Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Nuclear Expansion and Human Costs

The recent Tsunami wrecked havoc in Sendai, Japan, only to be overshadowed, apocalyptically, by the subsequent nuclear episodes in the reactors of  the Fukushima's power plant. Fukushima is still not fully under control today, more than five weeks after the incidence, and it will take a further nine months for its complete shut down.

Meanwhile India continues, undeterred, with its expansionist nuclear policy to increase the nuclear energy generation almost five fold over the next decade, and almost fifteen fold over the next forty years!

With the provisional results of the Census 2011 trickling in, this is a good time to assess the extent human damage, in case of an Indian-Fukushima, and ask whether India is really capable or willing to risk the burden of a similar nuclear incidence. The figure below shows the most conservative estimate for evacuation numbers within a 20 Km radius around each of the power plants, in operation (red) or proposed (blue), using the population density estimates for districts using Census data. Of these, for Kaiga, Kakrapar, Rawatbhata, and Jaitapur, Bhavnagar, Mandla only 2001 data were available. So given an average population growth of 17.64%, one might expect a similar rise in number of evacuees for these power plants. 
The Figure shows that even in the least populated districts of Kaiga in Uttara Kannada, Rawatbhata in Chittorgarh and Mandla of district Mandla in Madhya Pradesh, a minimum evacuation of 20 Km would require evacuating more than one lakh people, while most are require evacuating more than five lakhs to a maximum in Tarapur of fifteen lakh evacuees for this radius. Note that the US recommended radius for evacuation is 50 miles (or 80 Km) which changes all the above numbers by an additional factor of 16!

In Fukushima, evacuations have already commenced from the 20-30 Km ring around the radiating plant. According to a Greenpeace study, towns even 40 Km are showing dangerously high levels of radiation that require evacuations.  As is being increasingly experienced in Japan,  the population at risk increases many folds in presence of towns and cities near with the many times higher increase in population density. The figure below shows the current (red) and future (blue) nuclear power projects on a population density map (2001) for India. Large urban cities and metros are also marked on this map. The image clearly identifies  areas of population concentrations, and their proximity to the nuclear facilities.

So, the questions clearly are as follows: 

Are we willing to, directly and deliberately, endanger such large populations, in case of a potential nuclear mishap? 

How many generations would then pay such an enormous price? 

What else do we choose to loose in terms of water, air, soil, environmental contamination? 

What,  if any,is the time scale and cost of the recovery process? not just human, but also environmental, developmental?

And, why are we willing to risk so much??? 

At 4780 MW (2010), nuclear energy contributes only 4.2% to India's total energy consumption. The plants currently under construction are expected to add another 3900 MW. All the risk calculations are based on  current and proposed plants. However, our mad nuclear aspirations are to achieve 63,000MW by 2032 .

Just for comparison, remember that wind and solar energy generation are clean, green, and do not carry the enormous threat posed by nuclear energy. The total generation capacity from wind alone, in 2007, was 6270 MW, far exceeding the 2010 nuclear generation, and this rose to 12009 MW in 2010, amounting to 6% of India's total installed power. While the current solar energy capacity is only 3 MW, India holds a potential for generating 200,000 MW by 2050 from solar alone - far higher than India's current total energy capacity! 

So, back to the questions: Why such apocalyptic nuclear aspirations? at what or whose cost? and to whose benefit? And who is willing to buy such 'development' at such costs? Please Raise your Hands!


I thank Sudhir Vombatkere for inspiring this exercise.


  1. Thanks Arati for demystfiying the cost of nuclear energy through this well researched article.


  2. Sorry could not read the rest of the post after the seeing population stats related to Fukushima and other plants. Have not yet been able to get back onto my chair after seeing that one!