Sunday, February 26, 2012


EAS Sarma
As appeared in
fEBRUARY 26,2012


The ‘foreign hand’ guides govt more than the people

ACTIVISTS are up in arms against the government for pursuing the nuclear energy option, “disregarding public concerns”. The former Union Energy Secretary and a leading environmentalist EAS Sarma rubbishes talk of “foreign hand” behind the public protests. The retired IAS official spoke at length on different aspects of energy security.
The Prime Minister has blamed NGOs for engineering protests against Kudankulam nuclear plant. What is your response?
The Prime Minister’s statement was ill-advised, devoid of a realistic appreciation of the ground realities and lacked appreciation of genuine public concern over the potential dangers of nuclear technology, as reflected by the catastrophic explosions in the reactors at Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima 2011. It amounts to belittling the voice of dissent in a democracy like ours.
The “foreign hand” argument applies more to the government than to the people. Is it not the foreign hand that forced the UPA government to push through the Indo-US nuclear deal to serve the commercial interests of another country rather than promoting self-reliance? Has not the country been pushed into a permanent state of dependence on imported nuclear reactors and imported fuel for no compelling reason?
Has the government followed any competitive bidding procedure for deciding the reactor suppliers for Jaitapur, Kovvada and the other nuclear power complexes? Has this not imposed an undue cost burden on the electricity consumers of the country? Is it not the foreign hand that compelled the government to pass the civil nuclear liability law to shift the burden of accident liability from the foreign reactorsuppliers to the tax payers in India ?
What safety issues do you think the government needs to addres?
The PMO had assured that safety audits and action taken on existing plants will be placed in the public domain. More than nine months have lapsed and yet DAE/ NPCIL have remained secretive. DAE should take people into confidence. It should order risk analysis studies, assuming human and mechanical failures, as well as seismic events. In the Deccan plateau, which was considered stable, we had the Koyna disaster and the Latur earthquake, in which thousands lost their lives and homes. Our knowledge of the impact of low-intensity radioactive exposure is also incomplete.
Can we afford to abandon the nuclear route to meet our power needs?
It is a fallacious argument put forward by energy illiterates. A 10 per cent saving in Transmission and Distribution losses in India through additional investment on T&D network will save 1,56,000 MW of capacity, which is more than 2.5 times of the 60,030MW of nuclear capacity projected up to 2030-31 in the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) report of the Planning Commission. If a 20 per cent efficiency improvement is realised in our lighting devices, which is within the domain of possibility, we can similarly do away with most of the nuclear capacity addition planned.
What alternative scenarios do you propose?
Germany, where 26 per cent of electricity comes from nuclear sources, has decided to do away with it in a decade and shift to solar and other renewable sources. In India, hardly 2.5 per cent of electricity comes from nuclear. We have much more of solar insolation and sources of renewable energy.
What ails our energy policy?
Our energy policy should be based on demand management, efficiency improvements and renewables as the first priorities. When I talk of demand management, I talk of changes in urban planning, transport planning, building architecture and so on. For example, a tonne-km of freight traffic requires seven times of oil products by road compared to rail. We therefore ought to think of “golden quadrilaterals” of rail rather than highways. Similarly, one passenger-km of passenger traffic in a city based on cars and two-wheelers consumes twice the oil consumed by buses.