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Nuke Bill - Whose Liability?

Nuke Bill - Whose Liability?

September 08, 2010

The Indian parliament recently passed a bill that denies the fundamental right to life.

Twenty-four years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in Ukraine released four hundred times more radioactive fallout than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima! Despite heroic efforts by the firefighters, whose boots melted in radioactive mess as they battled flames, 4,000 people died in the surrounding area. People were affected as far north as Ireland. In the Ukraine alone, those confirmed as permanently disabled by the Chernobyl accident crossed the 100,000 mark.

Twenty six years ago, the Union Carbide plant of Bhopal leaked a cloud of 42 tons of toxic chemicals into the air of the densely populated city. The worst hit area was the slum next to the factory. Most of the victims were poor people from villages who had moved to the city in search of jobs. Many, including children and the elderly, died in their beds as the gas seeped into their homes. Others, including women clasping babies, fled only to collapse in the street. Many were later found, huddled, sick and dying in the city’s doorways. Herds of oxen lay dead and the bodies of goats and sheeps littered the roadsides where they used to roam!

Some days back, the nuclear liability bill of India cleared parliament. Are we heading for another Chernobyl? Another Bhopal?

Lets rewind - It was only a year ago when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to India with a deadly agenda. No one accepted, but the fact was clear - India was afraid of a blot in its relations with the U.S. under the new Obama government. A few days later, Hillary was reported saying, "We have just completed a civil nuclear deal. If it is done through proper channels and safeguarded, then it is appropriate. The two countries would proceed with agreements initiated by Bush on military issues and civilian nuclear deals." Hillary added, "The sites for two nuclear parks for U.S. companies have been approved by the government. These parks will advance the aims of the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, facilitate billions of dollars in U.S. reactor exports, and create jobs in both counties, as well as generate much-needed energy for the Indian people."

Not many of us know that one of the two sites is in the region of Andhra Pradesh, a Moaoist stronghold. The second site is in Gujarat where the political party at the center lacks a stronghold. If a disaster occurs in any of these states, the center will have nothing to lose and lots of people to blame! Rings any bells?

Sovereign French institutions, Areva and Rusatom, were already in the race to supply nuclear plant equipment to India. In the event of a Bhopal-like disaster, it would be an issue between the governments of India and France. Private players from U.S. like General Electric and Westinghouse grunted that they will not invest until India ensures that the entire liability of any potential catastrophe is borne solely by Indians. We know what governments do. In 26 years, nothing has been done to address the liabilities of the Bhopal disaster, either by the U.S. or the Indian government. Most of us have even stopped expecting. Well,  the bill has been passed on their terms and conditions, and the country seems to be more interested in Katrina Kaif's next film!

What are the possible hazards of Nuclear mines or plants in India? Well according to Frontline, the renowned US investigative documentary makers, there is a risk of exposure to ionizing radiation at each stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to fuel fabrication, and from the operation and maintenance of nuclear reactors to the handling or reprocessing of spent fuel. Radiation is a unique and long-acting poison that causes chromosomal damage even in small doses, and ultimately cancer and genetic damage. Radiation cannot be neutralized or destroyed. And there is no threshold below which it is safe. Nuclear power generation, as well as the transportation and handling of nuclear materials, inevitably exposes occupational workers to radiation. It is also fraught with routine emissions and effluents that are hazardous to the public in the vicinity. It leaves behind wastes, which remain dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years despite an economic lifespan of only 30 or 40 years for a nuclear reactor!

The bill has cleared parliament. The politics behind it are clear. The potential disasters have been emphasised in black and white. No wonder the world is ending. The question is - can we save it?


  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    25.09.10 01:14 AM
    @ AussieDesi

    Thanks for your thought-provoking comment. I will have to admit that based on the points that you have put forward, a complete new article can be composed that can confront my stand completely. I may not be able to answer all your queries, due to lack of visibility and my my own opinion bias maybe, but I'll try to address the underlying issues.

    Indians are known to compromise with quality. Take commonwealth games for instance! But the difference between CWG and Nuclear plant is major. We can't compromise with quality here. This partially addresses your 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th question.

    @ 1- Bhopal disaster was a great lesson. A nuclear disaster in future will mean another Bhopal, and another delayed justice (or injustice, you can say). This only worsens the situation!

    @ 3- I believe the pressure from was not exerted or felt openly. But yes, there was pressure! Peer pressure of spoiling relationships with the developed world.

    @ 7- Selection of the locations for establishing nuclear plants cannot and will never be chalked out as a long term political agenda. If political parties start developing the long term perspective, half of our immediate problems will get resolved. For instance, take CWG again. A good CWG set-up would have paved way many more sports events in India in the future. This would have meant more corruption in controlled way for ages to come.
  • AussieDesi
    21.09.10 11:10 PM
    Hi Sourav
    Interested to read your thoughts and thank you for taking the time to post on the subject. Heartily agree that the younger generation does not question its leaders and its media. Also agree that foreign corporations should be made to face the full ambit of local laws.

