A strong case can be made in favor of energy being the crucial vector in India's development process.) There is little doubt that we need energy the debate is on the questions of how much of it, for what end uses, of what kind and quality and at what cost to us. Considering the energy resources available to us and the difficulties of procuring non-renewable resources like oil and high quality coal, nuclear energy, at first sight, seems like an ideal solution to our problems. It may well be. if and only if, we as a people can be convinced that nuclear energy is what we really need, and that the social,environmental and economic costs will be justified by the benefits of choosing the nuclear path.

My primary intention in this paper is to provoke conversation, debate and hopefully decision making. People, all people, and not just politicians, bureaucrats and scientists need to talk about, critically understand and decide on development directions that we as a country choose for ourselves. Science and technology, unfortunately, is not the stuff of conversations. People rarely talk and debate or for that matter fight over science and technology like they do over love, patriotism, economics, politics and such,which are subjects that people feel affect them for better or for worse. And, that is the tragedy. People should be able to talk about matters that affect them ; and science and technology along with all its remarkable benefits does affect them, often in an adverse and drastic manner. I suspect that it should be our basic right that we as a people be in a position to discuss and decide on matters ihat can kill and maim us, destroy our habitats and nature, which nourishes us, affect our very lifestyles. Matters for which we sellourselves in the international marketplace and for which we go to war. What we do not know of can hurt

Why do we not talk science and technology like we do other subjects? There is the "complexity" of the subject; our educational system requires several years of sadhana before we are given access to the language of science and technology. There is the basic lack of information. Organizations involved in science and technology are not known for their lack of reticence. The public often confuses this reticence as an indication that there is something to hide : the painful fact is that experience seems to justify the belief. And then there is what might be best described as a conspiracy amongst scientists and technologists and those who support, utilize and finance their efforts, namely our politicians and bureaucrats. The conspiracy evolves out of basic and primitive desires to protect themselves, promote themselves, and isolate their work and decisions from public scrutiny and accountability. Such is the litany of power.

1. The Energy Scene:

A precise accounting of energy demand in India is difficult because of the fact that a very large portion of the energy use falls into the so-called' " non-commercial " sector, which means that the transactions do not appear in the predominantly urban monetary market. And the data, which are being now gathered is still location-specific and does not lend itself to generalizations. However, sufficient data exists to be able to get a reasonable idea of the categories of energy use and the means by which they are presently satisfied. Keeping human food (which is energy) out of the analysis the demand picture looks something like this.


Source in order of priority of use

Domestic Sector :


Urban Cooking

Firewood, Dung, Charcoal, Kerosene, LPG, Electricity.

Rural Cooking

Firewood, Dung, Agriwaste, Charcoal, Kerosene.

Urban Hot Water + Heat

Firewood. Charcoal, Electricity.

Rural Hot Water + Heat

Firewood, Dung, Agriwaste, Charcoal.

Urban Lighting

Electricity, Kerosene, Veg. oils.

Rural Lighting

Veg. oils, Kerosene, Electricity.

Urban Electrical Need


Rural Electrical Need

Electricity (Negligible).

Urban Domestic Water Pumping

Electricity, Human Power.

Rural Domestic Water Pumping

Human Power, Electricity. Diesel.

Agricultural Sector:


Motive Power

Animal Power, Human Power, Diesel.

Water Pumping

Diesel Power, Electricity, Animal Power.

Pest Harvest Activities

Animal Power, Human Power, Diesel, Electricity.

Transportation Sector :



Diesel. Electricity, Coal.




Aviation Fuel.


Petrol. Diesel.



Rural Transport

Animal Power.

Services Sector



Electricity, Diesel

Ramachandran and Gururaja (1977) estimated the 1970-71 energy use in India
as 376.7 million tons of coal replacement which averages, out to 0.67 tons of coal
replacement per caput, about 7% of the global average. The contributions of different sources of energy to satisfy the demand is far more revealing in terms of the " real" energy crisis of India.


14%  excluding use for electricity generation,


25% excluding non-energy oil demand.


13% half of which is hydro based.









