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Attention Mumbaikars: Your city may be sitting on a volcano

Wednesday March 23, 2011 11:40:15 PM, VT Padmanabhan

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The oldest commercial reactors in India are located at Tarapur, about 80 km north of Mumbai. These boiling water reactors designed and built by the General Electrics (Now Hitatchi-GE) were commissioned in 1969 and 1971. The chief of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India has recently reassured that these reactors are safer than the crippled reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. Like the officials of the Japanese TEPCO, NPCIL leaders are also honourable men, who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the welfare of the people. If you believe this, you will not lose your sleep and your children will be happy.

Tarapur reactors did not fare well all the time. There were long periods when the reactors did not produce any electricity. Its rated capacity was 200 MW, but NPCIL has downgraded it to 140 MW(e). Currently, these two reactors are producing less than 200 MW of electricity a year.

One way of assessing the integrity of a complicated system, like an atomic reactor, is to look at the leaks and emissions. All the atomic reactors release radioactive elements to the air and water, all the time. These are known as routine releases. These releases are monitored and reported to the United Nations' Scientific Committee on Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). This is the only source you can depend on to know what comes of the nuclear fuel chain. 1994 is the latest year for which data from Indian reactors are available in UNSCEAR report. The data given in the original report is for annual emission. Since that involves huge numbers, I have calculated the emission per second. There are 3.153 cores of seconds in a year, if you want to know the annual data, kindly multiply it.

Iodine released from Tarapur will give away 714 radioactive disintegrations (of beta particles) every second for the next 8 days and for the next 8 days 357 disintegrations and for the next 8 days 178 disintegations like that. After about 90 days there will be no radioidone left from the quota released at this second. The average release of iodine from all the boiling water reactors in the world was 26 during the same period. In other words, the Tarapur reactors are 28 times dirtier than the rest. They may tell you to eat iodine tablets every day. That simply does not work.

Noble gases are a group of radionuclides of krypton, xenon and argon. Tarapur I and II release 1.1 billion of these noble gas disintegration every second of its operation. The global average was 11 million; that is a hundred times dirtier.They are not that noble, when they are near or inside a living cell. They puncture the cell membrane and deface the DNA and initiate a process known as genomic instability.

This data are for air releases through stack. The reactor also discharges contaminated water laced with radionuclides to the Arabian Ocean, into the fish-workers' commons. Studies have shown 129 Iodine, thousand times the background rate in the sea around Tarapur. The ocean eco-system does not hoard the radionuclides. They are returned to us through fish.

Besides the four reactors including the two 500 MW reactors recently built, the Tarapur campus is also storing the highly radioactive spent fuel, accumulated over the past forty years. The spent fuel contains much more radioactivity than the reactor cores. Any disaster on this campus will have unacceptably high impacts on the health and well being of our people and the eco-system for hundreds of years to come.

There is a thing called the risk-benefit ratio. These ageing reactors are surely doing a great service to the nation by generating electricity. Their net contribution to the national grid will be less than 0.01%. Not a big deal for a big nation. And what are the risks in case of an accident?

(a) Over 300,000 hectares of farm land which will be rendered unusable for at least 300 years

(b) Miseries in the form of cancer and genetic disorders in a population of 20 million or upward

(c) Tokyo is 220 km from Fukushima, Mumbai is less than a hundred kilometres.

(d) Total dislocation and anomie in a city which is the hub of the nation's industrial production.

(e) The cost of sacrophaging the reactor, by air-dropping cement, born and metals for mothballing the structure in case of a breech will be thousand times more than the return NPCIL is getting by selling that 0.1% of electricity from Tarapur.

And above all, those big brains, the scientists who design, fabricate and maintain our national deterrence also live in that city – fairly close to the ageing structures.

We are a great people. We can do without these unsafe structures. And save Mumbaikars from this unacceptable risk.







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Picture of the Day

President of India Mrs. Pratibha Devisingh Patil addressing at the inauguration of the National Festival of Tribal Dances, ‘PRAKRITI’, in New Delhi on March 16, 2011. Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Culture, Kum. Selja, Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Kantilal Bhuria and Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Mahadev S. Khandela are also seen.

(Photo: Mukesh Kumar)



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