Fukushima report and its implications for Indian nuclear establishment
New Delhi: The Fukushima nuclear commission report is out. The truism that a nuclear accident somewhere is an accident everywhere has come to haunt the global nuclear industry due to events at Fukushima Daichi reactors in March 2011. It dashed nuclear industries’ hope for a renaissance owing to growing threat from climate change and looming global energy crisis. The Kundakulam troubles of Indian nuclear establishment were triggered by Fukushima is no secret. The low key activist led agitation that had gone there for years suddenly acquired a momentum that is set to ignite a new debate on safety in India’s nuclear plants.
Briefly, the Fukushima report pins blame largely on human error and terms it as disaster Made-in-Japan. The tight government control aided by a culture of secrecy that discouraged intra-organizational dissent led to power producers Tepco colluding with nuclear regulators to ignore safety regulations and never prepared for a disaster. Images of clueless Japanese workers struggling to control the situation, reported disagreement between authorities and utility over acceptable course of action, uncertainty about safety of food and water, a dearth of consistent and reliable information about the unfolding situation pointed to complete lack of safety standards and was an extremely bad exhibit for Japan’s reputation as a nation with sophisticated high-tech economy.
Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the panel's chairman Japanese culture as a major impediment.
"What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster 'Made in Japan'. Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to 'sticking with the program.'
The report points out that the Japanese agencies responsible for overseeing nuclear plant safety were housed in the same department as the agency that's responsible for promoting the benefits of the nuclear industry. The Japanese utility, Tepco, dragged its feet on safety improvements because it would interfere with plant operations. There were no plans to evacuate thousands of nearby people who could be endangered in case of a major radiation leak.
Kurokawa continues,"only by grasping this mindset can one understand how Japan's nuclear industry managed to avoid absorbing the critical lessons learned from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl; and how it became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents."
As Japan limps back to nuclear power by bringing reactors online after shutting them down for safety concern and facing a most sever power crisis in decades global nuclear industry begins to absorb Fukushima lessons.
What it means for Indian nuclear industry is important to grasp in the light of events Fukushima triggered in India. Kundakulam agitation being the most notable event. Apart from anti-nuclear energy activism surge, it brought PIL in Indian supreme court against nuclear industry led by NPCIL , a government owned PSU under the department of Atomic Energy.
The lack of nuclear literacy for which government is solely responsible is likely to impede the growth of nuclear power generation affecting five year plan targets of booting up nuclear power generation to 20,000MW by 2020. Upcoming projects at Jaitapur and other places will face resistance from public which may be led by ideologues and other vested interests as happened in Kundakulam. The legitimate concerns of public about safety of nuclear reactors can be exploited by a host of vested interests, both with local and global agenda and can become an incomprehensible cauldron of competing interests. All to the detriment of india’s energy security.
Government of India needs to quickly move to put nuclear safety education for public on institutional framework. This apart from resolving regulatory issues like having an independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority not under the tutelage of atomic energy commission are urgent steps needed. The stakeholders like media, public, regulatory agencies and global institutions i.e IAEA need to be brought together in a sustatined dialogue to improve public confidence in nuclear power.
This blog has been continuously following the developments in Indian nuclear sector post Fukushima ans reported on issues. Lately the new BARC chief has Dr Kausik Basu has expressed need for public outreach to promote nuclear energy. But the lack of urgency is evident in DAE as it is a mammoth scientific bureaucracy unsuited for tackling the challenges arising from globalization of nuclear power industry. The nuclear culture of DAE too is Made in Japan. There is very little information available in public domain about nuclear safety standards and protocols followed by India’s nuclear power plants. Security concerns ultimately trump every effort at transparency. But this will not do. Because nuclear accidents are not local as shown by Chernobyl, Three miles Island and now Fukushima. The public outreach and de-mystification of nuclear industry’s secrecy laden culture is essential if nuclear energy is to be a viable option to tackle growing energy crisis.
Atomic energy establishment needs to come up with an open awareness program focused at various segments of stake holders to pre-empt Kundakulam like agitations. Public demand in the events of disasters or otherwise will be simple and straight about safety of food and water like the exasperated US Ambassador in IAEA meeting at Vienna in April told the gathering that the world wanted to know if it was safe to eat lettuce leaf from Fukushima. (Courtesy: www.iitsonline.com)