Most of India's energy requirements arc met from domestic sources with the exception of oil. About 70% of the Total consumption of oil products is now supplied from imported crude. The imports account for 20-25% of the total consumption of "commercial" energy and perhaps 10-15% of total energy. The crisis in oil is that with increasing costs the amount being spent on import of oil is estimated to reach 50% if not more, of our export earnings in the very near future.3

India has large coal deposits which are easy to mine. The existing resources, except for prime coking coal, are ample for the for seeable future. Unfortunately, the quality of the coal is poor with ash contents in the region of 20% leading to efficiency and ecological problems. 1 The major problem is the geographical location of the deposits which requires long and costly haulage and additionally makes it vulnerable to the vagaries of a chaotic transportation system. Coal is the major fuel for the thermal electrical generation. Hydropower which is monsoon dependent, accounts for about 40% of electrical generation and is well distributed. To a certain extent this offsets the uneven distribution of coal deposits. The untapped hydro resources are quite vast though subject to possible environmental constraints. Nuclear energy accounts for less than 2% of electrical generation.

Other than the oil crisis in the " commercial sector, the most damaging shortages are of electrical power. There are two distinct reasons for this. First, the rate of additions to generating capacity-has fallen short due to a combination of bureaucratic inertia, delays in civil works and delays in delivery of generating equipment. Second, problems have arisen in utilizing the existing generating capacity. Poor monsoons, failure of coal deliveries, poor and unreliable quality of coal, shortage of spares, lack of maintenance, and downright mismanagement are to blame for this second category. Almost all the electricity dependent sectors have been severely affected by these shortages.

To say that India is suffering from an energy crisis due to oil prices and electricity shortages is not strictly true. In terms of affected population and the severity of the crisis the oil electricity crisis fades in comparison to the firewood fodder agriwaste crisis. Traditional energies such as firewood, fodder for draught animals and agriwaste are growing scarce and expensive. Ecological carrying capacities have been exceeded resulting in a dangerous decline of forested areas and desertification of grazing lands. The human effort necessary to acquire firewood, fodder and agriwaste is becoming considerable, and often takes up to 8-10 man-hours a day per family.

Considering the energy demand profile, the existing resources, and the problems encountered with the existing resources, it is difficult to justify the vast expenditures on nuclear energy in India. Nuclear energy produces electricity, a sector in which installed capacity is not being used. Vast amounts being spent on nuclear energy to produce a small fraction of the demand while whole areas of crisis are not even being seriously addressed brings into question the energy rational of the choice. Nuclear energy, in energy terms, is a " solution " in search of problems to solve, instead of confronting real energy " problems

2. The Economics of Nuclear Power :

When the nuclear power industry was in its infancy scientists and policy makers claimed that the electricity produced would be so cheap that it would not be worth metering. One of the stated reasons for India to go nuclear was that nuclear power would be cheaper than coal based power. In fact, the Department of Atomic Energy has been insisting on the advantage all along. Reality, however, turns out to be a very different story.

A nuclear power plant with its elaborate shielding to contain the reaction and its sophisticated control mechanisms has a high fixed or capital cost which compares unfavorably with the fixed costs of coal based plants. Bose (1981) sets the ratio of capital cost for nuclear to coal based at 1.33 which is close to US figures which range from 1.07 to '1.53 for light water reactors. However, the Canadian CANDU type heavy water reactor adopted by India involves higher fixed costs lifting the ratio in favor of the coal based plants, The capital costs depend on several factors like the cost of the plant, the rate of interest on capital, the rate of depreciation and the capacity factor of the plant. The capacity factor is the ratio of actual hours of power generation by a plant to the hours expected from its rated capacity. The cost of capital per unit KWh generated is naturally highly sensitive to the capacity factor. While most estimates have assumed a theoretical capacity factor of 80%, industry's experience here and in the US, for example, has been dismal with average capacities in the region of 57-61%.

The variable cost of the nuclear plant depends on the fuel cycle which includes mining the uranium, enrichment of the U235 in the fuel, chemical processing and encapsulation of the fuel into rods, recovering U23and PUe31 from the spent fuel, storage of radwaste for ever and ever. There is little information available on fuel cycle costs in India, and the DAE is particularly reluctant to release the information. Further, Indian reactors use heavy water as moderators which if taken into the calculations will dramatically increase' fuel cycle costs.' Bose (1981) used the American Physical Society and the Institute of American Physics ' study and compared the fuel cycle costs of coal based plants in India and nuclear plants in the US which would have similar fuel cycle costs as their Indian counterparts.