    But I wonder if I can pose some questions to you? Nuclear power has the potential to be a divisive issue. Its a difficult societal conundrum - but I find that things are rarely 100% good or 100% bad. What do you think about the following:
    1. The Chernobyl reactor was built in the 1950s. Human error played a big part in the tragedy, as did the loss of power to the reactor during a test. Despite the tragedy, the other reactors of similar vintage in Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia continued operating until 2000, when they were decommissioned. Perhaps new nuclear reactor technology and monitoring systems have moved on a bit since the 1950s (and 1980s USSR)?
    2. One of the main reasons Bhopal justice was delayed was due to the overworked, arcane and old-fashioned justice system. For example, if the Delhi High Court were to hear all cases before it (ie not take on any more cases) it would take about 400 years!
    3. As you state, the 123 Agreement (Hyde Act) was negotiated and agreed under the Bush administration. Given that this assists in bringing India back to parity on the international stage (not a pariah state) are you sure that India agreed to civil nuclear co-operation to avoid pressure from the Obama administration? (And yes, China was not happy with the agreement!)
    4. Does the risk of radiation exposure outweigh harnessing the greenest form of power known to mankind that is able to power cities/factories etc? The French companies you mention have the expertise because France has been building and installing domestic reactors for decades. Not sure if there have been any similar disasters there - any ideas?
    5. Ionising radiation comes in Alpha, Beta, Gamma, X-Ray and Neutron form. Alpha and Beta can be stopped with a sheet of aluminium foil. Gamma is more difficult - but not if you use lead. X-Rays are commonly used in medical devices and hospitals (yes, we absorb radiation during the process). Netron is commonly protected by a tank of water. Frontline may be correct - but lets ask some questions ourselves before being scared!
    6. Radioactive waste, on the other hand - agree that this is a big deal. However, spent rods etc with a half life of a few hundred years can be stored successfully in a geological stable environment. Don't know where India is proposing to store the same - does anyone else?
    7. One final point. The reason the reactors have been placed in Gujarat and Andhra may be due to the need for constant water supplies, expertise, delivery of nuclear material etc. I don't know. But one reason may be that placing them near economic hotspots and growing cities will actually enable the power produced to be delivered to the businesses, schools, factories, hospitals etc that need it? Given that nuclear reactors are a decades-long investment, I am not sure that Mr Modi or the Maoists will continue to dominate the respective regions forever!

    Interested to hear your thoughts, and those of others.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    10.09.10 08:40 PM
    I am not against nuclear power. There are places on earth where nuclear plants can be established and a disaster won't even affect a huge population. My question is why India? Why the hugely populated nation? Why AP or Orissa? Why not a scarcely populated regin somewhere near Pokharan was selected for a nuclear plant? Why countries in middle east, Africa are tortured by the neo-realist nations? Do you know? The bio-chemical and non-degradable wastes from the US are dumped in India and other third world countries! If Bhopal disaster had happened in the US then it would have changed the course of world forever, but it hardly created an effect in India!

    And believe me- I am not blaming the government of any part of the world for all of this. I am the one to blame! My generation is to blame! Why did the country wake up all of a sudden against Bhopal injustice? Why was the country asleep for 26 years? Why were they asleep? Was the Bhopal hype just a matter of glamour?

    Aritra, growth is inevitable now in India! Nuclear plants will be set up. The question is- "with the type of quality Indians deliver in public sector, will we be able to avoid a disaster?" Can we mitigate it in the right way at the right time!
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    10.09.10 08:26 PM
    Thanks for the encouragement. Glad you liked the article :)
    Well, even BJP supported the bill, so it might be inappropriate to take sides here. The point I have stressed on throughout my article is creating robust awareness of the ill effects of the bill, especially among the youth, and, the mitigation steps that should be taken to avoid them.
  • Aritra Choudhuri
    Aritra Choudhuri
    10.09.10 02:20 PM
    I encourage your article.. but I have a question. We all know that nuclear energy is necessary for our future,then how can we avoid this?? we may put more pressure on the liability of noclear oriented MNCs but we can't live without it....
  • Merin
    10.09.10 12:28 PM
    This is seriously, seriously good. Solid, well written..and on such a serious issue.
    I have to admit, I've been more of a blind supporter of the Congress, but with this post, you've made a strong point.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    10.09.10 01:18 AM
    @Gori Girl

    Haha... In India we use a proverb- "Na maama se kana maama achha", meaning having a blind uncle is better than having no uncle at all :D

    I guess you got my point :)

    By the way, I read your post on Bhangra nights :) Must say, it brought a smile on my face knowing that the wonderful culture of colors, joy and celebration lives in the heart of California :)
  • Gori Girl
    Gori Girl
    10.09.10 01:03 AM
    LOL don't give our president too much credit for press releases. They're usually much sound and fury signifying nothing. The fine art of saying as little as possible in as many words as you can is part of the American media experience.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    10.09.10 12:17 AM
    Thanks for the encouragement Pratima. You have hit the right chord- 'accessing information'. This is where the problem lies. The information is certainly available, but is hardly ever accessed by us.
  • Pratima Bhat
    Pratima Bhat
    09.09.10 09:51 PM
    Hello sourav,
    Good article.It was an enlightening article. Yes we need to look into decisions made by higher authorities or the problems going on in nation as we are the future of our country. Keep up the good work sourav.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    09.09.10 09:22 PM
    @ Yawar

  • yawar
    09.09.10 07:47 PM
    quite informative..keep writing.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    09.09.10 03:17 PM
    I agree, the media is responsible!

