Is Nuclear Power Safe? Questions Ahead of Launch in India

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Energy starved and cash strapped India will press ahead with plans to bring online a nuclear power plant in spite of wide spread protests. India’s Supreme Court has approved of the project and will allow its operation to go forward. This comes nearly two decades after the project was originally planned and 2 years after the first reactors were completed.

Nuclear Power Project Details

The project will be a joint development between India and Russia and will be built in Tamil Nadu, one of the poorest regions of India. Two of the generators in the plant have already been ready to go online for about two years. So far the state owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India has been unable to turn the generators on due to protesters and legal actions. Now that the Supreme Court has given the green light, however, the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant should be up and running shortly.

Whether or not nuclear power is a safe energy option remains hotly debated. Proponents of nuclear energy argue that it produces few green house gases and when managed properly, has few negative impacts on the local environment. According to supporters, while there may have been safety issues in the past, new technologies and extra precautions have largely eliminated these risks.

Critics argue that it is simply too dangerous with the possibility of minor accidents spinning out of control and developing into global catastrophes. Further, dealing with nuclear waste is a major problem. While nuclear power has a generally clean record, a few notable incidents have greatly tarnished its reputation and called into question the ability of people to properly manage such resources.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 proved that there are still huge risks with nuclear energy. In the aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake, the Fukushima plant’s coolant systems failed and even after attempts to use seawater to cool down the reactors, they went into a full melt down. During the disaster, radioactive gases were vented into the atmosphere, causing contamination to nearby communities. While the crisis was eventually averted, it called into question the argued safety of nuclear energy.

If Japan, one of the world’s most advanced nations, can suffer such nuclear disasters, how would India react in the face of such an event? The Indian government is more famous for its grinding bureaucracy, ineffective courts, and rampant corruption than it is for being able to manage projects of this scope. Still, India already has 20 nuclear power plants in operation and has suffered no major accidents.

While some critics may focus on accidents and disasters, perhaps the biggest problem is figuring out what to do with nuclear waste. No one has yet figured out a safe way to store nuclear waste and across the world radioactive materials are sitting in aging temporary storage solutions. While nuclear energy produces few green house gases, nuclear waste is a major issue.

The risks of the project must be weighed against the benefits. India regularly suffers rolling black and brown outs, disrupting business and straining economic development efforts. The added electricity from the nuclear power plant could reduce electricity shortages and if properly managed, the project should be safe. The Supreme Court sided with this view, ruling that the nuclear power plant was in “national” interests given widespread shortages.

Now, with the Supreme Court’s ruling there is little protesters can do to stop the plant from coming online.


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