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All Nuclear Roads May Lead to Kolar

By S. P. Udayakumar

24 November, 2012

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) team went to Delhi in November last year to meet with the Prime Minister and discuss the Koodankulam issue. When we raised the waste management concerns, Dr. S. K. Jain, the then CMD of NPCIL, sought to allay our fears. He stretched out his right palm and claimed that there would be some waste left and it could be melted into a glass ball and kept on the show case of our living room. I, for one, was awestruck by the cock and bull story I had just heard. I was so tempted to ask Dr. Jain why we had not tried to sell this wonderful waste management technology to the world and make a lot of money for our country.

In fact, nuclear waste is a very serious issue. We get three types of wastes from a nuclear power plant: low-level, mid-level and high-level wastes. The very low-level wastes such as mops and glouses could be disposed of in landfill-type sites. The low-level waste that includes low concentrations of long-lived radionuclides and high concentrations of short-lived radionuclides must be kept away safely in subterranean facilities for hundreds of years. Both mid-level and high-level wastes must be sequestered in deep geological repositories (DGR) for hundreds of thousands of years. Mid-level wastes include high concentrations of long-lived radionuclides.

Heat-emitting and highly radioactive high-level wastes include spent-fuel from nuclear power plants and wastes from the reprocessing of that spent-fuel. Since theses wastes are so hot and deadly, they are generally kept in spent-fuel pools at the reactors for several years and cooled with borated water that absorbs neutrons and stops the chain reaction that had been going on in the reactor.

Having been cooled, spent-fuel is sent to reprocessing plants that are much more dangerous than nuclear power plants. The Indian nuclear authorities claim that this waste is actually an “asset” as they could use it in the fast breeder plants that are coming up at Kalpakkam near Chennai. No other country in the world has mastered this fast breeder technology so far.

Indian nuclear establishment that has a very ambitious nuclear power (and bomb) programs must have a fool-proof and well thought out strategy for spent-fuel storage and clear and concrete plans for long-term high-level waste disposal.

It is simply not enough to say that we would produce 40,000 MW from Russian, American and French nuclear power plants in the next 10 or 15 years. This nuclear business plan may be good news for foreign nuclear companies, their host countries, the middlemen and our politicians and bureaucrats as they all gain in many ways. But for the Indian public, careful planning to deal with the waste and assiduous schemes to store it all are crucial issues. The nuclear establishment’s insincere and misleading “trust us; we can take care of it” rhetoric cannot be reassuring. Nuclear waste management has to be planned from the beginning and not as we go along.

Finding the necessary funds for the increasingly expensive waste management technology, siting costs, compensation packages for the local people, waste transportation and the accompanying risks, repository construction, operation, security and most importantly the unforeseen and unforeseeable future liabilities are some of the important factors that we have to reckon with while planning nuclear waste management. Long-term radiation threats, possible explosions, impact on ground water, air contamination and deadly diseases are some of the dangers the surrounding populations face.

The Affidavit filed by Mr. Ashok Chauhan, Executive Director of NPCIL on 7 November, 2012 at the Supreme Court affirms: “the initial focus of work in eighties mainly centred on setting up generic Underground Research Laboratories in one of the abandoned mines in India and resulted in the development of an underground chamber in Kolar gold mine located in South India.” All nuclear roads may lead to Kolar. If and when all the planned nuclear plants come up all over the country, Kolar will be brimming with waste. And the heart of southern India will certainly bleed.

If our governments, scientists and technocrats have not managed to clean up the dangerous Bhopal waste that has been lying there for the past 28 years, how are they going to convince us about Kolar?

S. P. Udayakumar is the coordinator of People's movement against nuclear energy which is spearheading the movement against the nuclear power plant in Koodankulam



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