Japan’s nuclear crisis has fueled public unease in India about ambitious government plans to ramp up nuclear power capacity to feed the country’s growing, energy-hungry economy.
India — both a civilian and a military nuclear power — currently has 20 reactors.
It plans to spend an estimated US$175 billion to buy an additional 21 foreign reactors to reach a nuclear power capacity of 63,000 megawatts by 2032, from the current level of 4,560 megawatts.
The enthusiasm for nuclear power was galvanized by a 2008 deal ending a decades-old ban on US atomic civilian trade with India, but recent events are sowing doubts about the potential consequences should anything go wrong.
Writing recently in the DNA newspaper, the former Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) chairman Adinarayana Gopalakrishnan said India contrasted poorly with Japan’s “superb” disaster management organization.
“In India, we are most disorganized and unprepared for the handling of emergencies of any kind,” he wrote.
“The AERB’s disaster preparedness oversight is mostly on paper and the drills they once in a while conduct are halfhearted efforts which amount more to a sham,” he added.
Last week a top Indian scientist and other leading figures wrote an open letter describing the crisis in Japan as a “wake-up call” for India and urging the government to “radically review” its nuclear policy.
Meanwhile, a survey of nearly 10,000 people by pollsters Chanakya, part of New Delhi’s RNB Research, showed 77 percent of Indians were worried about atomic safety.
In addition, 69 percent did not believe India could handle a nuclear disaster on the scale of that in Japan, which saw reactor cooling systems knocked out by the March 11 tsunami, sparking partial meltdowns and chemical explosions.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pledged India will make the AERB more independent and increase transparency in operating nuclear plants.
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