“I think it is much, much better for Australia to be on the inside of this development pathway for India, doing all it can to build the institutional strength required to run a good nuclear sector, putting downward pressure on the greenhouse gas emissions of this global giant, and enhancing regional security through clean development and secure energy supplies.” 

Over breakfast I read about the findings of an internal Indian Government report into the oversight of nuclear facilities.

Jump to 11 am and parliamentary reporter Julia Holman from Triple J current affairs show Hack calls to ask if I would come on the show and talk about nuclear power. Coincidence? Obviously not! So after a quick discussion and agreeing to visit the Collinswood studios at 1 pm, the research began.

Firstly, what is this report??? I certainly don’t want to comment on media reports on nuclear issues without reading the source material. The relationship between the media and nuclear power is curious to say the least. It took about 20 minutes of searching, but here it is.

Performance audit on activities of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board_India

I only had time for the executive summary, and you can judge for yourself, but it’s hardly a great report card for Indian nuclear.

What next? As ever, talking yourself out of nuclear is as easy as narrowing your field of vision, so I broadened it instead to see what came into view.

Where the nuclear report card cited one fatality from the hasty dismantling of a piece of machinery from a University, this report told me that over 1,000 people have died in Indian coal mines between 2000 and 2008. Official data from 2008-2011 describes it as a fatality every five days.

To be morbidly frank, I was surprised it was not more. But these figures are the official ones. They don’t include illegal child coal miners, mainly in the north-east of the country, who’s deaths go unrecorded. The sale of Australian-uranium and the expansion of nuclear power in place of coal would help displace this horrible industry in favour of the type of world-class mining done in Australia.

This excellent presentation from the World Bank and Columbia University highlighted data from the IEA showing that 290 million people in India have no electricity of any kind, and 836 million people cook with solid fuel.

Energy access

The consequences of this are described in this 2001 report from the Indian Council of Medical Research , to quote:

..in developing countries the most important indoor air pollutants are the combustion products of unprocessed solid biomass fuels used by the poor urban and rural folk for cooking and heating… Approximately half the world’s population and up to 90% of rural households in developing countries still rely on unprocessed biomass fuels such as wood, dung and crop residues. A recent report of the World Health Organization (WHO) asserts the rule of 1000 which states that a pollutant released indoors is one thousand times more likely to reach people’s lung than a pollutant released outdoors. It has been estimated that about half a million women and children die each year from indoor air pollution in India. Compared to other countries, India has among the largest burden of disease due to the use of dirty household fuels and 28% of all deaths due to indoor air pollution in developing countries occur in India.

Image from the Global Asthma Network. Click on the picture for a link to the page

Note, I have not even mentioned climate change yet. If India resolves this horrific public health outcome and terrible lack of energy access with fossil fuels, then we will see yet more deaths in mines, and an acceleration of greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s fourth largest emitter.

So researched, I jumped into the car and shot over to the studio to make my contribution to the story.

Let me be clear: I would be more comfortable with a better nuclear report card from within India. I would be more comfortable if they signed the nuclear NPT. But moralising on such matters from the privilege of our fully developed, hyper greenhouse-intensive, US-allied shores must be utterly galling from the point of view of India, and is frankly a little sickening in the face of the everyday of poverty and health challenges in that nation. I cannot see how Australian stand-offishness, while selling uranium to those international human rights paragons Russian and China, would make one lick of difference to India’s energy and security decisions, except for additional dependence on fossil fuels.

I think it is much, much better for Australia to be on the inside of this development pathway for India, doing all it can to build the institutional strength required to run a good nuclear sector, putting downward pressure on the greenhouse gas emissions of this global giant, and enhancing regional security through clean development and secure energy supplies.

The alternatives, either in today’s status quo or tomorrows warmer world, are simply unacceptable.

URANIUM INDIA ON HACK MP3

UPDATE, 5 November: Some useful discussions have brought my attention to the site “Energy for All”, promoting off-grid, distributed energy solutions. Support for such program is not mutually exclusive with support for nuclear, far from it! With regard to the cooking smoke issue, there is every chance that such technologies would be highly effective in fixing that horrible problem quickly, as they would reach many of the worst affected people more quickly than grid connected nuclear. In a country with the demographics of India, such things should be encouraged and funded; it would be a huge step-up in health and living standards. Meanwhile as the population of India continues to urbanise, we can hope that over time it is nuclear, not coal, that delivers the grid-connected power supply. The suggestion that I do not support other zero-carbon technologies is, as ever, wrong. To read more on why I chose to focus on nuclear power, visit the Welcome page

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5 comments

  1. The fact is India may have too many people for make it into a majority middle class this century. I’m not sure we should fear weapons diversions of nuclear material in India any more than Israel or Iran who are more secretive. Australia is inextricably bound up with India’s energy supply one way or the other. The Alpha coal development in Queensland seems to be primarily aimed at India
    http://zeenews.india.com/business/news/companies/australian-govt-clears-gvks-coal-terminal-project_62073.html
    That will add 10s of Mt more CO2 to the global atmosphere each year so nuclear material is preferable on that account.

    There is a lot of talk about Indian self reliance on nuclear fuel by breeding locally sourced thorium into fissile material
    http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Nuclear-Power/Is-India-About-to-Alter-the-Worlds-Energy-Future.html
    Details are sketchy but I think it involves irradiating thorium in Gen 3 reactors and reprocessing. The article says India has the most thorium but Geosciences Australia assert that we have the most thorium as well as the most uranium.

    Green utopians take note that India does not kid itself that wind and solar will deliver middle class lifestyles to the poor…this seems to be a fantasy of the already rich.

    1. “Green utopians take note that India does not kid itself that wind and solar will deliver middle class lifestyles to the poor…this seems to be a fantasy of the already rich.”

      The Indian Energy Statistics 2012 highlight that a significant amount of electricity in India is generated using off grid renewable technology.

      That’s not the same as a middle class lifestyle, but I bet it is a whole lot better than total energy poverty, and is probably quicker to deliver in many locations than a grid. It should be applauded and supported in my opinion, along with centralised nuclear for urban centres.

      1. In rural areas I think we’re talking electric applications such as a communal TV, a small shared fridge for animal vaccines, a reading light in each house and maybe a low flow village well pump. That’s a million miles from a big screen plasma TV and aircon in each house, air travel, personal cars and supermarket shopping. As Ted Trainer says it is the simpler way.

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