a “pink paper” that does not leave any stone un-turned to promote big businesses and the so called “development” based policies which the government adopts; it is a completely biased article, with deliberate falsification of ground level realities and even the language used which are not befitting one of the largest circulated business and economy publications in India. What is even more jarring is that its own sister publication from the Bennet Coleman Co.; the Times of India has carried many articles (including one in its July 3 edition) which talks of the possibility of a repeat of the Uttarakhand tragedy in the neighboring hilly state of Himachal Pradesh (H.P.) for the same reasons as Uttarakhand.

The authors' agenda appears to be as defensive as possible towards all things that can damage the ecology & environment and he goes on to blame NGO’s, environmentalists and others working to save the fragile planet by calling them “jholawala’s.” This derisive attitude of the author and the publication shows that it is indeed these “jholawala’s” who are preventing these businessmen, their business houses and their advertising partner’s from doing damage, thereby giving them such severe heartburn.

The article finds faults with every known source of energy - from coal to nuclear and even renewable solutions such as wind and solar!!!

At one point of time, his heart bleeds for the birds too when he writes that “Wind mills and the noise associated with them are harmful for ornithology….” Well, the effects of the mindless plunder of the rivers and damning of them leads to destruction of marine life as well to the protected species living in areas where the dams and the changed course of rivers affect their natural habitats. Again, he is completely mindless about the amount of noise, air and dust pollution caused by the construction of these projects.

 His next dig is at solar when he claims that “solar panels need an army of cleaners who would have to "toil in hot sun to constantly keep them (the solar panels) clean” I do not know about the author or about the editors who proof read such articles, but anyone venturing out into India will see the millions of people toiling away in the hot sun simply to make enough to survive. When they cannot even get that after toiling and sweating, many resort to committing suicide even while the champions of industry such as Montek Singh Ahuluwallia keep reducing the amount of money to remain under the Below Poverty Line figure (inflation is incidentally in double digits). Surely cleaning solar panels is far less strenuous than ploughing, sowing and reaping crops or pulling a cycle rickshaw in the blazing sun because their fertile lands were "acquired" for some dubious project giving them a pittance in return.

The agenda of these businesses and the government is simple – change the statistics to show that poverty is eliminated even while they earn super-normal profits from plundering the poor and the natural resources of the country.

Coming to his point that Hydel power is the only viable source of “development” in the state along with tourism: The people who will benefit most by these proposed large number of Hydel projects are the project developers and the contractors for whom it is a huge profitable opportunity. It is the local people who will face all the hydrological risks due to these dams, live in fear of seismic activities such as earthquakes, land slides, rockfalls and floods in this fragile and highly earthquake-prone zone. In addition, the construction of dams renders many people homeless and landless leading to continued economic difficulties, which has been seen even in the Narmada project. 

Construction of dams leads to increased heavy vehicles and machinery constantly traveling in the region, all adding to air pollution and noise pollution. The constant use by these heavy vehicles leads to road life being cut short and massive expenses in again connecting the road networks.

The fact remains that these dams would not have caused such extensive damage if there had been only a handful of them. But the sheer number of dam projects in the state - and the hundreds more that have been cleared by the state - show the immense greed of the politicians and the business houses. The constant dumping of muck and debris into the rivers is a huge problem leading to increase sedimentation rates and the accumulation of silt. In fact dams are expected to be sedimented within 25-30 years against their expected lifetime of about 50+ years. 

It might be wise for the author to study the Banqiao and Shimantan Dam breaches in China in 1975 where 100,000 or more lost their lives. Extreme rainfall beyond the planned design capability of the dam caused this worst dam failure till date. In fact, even India saw such a breach in 1979 at the Bachucha dam in Gujarat in which up to an estimated 15000 people perished. This was also because of excessive rains beyond the designed carrying capacity of the water spillways, So, when he gives specious arguments stating that the Tehri saved people, perhaps he should be thankful that the Tehri dam did not breach because the rains subsided just in time.

