NOT SO LONG AGO, BEFORE THE JAPANESE PREMIER, Shinzo Abe, embarked on his much publicised trip to India, the Mayors of the cities Nagasaki and Hiroshima had written to him requesting a reconsideration of the proposed nuclear deal with India. Aside of the burden of historical memory that these cities carry, the Mayors were only highlighting the risks associated with nuclear technology at a time when nearly 77% of Japanese have supported the phase out of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe.
The Hindu NEWSPAPER OF TODAY carries a very timely and thought provoking analysis titled “The Strange Love for Nuclear Energy” co-authored by physicists M.V. Ramana and Suvrat Raju who are associated with the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament. Even allowing for bias of the writers’ association with a campaign, India could ill afford to ignore the warnings they raise in their article : India is on the verge of constructing untested and expensive reactors; the technology is not at all likely to be cost effective even after allowing for the so called reduction in construction costs in India under the so called Made in India campaign – itself a distant reality as far as the nuclear project is concerned. The authors point out that a reactor that costs USD 11.6 Bn in Europe is likely to yield a first year tariff of about Rs 19/unit of electricity (compared with Rs 4.50 and Rs 5.50 per unit for electricity generated using coal and solar power respectively).
THE AUTHORS ALSO DRAW OUR ATTENTION TO THE fact that the proposed Indo-Japanese nuclear deal is only meant to clear the way for Japanese corporates to sell their wares in India which are unwanted elsewhere in the world given the serious downturn in the nuclear industry. Westinghouse (where Toshiba owns a majority stake) which is the vendor for the reactor to be installed at Mithi-Virdi in Gujarat has accumulated losses of USD 290 mn since 2006 when Toshiba took a stake in the company. Likewise, Areva which is installing its equipment at Jaitapur in Maharashtra is virtually bankrupt and is poised for a takeover by the French state electricity company and Mitsubishi. And GE has aligned with Hitachi for supply of its reactor to Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh. The authors point out that nearly 50 years ago, Japan had succumbed to pressure from nuclear suppliers and had even passed a law to indemnify them , as a result of which, the authors allege, GE was fully protected for design defects that arose in the reactors they had installed at Fukushima. The cost of the entire clean up at Fukushima estimated at USD 200 Bn was entirely borne by Japanese tax payers !! The authors also warn that none of the reactor designs for aforementioned Indian locations are operational anywhere else in the world and that they distinctly run the risk of escalating project costs year after year. They cite the examples of the reactors currently being built in Georgia, U.S., and in Flamanville, France, where the costs have escalated from USD 14 Bn to USD 21 Bn and from Eur 3.2 Bn to 10.5 Bn respectively !!
WHILE PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI’s keenness to see India in the forefront of technology and economic development is laudable, it cannot be at the cost of India’s safety and security. The speed at which environmental clearances are given merely to project India as an industry friendly country does not augur well for the country either.
THE PROPOSED INDO-JAP NUCLEAR DEAL cannot be implemented in haste and there is every opportunity for India to do business on its terms vis a vis the Japanese Vendors after instituting adequate safeguards and guarantees. We also need to pay heed to the financial resources required. High profile projects do not really solve India’s problems in the long run. As with the nuclear projects, the high speed rail project for bullet trains may not actually be the one that India badly needs now. The resources contemplated for the Shinkansens (bullet trains) in India could be easily redeployed to attend to the more crying needs of Indian railways such as the renewal of rakes and passenger safety.
INDIA CANNOT BE UP FOR GRABS for multinational vendors who think they can exploit the Indian anxiety to be in the big league. Business with such vendors should be on our terms. India rightly stood its ground at the recently concluded Conference of Parties on climate change in Paris and its stance at the WTO is robustly correct. The same logic should guide our dealings with MNC businesses.