Mr. Prime Minister, Here Is Yet Another Scam Right Under Your Nose.
And It Has Far More Dangerous Implications
By Dr. E A S Sarma
25 April, 2013
Department of Atomic Energy in India comes right under the Prime Minister. The revelation of a mega-scam in Russia involving supply of sub-standard equipment in Koodankulam’s Russian supplier has met with denials from the DAE and the NPCIL We are reproducing Former Power Secretary Dr. EAS Sarma’s letter to the PM on the issue. This is the latest among the several letters sent to the Prime Minister by Dr. Sarma (old letters can be accessed here, here, here, here and here)
Dear Dr. Manmohan Singh,
I have enclosed copies of my three letters 1st cited and a copy of AERB’s press release 2nd cited.
DAE, NPCIL and AERB seem to be determined to function in a highly opaque manner. Lack of transparency will lead to misinformation and doubts. There have been rumours about a series of mishaps at Kudankulam. I have just heard about injuries and loss of life among the workers as a result of shocks from defective cables. I am not sure whether these rumours represent the factual situation at Kudankulam. Had DAE/ AERB insisted on NPCIL functioning in a transparent manner, it would have set to rest some of the unsubstantiated rumours and correctly informed the public of the reasons for the actual failures, if any.
The fears expressed by some of us on the deployment of sub-standard equipment in Kudankulam stand fully corroborated by the latest admission made by AERB in its press release 2nd cited. The cryptic wording used by AERB has raised more apprehensions than provide any clarity on the issues raised by me in my letters.
The fact that AERB is subordinate to DAE and, therefore, cannot be viewed as a credible, independent regulator, as corroborated by C&AG in its recent report, further compounds the apprehensions expressed by me.
It should be noted in this connection that, apart from my letters addressed to you, there have been several reports in both domestic and external news media on rampant corruption prevailing among the Russian companies who seem to have supplied sub-standard nuclear equipment to several countries including India. It is under intense pressure from the civil society that AERB has finally condescended to make a statement, that too apparently half-hearted, on the detection of “four defective valves” in the Kudankulam reactors!
Both DAE and AERB have been silent on instances of corruption reported from Russia, their possible adverse impact on the quality of the equipment used at Kudankulan and the potential dangers associated in DAE going ahead with the commissioning of the power project.
For example, in addition to defective valves, it is possible that the strength of the material used in the other equipment is not as per the safety specifications stipulated for the same. Unless DAE/ NPCIL, in consultation with AERB, investigate the magnitude of the scam in Russia and traces its impact on each component of the Kudankulam plant, it will not be possible for AERB to understand the inherent risks associated with its operation. By restricting itself to looking at a few isolated components, AERB may have missed out on the larger picture of Kudankulam. Some of the components made from sub-standard material may seem to work satisfactorily during the limited trial operations but give way once the plant is fully commissioned. Kudankulam is not just one more industrial project. It is a project that is based on nuclear technology in which there are glaring gaps in the scientific knowledge. Unlike in the case of the other industrial projects, a nuclear accident can have mind boggling consequences, both extensive and inter-generational.
My letters on the reported instance of corruption among the Russian supplier companies have not elicited any response either from DAE/ NPCIL or AERB. Has DAE chosen to keep its eyes closed to the implications emanating from the Russian scam? Are the officials of DAE and NPCIL involved in it in one way or the other?
I am afraid that the way DAE has been handling this whole matter raises serious apprehensions in my mind. During the meeting with the Russian President at the recent BRICS meeting in Durban, you have personally assured the latter that Kudankulam would be commissioned in April. April has gone by and it is doubtful whether the plant can be started even in May or even June. But, DAE seems to be under intense pressure from Russia to start the plant at any cost, without any sensitivity towards the safety of the people residing around the project. Should we not care for the welfare of our own people? Should India cave in to such an unreasonable external pressure? Is there a “foreign hand” operating on India and its rulers?
There are thousands of individual components in a nuclear power plant. The failure of one of these can result in a major accident that can snowball into a Fukushima. Should DAE be allowed to endanger the lives of the people for the sake of shielding its own failures and the failures on the part of the external suppliers?
Till date, NPCIL has not cared to ensure that the local authorities and the people residing around Kudankulam are prepared for a major disaster, though the Hon’ble Madras High Court had given a clear direction on it. On the other hand, the same NPCIL is trying to shield the suppliers who have apparently supplied sub-standard equipment. This does not augur well for the project. If at all a Fukushima-like accident were to take place at Kudankulam, the responsibility would then squarely rest on those in DAE, NPCIL and AERB who seem to have connived with the suppliers.
If you really care for the safety of the public, Mr. Prime Minister, you should initially order a one-year moratorium of the commissioning of Kudankulam, pending a thorough investigation into the supply of sub-standard equipment and its safety implications. If there is an iota of doubt about the safety, a prudent option would be to close down the project, as the lives of the people are more valuable than the cost of closure.
Former Secretary to Government of India
Dr. E A S Sarma is Former Union Power Secretary, Govt of India Email: email@example.com
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