People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy
42/27 Esankai Mani Veethy
Nagercoil 629 002, Tamil Nadu [India]
Ph: 04652-240657

For Immediate Release
[Date: 5 Oct 2003]

Privatizing Nuclear Power Is Dangerous

The Central Government's proposed plan to set up a separate company for construction and operation of 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactors (PFBR) is dangerous for the Indian economy, polity and the safety of Indian citizens. Privatizing nuclear power industry would make a deadly combination of secrecy-oriented State, career-minded nuke scientists, and money-minded profiteers.

The Indian nuclear establishment has set an ambitious target of producing 20,000 MW nuclear power by the year 2020 and for that they need Rs. 80,000 crores. Since the government may not be able to throw in this large sum of money, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission welcomed private sector participation in nuclear power generation in April 1999. Now they have decided to set up a new nuclear power venture in which the Indian Government would contribute 75 percent of the equity, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) would contribute five percent and public bonds would raise the remaining 20 percent. Although the NPCIL plays a minor role financially, they would manage the proposed nuclear power company.

In the wake of this privatization move, it is important to consider the track record of the NPCIL and the overall Indian nuclear establishment. The NPCIL was incorporated in 1987 and it presented a maiden dividend cheque of Rs. 50.44 crores to the Prime Minister on December 1, 1999. According to NPCIL's five years' balance sheet (1994-95 to 1998-99), Rs. 92,425.78 millions (almost Rs. 9,243 crores) had been used up by the corporation.

Even if we ignore all the expenses that the country has incurred on behalf of the Indian nukedom from 1948 till 1994, and accept Rs. 9,243 crores as the total cost for installing 1,840 MW power generating capacity, it means that for one MW power, we spent Rs. 5.03 crores. Consider the 47 hydro or thermal power projects that had techno-economic clearance from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) as of December 1998 and compare their capacity and cost. Every one of these 47 projects cost much less than nuclear energy. This should be enough proof that the nuclear power projects are way too expensive and inefficient.

As of June 2000, the Indian nuclear establishment claims, their energy output has increased to 2,240 MW. It is hardly 2.5 percent even if we keep the total national energy output at the 1999 level of 90,000 MW. Put all these facts and figures together and we can get the picture of the nuclear establishment's wastefulness and inefficiency.

Besides being costly in terms of money, the Indian nuclear establishment is acting politically overbearing also. On July 27, 2001 a public hearing was held at the Kanchipuram District Collector's office to let the public decide if they wanted the PFBR at Kalpakkam. Except the first speaker who also turned against the proposed project later, everybody opposed the project vociferously. But now in the true "democratic" spirit, the central government has sanctioned Rs. 3,600 crores for the same project. It is also equally disturbing that our political parties and politicians, who make a big fuzz about every government decision, project and plan, keep mum about the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) plans and activities.

The threat of a serious nuclear accident at Indian nuclear power plants is also quite real. The Chairman of the safety-monitoring agency, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), himself said this most categorically in his 'Safety Issues Report' in 1995. In December 1999, the Indian government also acknowledged that 21 issues relating to nuclear safety raised by the AERB as far back as 1996 had not yet been addressed. In June 2000, however, New Delhi took away the authority of the AERB to oversee the safety of a large number of critical nuclear installations meant for the weapons programme in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). This move seriously undermined the AERB's responsibility for unbiased and independent safety regulations.

A highly populated country like India does have an increasing need for energy. But that energy has to be economical, sustainable and environment-friendly for the very same reason of over- and dense- population. We need to spend less on energy because we have other pressing needs such as health, education, housing, transportation and so forth. We cannot afford the "use and discord" strategy as in nuclear power projects for obvious reasons of limited land availability, future generation's needs and so forth. Our energy projects have to be environmentally-friendly because even a small incident can harm, hurt or kill a huge number of people.

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