What if an accident like Fukushima or the Bhopal Gas Tragedy repeats itself?

Published: May 18, 2015
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An activist holds a placard to protest against India's possible civilian nuclear deal with the US. PHOTO: AFP

“A nuclear accident anywhere is a nuclear accident everywhere”

Almost a billion Indians now face the fearsome prospect of living under the shadow of an Indian nuclear lust. The Indian nuclear power industry remains shrouded in secrecy and opacity, refusing to reveal details on safety.  Following the nuclear diplomacy of India, one of the crowning achievements by the government of India was the pact with the US which showered out India from the list of nuclear pariahs allowing full access to nuclear technology and materials without signing Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  

The nuclear power generation is controlled by a government entity Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) which remains cloaked in secrecy. Details about leakages and accidents are not forthcoming and not transparent. However, the Indian establishment is pushing ahead with nuclear energy where chronically inadequate management continues to dog the program.

Around the world, safety concerns surrounding nuclear power have intensified as a result of Fukushima. Operating nuclear power plants requires sophisticated technical, industrial, institutional, and legal capacities. Even the most advanced countries can struggle to manage nuclear power when things go wrong. Also, important piece of evidence about past events remain classified, thereby empirical analysis on nuclear safety organisational designs and strategies is circumscribed. This can also be assessed on the basis of nuclear history that has witnessed three severe nuclear accidents such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Diachii.

Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, one might have expected nuclear power to lose much of its appeal. But in many developing countries, India among them, the desire for nuclear power has remained strong among officials, even if public may harbour deep concerns about governmental inability to operate nuclear facilities. This is music to the ears of the global nuclear establishment.

Concerns about nuclear power are prevalent in every country where the technology exists or is being developed, whereas India with abysmal records in disaster management, has simply shrugged off the Fukushima experience. It is a national catastrophe.

India plans a large expansion of power from nuclear energy over the next few decades. Many reactors and other facilities associated with the nuclear fuel cycle, and operated by the country’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and its subsidiary organisations, have had accidents of varying severity. The DAE also does not appear to be learning the appropriate lessons, and this is demonstrated through repeated failures at different sites of nuclear power plants in India.

Source: HindustanTimes

Source: HindustanTimes

The absurdity is further demonstrated where numerous incidents of fires and structural damages have occurred in India’s civilian nuclear power sector and there may be many other accidents that we do not know about. Under the circumstances, other examples of oil leaks, hydrogen leaks, fires and high bearing vibrations have often shut plants, and sometimes not.

Taking into account all these scenarios, the probability of a serious accident still lingers around the nuclear industry of India. Inevitably, there is a price to be paid for such bull headedness where the government’s response to past disasters has often been poor. A simple question that still needs to be worried about is: What if such an accident like Fukushima and Bhopal Gas Tragedy were to occur? How well would the machinery of the state respond? There exists not a single answer for these fatal actions, and I don’t intend to provide one. On this count, there is ample reason to worry about.

The story is one of ignorance, lack of adequate regulation, and finally a total breakdown of institutional responsibility within the Indian republic. They are consuming and bathing in nuclear poison. In India, seeing their behaviour of having numerous deals going around the government seems to have abdicated its responsibility to effectively regulate the civil nuclear industry to safeguard the people.

In an article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (1999), TS Gopi Rethinaraj writes:

“The department [of atomic energy] has happily exploited the ignorance of India’s judiciary and political establishment on nuclear issues. In the past, it has even used the Atomic Energy Act to prevent nuclear plant workers from accessing their own health records. While nuclear establishments everywhere have been notorious for suppressing information, nowhere is there an equivalent of India’s Atomic Energy Act in operation. Over the years, in the comfort of secrecy, India’s nuclear establishment has grown into a monolithic and autocratic entity that sets the nuclear agenda of the country and yet remains virtually unaccountable for its actions.”

As wisely said, governments in the developing world must establish good systems for nuclear governance if they are to avoid controversy and maximise their chances to operate nuclear power safely. The foundations of nuclear governance include least three things: transparency, accountability and trust.

