Nuclear Accident at Fukushima : Collateral Damage to Nuclear Industry

I have been listening to several TV Debates where anti Nukes are having field day following Fukushima nuclear reactors serial melt down disasters. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) mandarins in India  are having tough time to defend India’s nuclear energy program in the wake of one of the unprecedented Nuclear meltdown accident involving several reactors units at one time. “Cluster Meltdown” is the worst nightmare which no nuclear safety experts would have provided for. It has huge implications in short and longterm for this industry.

Whenever a reactor accident happens the plant authorities are prepared as part of their routine drill to respond. The idea is to nip in the bud any potential radiological leakage into environment of the plant and public. I would be surprised if they would have imagined that simultaneous disasters would take place in one facility and they would have to be ready for such eventuality. The penchant to cluster Reprocessing, Spent Fuel Storage and Nuclear reactors all at one place has proved an utter disaster in Fukushima case. A lesson for saefty assesment experts.

Nuclear Industry has to now reckon with a much larger issue  “The Monumental Collateral Damage”. Health and life of people & nuclear power plant workers and auxiliary staff, emotional damage to people by causing Panic and Anxiety, physical and health support for decades to the affected population, damage to environment on long-term basis even after this generation passes away, properties rendered useless due to fission products and radioactive substances / gases coming from non-fission products causing contamination, adverse impact on country’s economy,infrastructure damage,abandoning huge land mass for-ever , where accident happens. In addition the more mundane looking collateral damages would include funding withdrawal by commercial banks for nuclear program world over, inadequacy of insurance coverage, inefficient and corrupt public servants entrusted with disaster management ( Bhopal Gas Tragedy  that killed 20,000 people 25 years ago is one such example)  and lack of money and resources for a third world country to deal with it effectively. Many of these issues had surfaced with Three Mile Island (TMI) and Chernobyl accidents. With passage of time these were ignored / forgotten  by common man over years.

Unfortunately there is no comparable man-made disaster that could leave such long-term and lingering damage to humans, flora and fauna than a massive amounts of gaseous, solid and liquid radiation let off in environment due to combination of unintended human failures married to natural disasters. And Fukushima is one more such proof recently delivered by the nuclear industry to world last week.

This raises some very fundamental questions. If a nuclear power plant is made disaster proof against Tsunami, Air Plane Crash,  Earth Quakes, Missile attacks from boats and ships , terror attacks on the plant site by suicidal fanatics, internal sabotage, reactor core catcher to arrest molten core if it ever happens again then the nuclear power plant well become obscenely costly item.  With no financial / bank funding appetite it will never get off the ground solely based on Utility resources and / or government financing / subsidising the project.  Who will buy this expensive power  when other sources like Wind, Solar and Bio Mass are reducing their generation cost with time and claim CO2 free impact into earths atmosphere. This kind of capital cost for bullet proof nuclear power program cannot be paid for any where in the world. 

The worst nightmare for Nuclear Industry is  drying up of the pool of  political goodwill & public support in democratic countries.   This  phenomena had materialised in USA after the TMI accident at 4 pm on  28th March ,  1979 at Dauphin County in Pennsylvania near Harrisburg. President Jimmy Carter never supported nuclear industry following this event. His disinterest led to US loosing out on Nuclear Business for over 20 years and no new nuclear power plant was built-in that country since than.

Chernobyl happened in Ukraine ( erstwhile USSR) on 26th April 1986. It is only nuclear reactor accident so far classified as a Level 7 accident that ever happened till date. There is reasosn to believe that Fukushima is inexorably reaching to this category of accident description.  In Chernobyl case there was rupture in reactor vessel it self due to power spike. So the fuel rods and fission products were out in open. Since the surrounding material to this vessel was Graphite ( Carbon in purest form) it caught fire when exposed to air at high temperatures sending plumes of smoke out and carrying along with it tons of radioactive material from the core of the reactor into the sky. Many countries in Europe were affected as the Plume travelled  with time. At least 50 deaths were directly attributed to this accident and between 4000 to a million as indirect fatality. The experts keep disputing these numbers all the time. The exact cost of Chernobyl borne by Civil Society will never be known.

Various arguments have been advanced in India about the inevitability of nuclear power, given the endemic power shortages as main driver. All this would have been OK till Fukushima took place last week in Japan, as people had begun to forget Chernobyl disaster. I think DAE has to step back, be humble and modest, stop making tall claims that it can not happen in India, seriously introspect if they really have mastered the safety theory & practice for their power plants.  They need to scrap Officials Secret Act so for as commerical aspect of nuclear power plant design,operation, safety etc are concerned. Rethink is must if it has to survive its nuclear power program on a modest scale following the Fukushima Nuclear Tsunami and retain public support.

It is my view that in India political goodwill and support for  installation of new nuclear power projects will practically disappear in less than 5 years from now. Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) will be predominantly be reduced to being a R&D entity required for this country for  strategic reasons. 


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