It is this attitude by well educated people who simply believe in one side of the issue and pander to the profit hungry and heartless business houses which is a condemnable attitude, bordering almost on criminal conspiracy.
The article further goes on to make ridiculous statements such as “Therefore, the jholawallahs should be banned from using known sources of production of primary electricity. They should not use secondary batteries also since they contain lead, lithium, metal hydrides and heavy metals that are likely to cause poisoning and cancer.”
This is such a hilarious and ill-informed comment that it probably was written out of frustration and not having any other facts to berate about and obviously pro-business houses once again. Solar technology has moved by leaps and bounds and has matured exponentially in the past few years. The first generation batteries and panels and cells have given way to newer technologies which are far more efficient and use very less polluting raw materials or cause huge amounts of waste. If we just talk about solar energy, then the latest available country wise installed solar capacity will surely make anyone do a rethink.
Installed Solar Power per Million People
302  MW
214  MW
Czech Rep.
186  MW
184  MW
95  MW
40  MW
38  MW
27  MW
16  MW
14  MW
13  MW
4  MW
4  MW
2  MW
0.381  MW
0.356  MW
0.166  MW
(Figures as available till end 2011, 2012 figures not officially available yet)
It is interesting to note here that the top countries in solar energy belong to regions which see snowfall and the sun does not shine as brightly as in India. In fact, a lot of these countries also have Hydel power potential; but the damage to the environment and ecosystem, the socio-economic impact on local population, the effects on the flora and fauna have made them opt for solar which is far safer and cheaper. 
In any case, for an ecologically fragile state to depend on Hydel power for about 78% of its needs (and increasing) does not bode well for its well-being or even for its own tourism industry.  In fact most of the North Eastern states and Himachal are also falling for this lure of money with Mehayala at 84% hydel dependence and Himachal at close to 79% 
It is nothing but shooting oneself in the foot if we look at the long term implications of such specious "development."
The second interesting takeaway from the above chart is not only the huge potential for solar in the bottom 3 countries and which has not happened (They are all blessed with strong sunshine and wind). This is not for any of the reasons which the suddenly bleeding heart environment and health conscious author gives us, but because of vested interests of large business houses to set up dubious coal, gas and nuclear power projects where there is extremely high earnings during construction, operations and finally even in the decommissioning and waste disposal. They would very well like to keep their businesses well-oiled in all aspects and laugh all the way to the bank.
Arguably, there is no energy source which is 100% clean. But common logic tells you that every country, every region and every state should adopt a sustainable way of living, using as little of the scarce natural resources and to make efforts not to add more to the rampant pollution and climate changes which cause such disasters. 
It also does not befit a publication of such stature as the Economic Times to indulge in such propaganda – probably for their own vested business interests.

The good of the people, the country - in fact of the whole earth - should receive priority rather than resorting to such anti people and anti-national false advertising for whom humanity is subservient to their business interests.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

NaMo Fear crosses Gujarat, Andhra and extends to the US

NaMo fear crosses Gujarat, Andhra and extends to US

Narendra Modi alias NaMo who could well be the next PM of India

Yesterday, I had published a fake Facebook wall detailing tongue in cheek about the collusion between Indian politicians and the global corporate world (link here.)

And we are already seeing the frenzy by NPCIL and the Centre to quickly adhere to the diktats of the US masters as in Kovvada Andhra Pradesh even as the US giant GE does not have certification from the US Regulators for its planned nuclear reactors !!

Is it not shameful that the American Secretary of State came to India, gave an ultimatum to the Government of India that the Gujarat nuclear deal had better be signed by September 2013? Or else.....

Obviously, as I pointed out in the fake FB wall, the upcoming elections are giving the Americans much trouble. They know the Congress will most likely lose the general elections in 2014. This means a potential wilderness for the nuclear companies like GE and Westinghouse-Toshiba for about five years.

This is not to imply that the BJP will not sign the nuclear agreements and contracts. Far from it, the BJP is almost of the same opinion as the Congress as far as nuclear energy is concerned because of the common glue – kickbacks, contracts and money.
The BJP would gleefully sign any deal or even dilute the Nuclear Liability Act and make it easier for the Americans to set up their reactors in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

But then, there is a major diplomatic issue here.

The next ‘projected’ Prime Minister of India could well be a certain Mr. Narendra Modi (NaMo in short) of the BJP.

The same NaMo who has steadfastly been refused entry visa to the US because of his alleged collusion in the Gujarat communal riots of 2003 where he was alleged to have masterminded the pogrom to eliminate the minority Muslim population in connivance with senior police, bureaucracy and intelligence officials. 

The cases are meandering through courts, special courts, special investigations and have not reached anywhere near to closure. So, as per Indian Laws, NaMo is presumed innocent until proven guilty (in court). However, many people in India and the US government have already decided that based on circumstantial evidence NaMo is indeed guilty for the massacre of hundreds (nobody knows the real toll) of innocent people including women and children and causing a reign of terror over the whole state of Gujarat.

Now, if this gentleman becomes the Prime Minister, Obama might have to meet him, shake hands with him in some international conference or even invite each other to their countries as per protocol.

This is the worst case scenario which the US government would want to get into. They cannot be seen overly capitalist and shake hand with their erstwhile enemy No. 1 whom they have denied entry for so many years.

NaMo will obviously milk the situation to the maximum and probably even invite the American President to India (probably even to Gujarat) and rub salt into the wounds. He will stall any attempts by the Americans to do big business in India without extracting his pound of flesh.

Now, what he will try to extract will be a matter of conjecture, but it could be even a small concession like a Visa to travel to the US. As a charmer, NaMo is undoubtedly a great personality. And the US has a huge number of very wealthy Indian Guajarati’s who can contribute substantially to the BJP coffers!!!

It all depends on which way things pan out in the next three odd months before the whole of India slips into election mode slated for early 2014. John Kerry was spot on in fixing September 2013 as the deadline for signing a contract between NPCIL and Westinghouse. But, the Indian government has gone a step forward with its servile attitude and also offered to clear the way for the GE supplied Kovvada reactors in Andhra Pradesh which even  the US government has not certified. This premature land acquisition and bending backwards to please the Americans will eventually backfire on the Congress party - although they may just want to get out the mess they themselves created while signing the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal in 2008.

All one can wish is that the next government has enough sense to realize that there is a limit to how much money can be made out of disastrous projects like Jaitapur etc which will completely destroy lives, livelihoods, environment besides being economically unviable.

But then these wishes will not come true because the Congress and the BJP are two sides of the same Nuclear coin.