Usman Ali Khan

Usman Ali Khan

Has done his Master’s in Defense and Strategic Studies from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad and is currently pursuing his studies in the same field. He tweets as @shau_ni (twitter.com/shau_ni)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • koshur_batta

    and am I to assume all of this jargon does not hold true for Pakistan as well? Why not clean your own backyard first?Recommend

  • Pam

    Dear Pakistani Writer, Stop worrying about India n Indians n start worrying about Chinese non-tested nuclear power plants those are coming in your country like in Karachi. Start from Home. Thanks.
    An Indian Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    While reading the article I thought , it might be a piece by an Indian author , when scrolled the bottom …STUNNED ….You people are really obsessed with us , which also in turn compels us to have a look here repeatedly.Recommend

  • Ravistichagan

    There are currently twenty one operational nuclear power reactors in India, across six states. They contribute less than three per cent of the country’s total energy generation, yet radioactively pollute at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle: from mining and milling to reprocessing or disposal. There is no long-term radioactive waste disposal policy in India. The inherent risks of nuclear power are made greater in India by the structure of the country’s nuclear establishment. Regardless of these flaws, India is one of the few countries in the world that is expanding its nuclear power sector at an enormous rate that creates fears among common masses.Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    While reading the article I thought , it might be a piece by an Indian author , when scrolled the bottom …STUNNED ….You people really love us a lot , which also in turn compels us to have a look here repeatedly.Recommend

  • rationalising argument.

    author should concentrate on nuclear weapon breeding in pakistan. india is going for civil nuclear deal not terrorist nuclear deal.Recommend

  • Jain

    @author: So does developing country ” Pakistan” has stopped nuclear expansion with China support????Recommend

  • Rabia

    Pakistan dint have Bhopal gas tragedyRecommend

  • Rabia

    Reading the comments down i make to clear one thing to my indian fellows that Pakistan is not a country having vulnerability like Bhopal Gas tragedy, Jaitpur nuclear plant, Kudunkulam etc etc…. So please be dafe at your home because Modi sarkar is doing some real business in killing poor people of India.Recommend

  • Gratgy
  • Huma

    They must shut their nuclear plants as Currently, nuclear energy provides less than 3 percent of India’s electricity needs.Recommend

  • Diya Khanna

    Bhopal gas tragedy was not nuclear, but chemical. So using that an example is invalid..Recommend

  • Pam

    Wow…Here comes the advice from CITIZEN OF A PEACEFUL SUNNI MAJORITY COUNTRY which kills its alll of its minorities(including muslim sects n Baloch without any remorse. No Protest. Nothing by majority sunni community.

    Amazing !!Recommend

  • Pam

    Who the hell are you? Try to tell something to your paki establishment which is going to build non tested nuclear power plants in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    The problem is why are you people bothered about India ?Recommend

  • Banana

    If Jaitapur and Kudankulam are liabilities, then what about Karachi, Chashma and Khushab? And Bhopal was methyl isocyanate. Not nuclear. Please be safe yourself than be concerned about Indian nuclear stations.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    France, the western power which does not have oil fields of its own or
    of its proxies the way Anglo’s have gets 75% of its electricity from
    Nuclear Power Plants.
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-A-F/France/

    Petrolium is more toxic to the environment and also to the mind. Look
    at what petrolium has done to Arab mind and to Pakistani mind since
    Pakistan gets free oil from gulf states esp Saudi Arabia. Oil has kept
    colonization and enslavement of the natives all over the world by
    Angloes. It is high time India gets rid of chains of Hydrocarbons
    (petrolium). Arabs might have oil wells in their land but all the
    digging and transportaion, distribution of oil is in Anglo hands.
    France a colonizing power of previous few centuries which is not in this
    game keeps its sovereignity intact by going for Nuclear Power…..

    What do you think Rabia?Recommend

  • Kumar

    we will see when chinese nuclear gift come up 20 kms from karachi.Recommend

  • Kumar

    you means you are missing it? want to feel like pakistan is some developed country where such event can’t happen.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    “Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, one might have expected nuclear power to lose much of its appeal. ”

    But its perfectly ok to build untested new design Chinese nuclear plants next to karachiRecommend

  • Gratgy

    ” Following the nuclear diplomacy of India, one of the crowning achievements by the government of India was the pact with the US which showered out India from the list of nuclear pariahs allowing full access to nuclear technology and materials without signing Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). ”

    Neighbor’s envy owner’s prideRecommend

  • Gratgy

    “the crowning achievements by the government of India was the pact with the US which showered out India from the list of nuclear pariahs allowing full access to nuclear technology and materials without signing Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”

    The rest of the article article can be summarized in 4 words

    “The grapes are sour”Recommend

  • Kumar

    Somebody mentioned that pakistan dont have vulnerability like bhopal gas tragedy and jaitapur nuclear plant or kudankulam. May I ask is Pakistan yet to enter industrial age? or people in pakistan had genetically evolution to resist effects of poison gases and waste?
    For make sure someone wake up from hallucination: There is no nuclear plant at jaitapur leave aside the nuclear “accident”. No accident happened at kudankulam till date. Indian Nuclear plants are far safer than pakistani and chinese, like the one coming up in karachi.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Lol, Conveniently forgetting the Ojhri Camp disaster aren’t we?Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Nuclear energy provides 0 percent of Pakistan’s electricity needs. So why are you building more nuclear plants, that too untested Chinese ones next to population centers like Karachi. Recommend

  • goga

    Very well written . I would to read more on this issue in the coming days .Recommend

  • Headstrong

    My point exactly. I share your sentiment – I too expected to see an Indian writer venting his frustration in a pakistani blog. Lo and behold! Yet another pakistani pontificating about India’s perceived ‘ills’.

