NUCLEAR SAFETY IN INDIA
Posted on August 17th, 2009

Saman Malik

India has not ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet, it has been exempted from nuclear restrictions imposed on non-signatories. The West has accorded preferential treatment to India ostensibly in consideration of her `immaculate’ nuclear safety record.

India’s Nuclear Power Corporation boisterously claims: “NPC engineers have shared their expertise internationally by participating in safety reviews and inspection of reactors in other countries conducted by the World Association of Nuclear Operators and the International Atomic Energy Agency. We are continuously updating our safety systems and procedures even at the cost of short-term economic benefit. Besides, all our plants are designed, constructed, commissioned, operated and maintained under strict supervision.”

What’s the real situation? It is true that there has not been an accident, leading to core meltdown and radiation exposures. But, the fact remains that several minor accidents have happened in the past. These accidents range from leaks of oil to complete loss of power in the reactors causing all safety systems to be disabled.

Let us look at some of the accidents. The accidents at Tarapur, Madras and Rajasthan plants were due to non-compliance with safety standards. According to the mandatory standards of operation, each reactor is supposed to have an independent emergency core-cooling system. But, in practice, one cooling system was being shared between two reactors. The investigators were astonished to find that the reactors at Madras and Rajasthan had been operating without backup pumps to continue smooth operation. The plants had to be shut down as whenever the operating pumps were disabled by external factors such as fluctuations in the grid.

A study by India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board documented over 130 extremely serious safety issues warranting urgent corrective measures in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Uranium Corporation of India, Heavy Water Board, Indian Rare Earths Limited and several other facilities. The CIRUS reactor had an inherent problem of radiation leakage. Candu reactors suffered from heavy leakage of water. Dhruva reactor experienced fuel leakage, attributed to imperfect design architecture. Radioactive waste from the Tarapur Plant endangered lives of about 3,000 villagers living nearby.

The power plants functioned at substandard capacity levels. Inlets of a reactor at Madras Atomic Power Station cracked. Due to frequent breakdowns and leakage of heavy water, the power plant had to be shutdown. Rajasthan Atomic Power Station also had to be shutdown several times due to incorrigible design-related faults.

That’s not all. The containment dome of the Kakrapar Power Station collapsed. Fire broke out at Narora Plant threatening a meltdown. An explosion took place at the Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad. Radiation exposures to workers from India’s power plants are ten times the world average for each unit of electricity and twice the world average for each monitored worker. The safety of the Russian Light Water reactors was rated substandard by the IAEA. Yet, it continued to be operated.

Poor safety practices in India’s nuclear-power plants remain camouflaged under a cloak of secrecy. Authorities get alerted only when an accident occurs, necessitating a shut down. The NSG should have a second look at safety measures `observed’ in India’s power plants.. A cavalier approach to poor safety standards could result in a major accident, like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. There is no reason why India should enjoy privileged use of nuclear energy, while other countries, with better safety records, remain deprived of it. Mohamed ElBaradei has rightly exposed this dichotomous policy in Time magazine dated August 17, 2009. In reply to a question, he emphasised: “Every country has the right to nuclear technology as long as they use it safely, peacefully and in a secure way”.

One Response to “NUCLEAR SAFETY IN INDIA”

  1. Siri Says:

    The US is trying to give nuclear material to India who is not a signatory to the Nuclear non-proliferaion act. They illegally manufactured and tested Nuclear bombs. Why are they getting away from being penalised for their actions while Iran who is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation act is denied the benefits to a signatory? Iran has not produced a Nuclear Bomb and says it has no intention of doing so. This clearly proves the double standards of the Western Powers and should be opposed by all peace loving countries in the World and by the UN, if it needs to be credible in the eyes of the whole World. The obvious reason for this is that the Western Powers are trying to Prop up India against China like they tried with Georgia and Russia. This is going to lead to the eventual destruction of India and will destabilize all the neighboring countries in the region. India should make peace with China who is a close neighbor and distance itself from the US and the other Western powers if they want to develop and flourish.

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