Forces halting our n-surge

The agitation against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant has been running as a TV reality show for weeks now. The news-starved visual media has reduced the Koodankulam nuclear plant — a national investment of Rs 13,000 crore and just about to start — to a day-matinee-night show. The Koodankulam theatre is plagiarised on the Anna Fast model for media to hype it. The media too obliged and packaged it as hapless villagers fighting for their right to live. For long, it had winked at the scriptwriters, directors and actors behind the show. But does the media know — or not — that Koodankulam is no isolated event? And that the goals and mission that drive it link it to the stir that is on for almost two decades in the distant and remote West Khasi Hills in Meghalaya against uranium mining? The scriptwriters, directors and actors behind both have a common mission. The Koodankulam stir blocks the building of a nuclear plant for India. The West Khasi Hills agitation prevents the building of nuclear arsenal for India. Who are the directors and actors and what is their mission?

See what nuclear technology means to India. India needs nuclear power and nuclear weapons. There are, in the world, 22,000 nuclear bombs, 8,000 actively targeted at one another’s perceived enemy. China has some 240 bombs targeted mostly at India. Pakistan has some 80 bombs targeted only at India. India has 100, less than a third of both. No one deeply concerned for India can even remotely undermine nuclear technology for power or weapons. On the other side, our energy security, heavily import-dependent, is at risk. We, a sixth of humanity, remain a burden on the world. Shamefully. We import oil, coal and gas. Our energy imports is $100 billion a year. Of which, coal imports, now 100 billion tons, alone cost $5 billion; it will reach $45 billion in 2020, $250 billion by 2050. We today produce 1,50,000MW of electricity. We need to raise it, by over six times, to 9,50,000MW, by 2030. This is not doable through imported fuel. It needs no seer to tell us that, in the long run, we need indigenously fuelled power. For which a prime candidate is nuclear power.

Now, compare the environmental and human risk in thermal and nuclear power. The risk in one is the merit of the other. Experts say that a 1,000MW coal power plant causes annually 400 deaths by air pollution and climatic change. Nuclear energy does risk accidents — but once in decades — just four accidents in 60 years, involving 66 direct and 4,000 related deaths. It is far less risky compared thermal power. Air accidents kill some 1,000 persons in the world annually. Traffic accidents killed 1.14 lakh people in 2007 in India alone. Yet to think of banning coal, nor air or automobile travel will be laughable. The balance sheet of nuclear energy is thus superior, less risky, and more clean. Why do some brand nuclear power as evil? Now see how do we produce nuclear power and also weaponise India.
Now uranium drives our nuclear programme. Our minimal uranium reserves are mainly located in Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, Jaduguda in Jharkhand and Tummalappalle in Andhra Pradesh. Global uranium trade is political, controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG sells uranium only to an approved country and its nuclear reactors are subject to NSG supervision. India signed a loaded nuclear treaty with the US only to win the NSG approval to access imported uranium. Now 14 of our 22 nuclear reactors are subject to global supervision. Only the unsupervised eight are usable for producing nuclear weapons. India can import uranium from the NSG for its nuclear power reactors, but import is only a short term answer, and costly for a country of our size. To fuel large nuclear power plants and for energy security, we cannot rely on imported uranium for long. Ultimately it has to be indigenous fuel. Fortunately, we have the world’s largest deposit of thorium, an alternative to uranium and the nuclear fuel of future. We are perfecting the technology to use thorium for producing power. But, till that happens, we need to mine indigenous uranium, first, to reduce the dependence on imports for our nuclear power programme and, next, for operating the eight reactors to produce nuclear weaponry. The two facts are self evident. And now lift the veil and see the common faces behind the two decade-old Khasi Hills agitation against uranium mining and the agitation against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant — that is against nuclear India itself.

That the Koodankulam stir is the show of the Catholic Church has become out, but a bit late. Neutral media reports now confirm that S P Udaykumar, who leads the agitation, stays with the parish priest Father Jaikumar at Idinthakarai village; Fr Jaikumar openly supports the stir; Fr Thadyuse, the priest of the church in Koodankulam, too is forthright in his support; Fr S Peter, priest at the popular St Antony’s Church in the coastal village Ovary, sends his flock to partake in the relay fast at Idinthakarai; local Christians priests confirm that the Bishop at Tirunelveli supports the stir. The church hierarchy is therefore fully at it. According to reports, transport, cash and biriyani are provided to mobilise protesters and they are motivated to throw stones at the maintenance officials of the plant to force its closure. Remove the church, the agitation will stop.

Now see the face behind the agitation in the Christian-majority Meghalaya, which has a sixth of India’s uranium reserves. Not a kilogramme of uranium has been mined out of Meghalaya since 1990, thanks to 20-year long agitation by Khasi Hills students against mining it. The church in Meghalaya is backing, actually organising, the students. Violent incidents, blockade, picketing, huge rallies, setting fire to government offices and paralysing government marked the agitation ( And who talks for the agitators? The archbishop of Shillong, Dominic Jala. ( Take the church out, there will be no stir. Even the uranium reserve in Jharkhand is at risk. A huge tribal campaign, with NGOs patronised by the church backing it, is thwarting uranium mining in Jharkhand.

QED: The campaign against mining uranium in Meghalaya and against the Koodankulam nuclear plant is by the same directors and actors with global links and money. Their target is nuclear India. They are driven by a geopolitical agenda to de-nuke India. But they actually nuke India.

S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic


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