The total cost per KWh from coal based plants at the pithead would vary from 14-91 to 18-34 paise depending on capacity factor (80% to. 60%). Comparable figures for the nuclear plant ranges 'from 17'52 to 22 08 paise for the same capacity factor range, higher at all capacity factors.

The fuel cycle costs arc 4-64 paise KWh for coal based plants at the pithead and 3-81 paise KWh for nuclear plants with fuel recycling, uniform at all cacacity factors. Very few parts of India are over 750 km. from coal pitheads. Thus if transportation charges are added on to coal based fuel cycle costs the added cost is taken up by the initial advantage that coal based plants have over nuclear in the fixed cost area, and coat based power still turns out to be cheaper. One may say that differential rise in price of fuels may reverse the picture. But this does not hold out much hope as the cost of non-coking coal in India went up by'100% between 1973 to 1978 while the cost of uranium in the international market went up by 500% during the same time period. And another advantage to coal based plants is the fact that nuclear plants have been unable to run at high capacity factors here or elsewhere (Komanoff, 1981).

The cost of nuclear plants have also been rising and this affects the case for nuclear plants adversely considering the already higher costs. In 1966, 34.2% of the total cost of nuclear power was accounted for by fuel costs, 49.9% by capital and the rest by maintenance and operations. By 1975 capital costs had escalated to 77% and the fuel costs had declined to 18.2%. The construction costs during the same period went up by a staggering 24.4%.

In India, long delays, galloping inflation and gross mismanagement are endemic and are already affecting installation of generating capacity in the nuclear sector. These will further skew the figures against nuclear plants.

In spite of all this the accounting of costs cannot be considered complete. Nuclear power systems place a vast burden of liabilities on society for generations to come, in fact for decades after it has ceased to operate. Even without considering the social costs and social compatibility coal based plants are economically cheaper than nuclear; when taken into consideration the comparison will be very biased against nuclear.

Why then did we choose the nuclear power route ?
Was it because our scientists and policy makers did not know all this ? Or, was there a hidden agenda that justified the hoisting of nuclear liabilities onto our backs ? Now that we know, is there going to be a change of policy ? These are the questions that need to be asked.

3. The Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power :

The game of word association is not the most rigorous means of understanding the
environmental impact of nuclear power but it makes an interesting beginning and does make.a point of the uniqueness of the problem. Most people associate nuclear energy with vivid images of big bangs and mushrooming clouds and they are not very wrong: for that is how it all began in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and first impressions have an awkward way of being the dominant impressions. Scientists, politicians, policy makers and nuclear industry claim that nuclear power is perfectly safe and reliable unfortunately for then, their arguments sound increasingly hollow with the news of every break- down and accident in the nuclear power industry.

Let us take a look at the nuclear fuel cycle in its entirety to list where there might be environmental problems. It begins at the uranium mine where the ore is mined and concentrated into yellow cake which is a combination of Uranium235 and Uranium 3 38. Only U23-'"' can be fashioned to give energy, but its concentration at this stage is less than 1% which is not viable. Miners working in uranium mines suffer all the hazards-of those who mine underground, and, in addition, face the problems of possibly inhaling radioactive Radon gas which dramatically increase their proclivity to lung cancer and death. I am not suggesting that the setting of standards for occupational health or the protection of workers has not been incorporated in our uranium mines in Bihar, but until we hear of them and are convinced of the credibility of the information given, we cannot be sure, and the DAE is not willing to talk about it. Uranium mine conditions are alarming enough in the US and Canada-; considering the conditions in our coal mines there is no reason to believe that our uranium mines are somehow deviant in a positive manner. The other problem at this stage is the radioactive tailings left behind in the process of concentrating. What does one do with tons of low-level radwaste ?

The second stage of the fuel cycle is the fuel enrichment and fuel conversion stage where by various techniques the 23" content is raised to 2-4% to make it viable fuel; it is then converted into oxide pellets and packed into rods. Safety and environment are no more in risk at the enrichment commission facility than in most complex manufacturing facilities, but the large scale use of Plutonium as fuel will change that. And reuse of Plutonium? especially in conjunction with Thorium in fast breeder reactors is precisely the route India wants to follow to synergistically beat its low resources of uranium. Microscopic quantities of Plutonium can cause cancer in the long run or immediate death. Further, enrichment conversion plants are massive affairs that are very expensive and use enormous amounts of electricity. Also, enrichment. conversion plants can and do provide the basic materials for nuclear weaponry which explains their popularity and demand and the residence of the big powers to share know how and technology in this area. Our fuel facility is at Hyderabad.

