is nuclear energy safe…is it inevitable?

MUMBAI: “It is natural for general public to question the safety of nuclear energy, however it will be difficult not to accept that it is a safe, clean and inevitable source of energy,” N Nagaich, Executive Director Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) said at a press conference on safety aspects of Nuclear power plants.

“The Fukushima incident gave us reasons to recheck all our safety measures and we evaluated each and every system. From the external threats of seismic activity, tsunami, airplane crash to the internal issues of over heating, termination of reaction, prevention of energy release etc we considered all the possibilities to ensure absolute safety,” Mr Nagaich said. He added that Nuclear energy projects have well-defined regulatory practices established on par with the best international standards.

Mr KC Purohit, Director NPCIL (technical) added that there continues to be concerns about nuclear energy and resistance to it because people are still not fully aware. “Compared to the average natural radiation background dose of 2,400 microsieverts per year, the radiation dose from the Indian nuclear power plants during 2010 was 0.42 to 39.6 microsieverts to persons near the plant boundaries…which is insignificant. There are layers of security and safety features at ech plant to ensure that no radiation is controlled. In Kudankulam project there is a two km boundary of the plant and there is no habitation for another two kms to further safeguard the public.”

NPCIL director-technical S A Bhardwaj said that he expected things to return to normal at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project within the few months, “We are hopeful that the safety measures will satisfy the people and the Government, paving way for the plant’s commissioning in few months.” He added that nuclear scientists would require another four months after things return to normal to commission the first 1000 MW unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP).

In October 2011, thousands of protesters and villagers living around nuclear plant blocked highways protesting against further construction work of the plant. Stating the impact on environmental and public health they demanded that the work on the plant be terminated. A Public Interest Litigation has also been filed against the government’s civil nuclear program at the Supreme Court demanding a stay of all proposed nuclear power plants till satisfactory safety measures and cost-benefit analyses are completed by independent agencies.

“We have launched awareness campaigns in and around Kudankulam informing the people on the safety aspects of the plant. We do not expect that people will accept the most modern and innovative technology without questioning it, however certain reports in the media that correlate nuclear plant and cancer cases are statistically incorrect and flawed,” Mr Bhardwaj added.

Speaking of the study conducted by an NGO ASPIRE that compared prevalence of cancer cases in 22 villages within 8 kms of the plant and three villages 54 kms form the plant, Dr. C. S. Pramesh from Tata Memorial Center (TMC) said that the study gave an incorrect picture. “No other reason for cancer was considered and no other cause was compared, also the sample size is very small hence the conclusions are statistically incorrect.” Dr Pramesh added that studies conducted amongst the employees of the power plants of the country for over 15 years showed that that while the number of cases of cancer in general public is 98.50 per lakh, the employee rate was 54.05 per lakh. Also deaths due to cancer in general population in India is 68/lakh where as it was only 29.05 amongst NPICL employees.

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