    I agree, the government is responsible. The US Prez releases a press release every day, while our PM has faced the national media only twice in 6 years.

    But aren't we ALSO responsible for all this? Is there a point in blaming when we are also to blame! The most selling newspaper of our country is more fashion and less news. Visit their website (I won't take names). They have ads of bra and nip-slip news in their front page!! Well, the solution doesnot lie in blaming or a reactive approach. Most youth of my generation don't read newspaper, don't read good books. Don't vote! This is where the problem lies. We need awareness on disaster mitigation and government policies.

    From a different perspective, lets say, development has happened. A civil nuclear deal will bring in more development. Post 1991 reforms, the middle class of India has grown quantitatively as well as qualitatively. But we have paid a huge price in the process. Today, if India runs on two wheels, then our policies work on galvanizing, alloying one wheel and rusting the other. The rear wheel (a.k.a Farmers, Workers, people BPL) has lost existence.
  • flawsophy
    09.09.10 02:32 PM
    it is so true ... the media in India disappointingly shows an utter lack of maturity ...

    Although, the entire media circus troupe in the country is the American model, no one is analyzing the bills and the language of the bills and important issues at all like the US media. We just want the sets and not the work ...
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    09.09.10 01:12 AM
    @ Lisha
    I completely agree with you that issues like these show us the stupid side of our Political leaders and the smartness of the US Counterparts in the current context, but the story doesn't end here. Our political leaders are not always stupid. Most of their times they have their own coffers to fill.

    Thanks for your concern and honest opinion.
  • Shyam Agarwal
    Shyam Agarwal
    09.09.10 12:21 AM
    Hey Sourav
    nice to see your understanding on the subject and i was wondering appointing someone like you as the adviser to the counsil, but of course ..........
    Actually the people in Khadi dress have got nothing to worry about because they wont face any hard reality of life , no loss of life or property and so hardly maters to them as long as it has got no political threats to them , so they wont have to face questions from opposition in parliament...
    Actually we people can just feel bad for few minutes and then forget and get going like you said and you are right there but one day will come when someone who can think and implement logical solution will guide our country and lead us to a safer and comfortable horizon.... lets pray to god till then..
  • Lisha
    08.09.10 11:57 PM
    Hey Sourav,
    All though I agree with the not being ready with Disaster Mitigation part, I see the clause of "the entire liability of any potential catastrophe is borne solely by Indians." as a major flaw. Agreed that the actual compensation given for the Bhopal Tragedy trickled down to a few Rupees per day per head, it clearly shows the stupid side of Political leaders and the smartness of the US Counterparts in the current context.
    Possibly I cannot contest with your opinions about the sites chosen, but I can definitely support you to increase awareness about Disaster Mitigation. As they say, "self help is best help" and we have understood that the hard-way after the Bhopal incident..
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    08.09.10 10:05 PM
    Thanks for your encouraging remarks. On your question- "Is this their negligence or fear of losing relationship with foreign countries or is it just a internal politics??"
    Well, it is both! Primarily the former one. Both BJP and Congress have ended up supporting the bill.
    My stand in this article is pretty clear. I am not anti government. But I can not abide lack of liability if a disaster happens, and even worse, no care been taken to mitigate the possibility of a disaster.
    Infact, the bill caps the total liability of a max of 2100 crores. Of which, the liability of the nuclear operator is fixed at only Rs.500 crores while the central government shall be liable for the rest of the amount. Nuclear accidents can cause huge damage! If the damage caused by the incident amounts to a larger amount, the compensation cannot be increased. "Why?"- is my question! Is profit worth more than people? What hurts the most is the public negligence towards the issue! We manage disasters well, but we never think or work towards mitigating them.
  • Naveen Kumar
    Naveen Kumar
    08.09.10 08:23 PM
    Well Sourav I’m Impressed by your article, the Title itself attracts to read this article.
    Being an engineering student, if you are concerned about such deadly issue, why can’t Indian government be!!! Is this their negligence or fear of losing relationship with foreign countries or is it just a internal politics??
    You have spotted those two places, one lies at the south part (Andhra Pradesh) and another lies at the west part (Gujarat), if at all any disaster take place just like Bhopal, we may land up in losing 1/3 of the country, making that region barren.
    Keep on posting such articles so that people may get awareness about such deadly issues.

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