The nuclear reactor, the next stage, uses the heat generated by fuel fission to generate electricity, pretty much like any other thermal plant does. But all resemblance ends at that. Environmentally speaking, one has to worry about not only the much publicized, major, loss-of-coolant-accident leading to melt down of the core or large releases of radioactivity into the1 surroundings but also the not-so-trivial aspects such as leaks of radioactivity into the cooling water, into the working areas and into the surroundings, thermal pollution .duc to hoi water, after it has done its job of cooling the reactor, being released back into Water bodies. It is radiation, however, which makes nuclear power risky. There is no such thing as an acceptably low level of radioactivity, because of its cumulative nature and ils tendency to lineer.

Let us first consider the worst case accident he core melt down. The barrier between meltdown and a public health disaster is the emergency core cooling system (ECCS) whose reliability in spite of all reassurances, has come into question as disaster followed disaster, finally capped off by the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979. The nuclear industry} is so " confident" of their ECCSs that it is developing core catchers " in case V the ECCS fails! Professor Rasmussen in an AEC report in 1975 came up with a reassuring worst case scenario that set the damage as follows :

3300 quick deaths.
45000 will suffer from cancer.
5100 future cases of eenciic defects.
14 billion dollars of property damage.

What is unnerving is that this report has been demolished by qualified critics including the US Environmental Protection Agency which put the toll as much as 10 limes higher. The immediate response of the nuclear industry is that the probability of such an accident is very, very remote, fact Rasmussen said that the chances were as remote as a meteorite hitting a major US city. The Rasmussen study uses fault tree and event tree methods to estimate the probability of such accidents. In the event tree process the basic objective is to identify the possible sequences of events that follow a particular fault. The outcomes depend on the interconnections of systems and upon the operability of various systems that affect the course of events. The fault tree is logic roughly the reverse of the event tree. It starts with some undesired event and reasons back to the way it might have happened. Individual probabilities are then assigned to each event and products give us the overall probability. of the overall accident. There are three questions about such calculations of probability:

  1. Are the probabilities values correct for each event?

  2. Are these probabilities independent as implied by the multiplication to get overall probability?

  3. Have all possible combinations of accidents been taken into consideration?

The analysis of the Three Mile Island and several other nuclear accidents answer a loud No to all three questions. The analysis ignored human involvement, and every single nuclear accident has put partial if not total blame to what is called the human factor. How do we eliminate human error ? How do we ensure the reliability of complex systems made up of hundreds of thousands of components, all supplied by the lowest bidder To say that nuclear power is harmless except in the rare case of an accident is like saying rattle snakes are harmless unless they bite ! Even should we assume that Rasmussen was right, the probability of major accidents occupying by the end of the century assures us of one about every six years.

Two arguments have been used to counter such criticism by those in favor of nuclear power:

  1. That there are other risks in society which are just as had if not worse. ask, does one risk excuse another ?

  2. The odds are heavily against major reactor accidents. And, to that I say, if an accident can have catastrophic results the chances of it happening are secondary (unless there is no chance whatsoever). The big difference is the consequence of the accident.

The overpowering nature of a major accident often obscures the other dangers of reactors. For example, the reactors planned at Kalpakkam will require for cooling as much water as the city of Madras uses. This water will be returned to the sea at a higher temperature. The enormous cooling needs of nuclear power plants makes their location next to large water bodies inevitable. Ecologists consider temperature the primary control of life on. earth, and most aquatic organisms are unable to regulate their body temperatures and are sensitive to changes in temperature. With temperatures already higher- in ,the tropics th'e increase in temperature due to release of cooling .water,; may endanger all aquatic life in the region. We are not sure whether arrangements have been made for adequate cooling of the water prior to release into the parent water bodies in Indian nuclear power plants. Radioactivity in the reactor unit and surroundings is a possibility which endangers the lives of workers and eventually of those in the region of fallout. Tarapur seems to have an endemic radioactivity problem. Comments and confirmations i of extremely high radioactivity in the working areas of Tarapur facility have been made by individuals belonging to US agencies both private and public who were the collaborators in sharp counterpoint to the shrill and vehement denials of the DAE. Safety procedures are said to be dismal, records are not kept of radiation doses received by workers, and the turnover of workers is said to be very high because very short times of exposure (sometimes as little as 5 minutes) give the workers their maximum allowed yearly exposures of 5 REMs. And one can go on and on ad nauseum. But there is more to the fuel cycle.