    The ‘sweeter than honey’ friend is also going nuclear, energy wise. As someone else has written here, France is mostly nuclear energy. Russia, US and Germany all use nuclear energy to varying extents. And, on the whole, India has a stellar record in non-proliferation as well as operating the few plants that we have. Yes, we have had some incidents, but mostly minor in nature. Just because accidents may occur, doesn’t mean we scrap the idea. If that were to be the case, no development should happen as accidents ‘might’ happen. The onus is on us to import contemporary technology and adopt the strictest safety norms. We’ve repeatedly demonstrated that we can achieve the stars (well, at least Mars) when we put our heads to it, and this should prove no different. It is clear that, on a technological level, India and pakistan are on entirely different planets, so this opinion piece may well be aimed at pakistan’s so-called leadership.
    The author is entitled to his opinion and his blog. We’re entitled to trash it.Recommend

  • Abracadabra

    Your articles remind me of some “letters to the editor” in Indian newspapers. Sample – “In India, seeing their behaviour of having numerous deals going around the government seems to have abdicated its responsibility to effectively regulate the civil nuclear industry to safeguard the people.” Surely that can be phrased better. Your concerns seem to be limited to the Indian Nuclear Program. What about Dr. AQ Khan? What about Pakistani collaboration with North Korea, China and Saudi Arabia? Also, while your concerns about safety are entirely legitimate, the Bhopal plant was operated by an American company(Union Carbide), not by the Government of India. I could go on and on but it seems like a pointless exercise.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    But you had Ojhri camp disaster which was worse since that was controlled by your army while Bhopal plant was controlled by a US companyRecommend

  • Rana Eddy

    Go back to this author’s other two recent writings : He is very much worried about us. We must placate him. I often wonder , except the Right-wing Hindus , no Indians are so worried about Pakistan’ internal issues but here everyone from the Right to the Left , every Tom ,Dick or Harry is concerned with India’s internal issues .Recommend

  • Anil Kumar

    Realistic but bitter! Indian government is unnecessarily expanding the nuclear program, which is not needed. India is rich in alternative energy sources and our government should work on this side like we are the 5th largest producer of wind power. So why not becoming the largest producer, in wind and solar. We have land and capacity, so why going for dangerous nuclear energy? The cleanup cost of any nuclear disaster will be in billions and million will lost their lives. Still after the cleanup for decades the affected area will be prone to radiation and health hazards.Recommend

  • RFD

    Well, see, the article is for Pak readership. Not for trolling
    Indians obsessed with Pak websites and eNewspapers.Recommend

  • RFD

    See, part of the problem is Indian safety and security measures
    regarding nuclear energy. India has a very bad record. Competent
    engineers/technicians are almost non existent. A Chernobyl like
    disaster will effect neighbors too. So they are worried.Recommend

  • RFD

    You do understand that Indians do not have a stellar technology record.
    Very very spotty. Submarines sinking, catching fires in harbors [Bombay]
    Aircraft carriers, World War 11 vintage, loosing aircrafts, because of third
    rate recovery procedures [Indian Ocean] and it goes on and on. Really
    not a good idea for India to get these reactors. First, train the people.Recommend

  • RFD

    Please, please think about the reign of terror and killing fields
    of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam. and Indian Bengal. And the
    unabated massacres of Kashmiri Muslims by the Indian Army.
    [this is not counting killing of indigenous people of Ladakh, Kerala
    and then the Dalits, Bheels etc.]Recommend

  • RFD

    Because we want the neighbors to be safe. Any nuclear
    disaster in beautiful India can effect India’s neighbors too. Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh…Burma..China…Recommend

  • RFD

    Doubt it sincerely. Neighbor’s folly is more like it.

