Saturday, November 05, 2011

Fear of Koodangulam project is unfounded - Scientific facts

Dr Abdul Kalam and Mr V Ponraj
Now Koodangulam Nuclear Power station is facing crisis.  After an investment of Rs.15,000 crores and work of more than a decade, this nuclear power station is ready to produce 2000 MW of power within a month or two.  When the production is to start in a few weeks, some of the activists along with villagers have been protesting against the nuclear power station.  They have even met the Prime Minister and requested him to close down the power station.  They are creating the fear among the villagers that this nuclear power station may also generate radiation and cause death, if an earthquake or Tsunami happens in future, like Japan's Fukushima. 

With this background, on behalf of our group, I interviewed Mr V Ponraj, Advisor to Dr Abdul Kalam former President of India.  Mr Ponraj is also a well known scientist.  Mr Ponraj explains  the scientific facts about nuclear energy.  Excerpt from the interview.

Q: Villagers have fear about Koodangulam project.  They fear that the radiation may cause death, if earthquake or tsunami happens in future.  They are quoting Japan's recent Fukushima example.   What is your view?

A:  Koodangulam and Kalpakkam are in earthquake zone No 2 with lower risk of earthquake.  Nowhere in the world, earthquake zone 2 has suffered any major earthquake leading to death so far.  Japan's Fukushima is in earthquake zone 5.  Besides, the japan power plant belongs to generation 1, constructed 40 years back.  Since Earthquake and Tsunami happened simultaneously, the power plant got affected.  That power plant had the backup of only 8 hours of power supply.   Hundreds of people died only because of earthquake and tsunami.  As per the report, not even one person died out of radiation due to the Fukkushima Accident.  A wrong propaganda is being spread in India by some vested interests against Koodangulam safety quoting Fukushima. 

Koodangulam is in Earthquake zone 2, which is less prone to heavy earthquake.     The Tsunamigenic plate (Sunda ARC) is located 1500 KM Southwest away from Koodangulam.  Even if Tsunami  orginates due to severe earthquake in that Sunda ARC region , it may not have serious impact at Koodangulam since it is not located straight to that tsunamigenic plate, it is located in a very safe place in the eastern side where it is  protected by Srilanka island.  Even in the 2004 Tsunami, the impact on Koodangulam  was less.

since the direct impact can only hit Nagapattinam, it hit that location  in 2004.    It was because, 2004 Tsunami was the cause of the earthquake originated in Indonesia/Sumatra in the eastern part of the Pacific Ring of Fire – Tsunamigenic plate.  Hence there is no question of Earthquake beyond 6 Ricter scale and Tsunami happening at Koodankulam site.  These fears are unfounded.  Even if earthquake and tsunami happens the Koodankulam is built to withstand both. 

Further, the 'spent fuel', is being stored 20 feet below the earth level in a two level protected  concrete structure with 1.20 meter thick walls with a gap of 6 feet and then another wall covering that. Even assuming an earthquake of Richter scale 6 happens, it may not affect the storage of the spent fuel complex.  The spent fuel is not mixed with sea, as propagated.  No waste or spent fuel is mixed with sea. It is only the coolant water, which does not have any radiation except the 5 degree warm temperature is released to the sea, which is well within the limits of 7 degree. The research studies conducted by 7 reputed institutions have proved that there is no threat to the marine life due to this water release. 

While Japan Fukushima had only 8 hours of power supply, Koodangulam has the provision for more than 400 times of requirement of alternate power supply.  Besides, we can run the power station for many number of days with diesel also in case of emergency.  Now in India, all the nuclear power stations are in the process of getting upgraded to 3rd and 4th generation model.  

Any nuclear power station can be built in any part of the world, only after lot of clearances.  Now the rules are stringent.  Government will invest such huge sums of money, only after the approval by various scientific bodies and regulatory bodies.  

The fears of certain Koodangulam representatives are unfounded and not based on scientific views.  They can be rest assured that this power station is very very safe.

Q:  What is the present status of power stations and what are the plans for future?  