The spent fuel from the reactor is taken to the reprocessing plant which breaks it down with acids and recovers the unburnt Uranium and Plutonium. As a lot of radio active fission products are handled almost everything needs to be done by remote control. A reprocessing accident can be at least as dangerous, as a reactor accident and yet the reprocessing plant lacks most of the reactor's safeguards and procedures. It is such a difficult ana! tricky business that it has more or less been abandoned in the US due to i large economic losses. However, we in India have not given up and are going ahead with a unit in Tarapur.

And finally we are stuck with the waste products after the useful items are sent back to the enrichment unit for recycling. Finding a final resting place for high level and low level nuclear waste is a problem that has baffled scientists ever since nuclear waste has been around. All proposals for long term storage or disposal lie at the research and development stage while stockpiles of waste in interim storage grow. There have been several interesting and innovative solutions. Several have been tried and all have been impractical in one way or the other.

Unfortunately, it took some serious accidents and spills to convince scientists of the failure of some of the methods. The chances that our scientists will eventually solve the waste disposal problem, much as we admire their capability, is a Vittieslim considering that we are talking about physically isolating tons of material from ail life for centuries if not millenia. In the words of Nobel Prize winning physicist Hannes Alfven, " If a problem is too difficult to solve one cannot claim that it is solved by pointing to all the efforts made to solve it.

I am not going to elaborate on the environmental dangers of transporting fuel and waste over long distances in India when we seem to have a hard time not failing off our rails and roads. Nor am 1 going to talk about the possibility of theft and terrorist attack. The point, I believe, has been made. The environmental dangers are numerous and there seem to be no easy answers into the near or even distant future. Which brings us, once more 10 the question: On what basis did we choose nuclear power for India ? Were our decision makers ignorant, or did they know and did not care? Was there a more important hidden objective that justified risk to our people and environment?

4. Political Implications of Nuclear Power:

Having looked in vain for rationale in the sectors of energy, development, economics and ecology, one moves on. hopefully, to the politics of the situation to find answers. It is not for me to develop a brief to indict. What T hope to do is to suggest explanations to be debated and judged by society at large.India is faced with underdevelopment and the inability to solve our problems in any serious manner since independence leads a lay person to suspect that either our leadership does not want to do anything about it or perhaps that they are unable to do anything about it. And yet the people are out there and elections do come along every now and then and as someone once said you cannot fool all the people all of the time. So, with no concrete efforts to offer, the populace has to be satiated with generous doses of activity, drama and cheap thrills. Hustle, bustle, transactions and diversions can be used and are often confused as purposeful activity. Perhaps there was a need for an activity that would dazzle OUT mind and, if not anything else, at least make us walk with our heads up. Note, that the activity does not have to achieve anything in the end. The mission is the activity. The medium is the message. Garett Hardin (1968) suggests that without resorting to some form of institutional waste modern socio-politico-economic systems lack the balance wheel to keep the system on an even keel. What has our nuclear -program achieved in political terms Our scientists are happy. They are working on the frontiers of science, as it were, with lots of money to spend and social prestige. They even have the membership in international scientific circles, and such blessings are important for a community that still looks abroad for "truth". Our people are impressed.How could we be underdeveloped, they ask : we have the third largest scientific force in the world, we build supersonic aircraft, put satellites into orbit, build nuclear plants.Development, they presume, is around the corner to be magically dished up thanks to science and technology.