    Modi’s new name – Goodluck Narendra Modi.Recommend

  • RFD

    The Paks are more worried about the 1.8 billion neighbors causing a
    catastrophe.By their ineptitude.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    Kudos to all those people who are criticizing author just because he wrote an article on India and he is Pakistani. They are forgetting that they are Indians and are commenting on a Pakistani news website. They are living in some ancient era where they believe that India is a far away country cut from the rest of the world.Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    But see the article is on India & its own internal issues ..So why this infringement on our issue …I think you people deliberately write these things to invite us & increase the readership of your newspapers.Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    Oh really !! You cannot keep yourself safe & you worry about others …Too altruistic ..Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Lol! How do you know? What happened in Camp Ojhri run by the Pakistani army?Recommend

  • Sane

    Don’t worry making nuclear weapon is our right to defend our homeland. India has hegemonic doctrine and nuclear enabled India is a threat to this world. Recommend

  • Sane

    Then do not come in trap of increased readership.Recommend

  • Sane

    Topic is about nuclear. Do not divert.Recommend

  • Sane

    Pakistan has more trained and competent people than India has.Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    Thanks for the suggestion but that would be bad for your own economy.Recommend

  • Sane

    You must be happy if our economy goes down. Do not need your support. ThanksRecommend

  • rationalising argument.

    world knows who is terrorist and who is responsible. and don’t complain about india’s nuclear weapons Recommend

  • Gratgy

    The comment to which I replied is about safety and security measures and competence of the security services. Understand the topic firstRecommend

  • Kumar

    One can only laugh at your assertion.Recommend

  • someone

    A big thanks to author for showing great concern to Indian nationals. Now only if you could convince Pakistani government about future plants in Karachi and change their minds about first time ever installation of Chinese plants, you would be doing great service to your nation, and please do not waste your energy and breathe on Indians, they are capable enough of taking care of themselves.Recommend

  • someone

    For that to happen in Pakistan, you need that kind of infrastructure first which is almost not there.Bhopal plant was not run by India but by a US company. Jaitapur nuclear plant is not built yet. Kundakulum plant had one accident and it was a incident of hot water spilling over the maintenance crew. There was no “nuclear” accident. Thanks for your concern though. We are also very concerned about people of Karachi who would be under a great threat of untested Chinese nuclear plants.Recommend

  • someone

    Who told you Indian army is killing Indians in Arunachal Pradesh? In Assam its the migrant Muslims of Bangladesh who are causing problem and despite that Indian government is still not using the kind of force that Pakistani army used on its NWFP with blanket fire from air. Kashmiris are dying because they decided to become puppet of Pakistan. Laddakh is most peaceful place in India. Kerala is one of the biggest tourist hub etc. May be you should apply for an Indian university. Might do some good for you.Recommend

  • someone

    I think its Indian who should be more worried about upcoming Pakistani nuclear plants using untested Chinese plants. Karachi is not too far from Bombay and infact any accident would not only be catastrophic to Karachi but western India too. I think Indian government support all social activists in Pakistan, who are against these nuclear plants. Giving the grave situation of terrorism in Pakistan, having a nuclear plant near to huge population is a big risk, even for neighboring country. I think Pakistan should drop this idea for next 50 years and control the terrorism first.Recommend

  • someone

    Yes. But could you please suggest an alternate? Hmm How about we build more dams on rivers in Kashmir with huge storage capacity? Would that do for you sister?Recommend

  • Gratgy
  • RFD

    All arguments aside, India is not well suited for advance technology.
    Sure, you can wish for it and pray for it. But lack of education, masses
    of illiterates, the specter of Bhopal, Would not India be better off if this money was used for better infra structures? 70% of Indians do not have
    toilets. Should not Indian Govt be supplying or importing toilets? Need
    of the hour far out paces dangerous Nuclear Reactors Think FukushimaRecommend

  • pork lover

    Although I disapprove of Nuclear energy as well as weapons,still a pakistani news daily like ET should have put more effort on Karachi nuclear plant.Karachi sits on a notorious fault like the Indo-nepal border.And considering the fact that pakistan is much weaker economically,thing could be worse than the proposed Jaitapur powerplant!Recommend

  • Abracadabra

    Agreed, you saying Pakistanis have a better record? So because something is be difficult it should not attempted at all? Freedom means nothing if it doesn’t include the freedom to make mistakes.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Lol! India just sent a rocket to mars while you were busy counting our toilets. We are taking care of the toilets in our country but Pakistan where 50% of the people do not have toilets Recommend

  • R. Subramanian

    I am an Indian, when I read this article without bias means I feel author has written a good article about Indian nuclear power plants.

    Still author should have analysed properly. When tsunami hit Kalpakkam nuclear power plant, automatically the nuclear plant stopped, even though sea water has created havoc in that area, several buses, cars and humans are washed away but still Kalpakkam nuclear power plant was safe.

    Kudankulam power plant has highest safety standards…

    Nuclear power plants has to be encouraged for the safety and clean power.

    Above all in Fukushima accident only 5 people had died directly due to that power plant accident… Even though Fukushima power plant is very old, its safety technologies are old, but still has not brought big disaster to the people of JapanRecommend