A: Presently, India  is generating only 60% of its total requirement as on today, that means we are able to produce only around 150,000 MW of power.  By 2020, India may need to generate 4 lakh MW of power.  

Of this 1.50 lakh MW production of power, India produces only 4750 MW through 20 nuclear power stations.  That means only around 2.8 percent is produced through nuclear power stations.  Rest are from thermal, hydro, wind and solar sources.  

By 2020, India plans to produce 50,000 MW under  nuclear source, 60,000 MW under  wind, 55,000 MW under  thermal, 50,000 MW under  hydro and 50,000 MW under solar sources.  India is generating power from different sources.  
To generate 1 MW of power under hydro, we need an investment of  approximately Rs.3 crores,   for thermal, we need approximately around Rs. 4 crores,  for nuclear, we need 6 to 7 crores crores; for solar, we need 12 crores and for wind, we need 7 to 8 crores.  

Nuclear power is clean and does not pollute the environment and it is carbon-dioxide CO2 free.   To put things into perspective, imagine a kilometer long train, with about 50 freight bogies, all fully laden with the most typical fossil fuel – about 10,000 tonnes of coal. The same amount of energy can be generated by amount 500 kg  of Type-1 fuel naturally occurring Uranium (contains 3.5 kg Uranium-235 fuel), enough to barely fill the boot of a small car.

We can not depend on coal endlessly.  It is found that availability of coal reserve in the world will last only for 30 years.  Power generation through hydro, solar and wind sources is highly dependent on the monsoon.    Only nuclear power can be produced endlessly.  

India has  the second largest thorium deposit in the world.  Within a decade or two, we will graduate to thorium.  Our scientists are already on the job.  That will help us to generate more power. 

Q:  How other developed countries use the nuclear energy?  Activists report that France is shutting  down their nuclear power stations for safety reasons.  Is it right?

A: The developed countries are power surplus countries. We are a power deficit country. Hence there is a lot of difference to achieve the target of total energy requirement in various available forms in india  compared to our economic growth rate of 9% to 10% for the next 10 years. 

Many of the developed countries like US, France have surplus power.  US is generating 1.50 lakh MW power through nuclear energy and it constitutes around 19% of the total power generation. 

France is generating 0.50 lakh MW power through nuclear sources.  It is 74% of their power generation.  Unlike India, France is more dependent on nuclear power.  (India has only 2.8%).  Also, they are generating surplus power. Japan generates 0.30 lakh MW nuclear power (29% of their total power generation). Germany is generating 0.5. lakh MW nuclear power (28% of their power generation).  

Germany decided to phase out nuclear power by 2022, not because of the fear out of Fukkushima accident, but they have exhausted the uranium resource. Out of 3400 tonnes of their uranium requirement, now they are able to mine only 68 tonnes, the rest is being imported.  Hence in their energy security policy, uranium import found to be not cost effective beyond 2022, rather they can very well use the other forms of energy generation from their own natural resources.   Hence every country is free to decide their own energy security requirement, india is trying to achieve energy independence through its own policy. 

You cannot ask India  to follow the models of other countries, just because they are doing differently. Every country is unique based on their economic development and growth.  The power surplus countries are growing only at 2% to 4% GDP growth rate, while India is growing at 9%,GDP growth rate in spite of the power shortage. We should not compare with other countries, as other countries have different production capacity. None of these countries are shutting down their nuclear stations for the fear of  safety reasons.

Q: How to remove the fear of villagers about the nuclear energy and radiation?

A: As I said earlier, the fear of local people are unfounded, it is created.  Nuclear energy is a clean energy without polluting the environment.

Japan suffered US bombing during world war.  That was uncontrolled nuclear energy.  But nuclear power stations are 'controlled nuclear energy'.
All the electronic gadgets like TV, computers, mobile phones, etc. are also generating radiation.  We have learnt to manage these radiations.  

The Government and Media should remove the fears of the local people through scientific facts and explaining them in the way they understand.  Indian scientists are of world class and highly patriotic.  They will not do anything, which can harm the nation.  Just like we go to a professional doctor and accept the suggestions prescribed by him with belief, we should also trust our  own scientists who are respected world over and leave the job to them.  

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