It is not enough to have food, clothing and shelter. We need pride and self confidence. What better means to achieve this than by setting of a nuclear device, blasting us as it were into the future and the exclusive Nuclear Club, sitting side by side with our once masters. This is true macho. We had finally arrived. The fact that the weak explanations of possible uses of the blast in canal digging and mineral recovery did not convince any except the completely ignorant and simple minded is soon forgotten. How could we be wrong when the US, UK, USSR, West Germany, not to mention China are on the same route? And one cannot deny the shot in the arm for industry here and all the employment thereof. Seen in this fashion the choice of nuclear power is the perfect choice.

While still on the political analysis let us dwell on some of the stated objectives of the Govt of India and the DAE. One of the primary tasks of our nuclear program was to achieve self reliance in this critical field. And we no doubt have come a long way. But there are questions of our dependence in several critcal areas like fuel and fuel reprocessing technology, heavy water supply, and fast breeder technology. Not too many countries have the capability or the inclination towards India to help us. With the US out of the way after our' recent negotiations, by elimination, we arc stuck with France and the USSR. Our wheeling and dealing with the USSR and France to get the support for our nuclear program would make an interesting study, if information is made available. Right now it is easier to get information of India's nuclear program under the Freedom of information Act in the US than from our own DAE. After a long period of cooling off, our relationship with France is suddenly blossoming, to the extent that deals have been struck for aid from France in areas where their expertise and capability are in question. Salem Steel and the education sector are cases in point. One wonders how much we will have to compromise as our quid for the quo of nuclear materials and technology from France Of course without the freedom to know, this will be denied as correlation without significance.

We have always stood for peace, non-alignment and such rights. We have justifiably refused to sign the one-sided Non-Proliferation Treaty. We have ignored organizations like the International Atomic Energy Authority which was set up to promote nuclear power while controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, which is as difficult as teaching a child to walk and then ordering it not to. So one would suspect!: we want peace and that we would not make it imperative for others to acquire nuclear weapons. The " peaceful" nuclear explosion at Pokharan flexed our nuclear muscle which may well have caused our neighbors, in a fit of justifiable paranoia, to go in for nuclear weaponry, and in Mexico last November we generously offered our knowhow to other third world countries for " peaceful purposes .

I And then there is the democratic nature of our land. The nuclear process in India has been a non-debate. How can we not debate openly a process as expensive and potentially as dangerous while we spend large amounts of time discussing meaningless trivia in Parliament ? The people have no access to information questions posed by the press are either ignored or replied to with marathon sessions of narcotising scientific jargon. While millions are scavenging their surroundings for firewood Dr. H. N. Sethna casually announced in Mexico last November that we have plans to set up ten more 235 MW nuclear power stations which may be upgraded to 500 MW each. The investment will be astronomical I to say the least. And we have not resolved the environmental problems of even the three working units that we have. Does this not deserve to be talked about Or, are we going io succumb to the momemtum of existing, investment . an the inter-locking economic interests and misleading propaganda?

The variables! that make the nuclear question quite unique environmentally speaking are time and the cumulative nature of radioactivity. Most things or processes that we deal with in life have fairly limited life spans. Some of the oldest things that we know of that man has built are a mere 4000 years old. The mind boggles when we internalize the fact that radioactivity remains potent and lethal in some cases for hundreds of years if not finial. We neither have the scientific understanding nor the economic tools discounting to handle commitments so far into the future. The time factor of nuclear impact also raises some interesting political and moral issues. The impact of our action will be felt by yet-to-be-born generations; how do we decide on their behalf to saddle them with the effects of our doings ? What are the ways we can take responsibility for not only ourselves but for the future? The cumulative aspect of radioactivity is also quite unique. We protect ourselves from most adverse action by setting levels and thresholds and devising means of keeping to these standards. The normal laws of toxicity do not apply to radioactivity. There is no such thing called acceptable levels of it. Small amounts add up in time cumulatively reaching levels of toxicity. Surely our scientists know all of this. The question is have they internalized it to be able to take it into consideration in their actions. 1 think not.

When an affected people complain about developmental activities like in the case of Silent Valley they are given a non-choice to choose from. Save the environment and suffer poverty or let environment be destroyed and enjoy the fruits of ' development'. Does it mean that development is incompatible to environment Or is the intention to cruelly force an issue by offering people a non-choice ?


Notes :

* Shorter version'of a paper presented it at the Cotloquim on 'New Idealogies for Science ft Technology in India', held at the Centre for the Study of Developing Studies, Delhi (December 61).

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