Greenpeace questions the need for nuclear given safer alternatives with renewables

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Chennai/ New Delhi : As Prime Minister Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha ‘dedicate’ the first unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear power plant to the country, Greenpeace India has questioned the wisdom of pushing ahead on this high-risk venture, placing communities and the environment at high risk of nuclear contamination. The commissioning of the plant at Kudankulam is particularly troubling given India’s lack of preparedness to handle a nuclear emergency, as evidenced in the ‘Red Alert’ report released by Greenpeace India in June 2016.[1] The decision to endorse nuclear is also at odds with the Prime Minister’s focus on ‘Clean Growth’. As Greenpeace has pointed out in previous reports including the Energy Revolution report [2] solar and wind energy are far safer renewable alternatives to nuclear or thermal power.

“Safety aside, decentralised renewable energy provides a far better chance of protecting India’s energy security as well as ensuring the fundamental right of energy access to over 200 million people,” said Priya Pillai, Greenpeace India campaigner, “Over the long-term, it would be in India’s best interests to prioritise optimal utilisation of its existing power capacity, cut down on transmission and distribution losses, and continue to pursue its strategy of setting right financially distressed discoms and meeting its laudable renewable energy targets.”

Kudankulam has a population of well over ten lakh people living within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant. The Red Alert report, released in June 2016, highlighted that population density around nuclear power plants in India poses a significant evacuation challenge in the event of an emergency; also, India’s current evacuation plans only provide support within a radius of 16 km in case of an offsite nuclear accident [3]. For Fukushima, Japan had to set an evacuation zone of 30 km. Besides this, the manual for emergency guidelines are old and need to be relooked. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has not updated its guidelines for 26 years.

Notably, the ‘state of the art’ technology power plant has tripped 32 times in the last 2.5 years [4] of its functioning. In a report submitted to the National Human Rights Commission, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) pointed out ‘deficiencies in the safety standards and negligence on the part of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL)’. Despite these major fallouts, the plant is being touted as an ‘engine of green growth’.

India is already flush with generation capacity: this view touted by civil society observers and analysts for a while, was further validated by the Indian Government earlier this year, based on the Power Ministry’s assessment and review of the National Electricity Policy.

“The idea that we can secure the country’s energy needs through Nuclear power fails on all counts – economically, socially and environmentally,” concluded Pillai, “There are important lessons to learn from the continued impacts of accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima. Even if we were to ignore these lessons from global history, the close shave we had earlier this year with the recent accident at the Kakrapar nuclear power plant, should be adequate reminder of the reality: high-risk nuclear power is neither a viable solution, nor is it necessary, given the tremendous potential for renewable energy.”

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