Perilous Nurturing of Nuke-Nuts
Posted on January 3, 2012
Indian nuclear aspirations are not cloaked, India is moving swiftly with a vision of becoming the world leader in nuclear technology, but, this brisk expansion in nuclear technology is raising apprehensions and alarming many countries around. Lately such concerns have been expressed by Chinese official media and scientists in an article titled ‘Risks behind India’s Military build up’ in the state-run People’s Daily. India is standing by to test its 5000 km range Agni-V missile, Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) Director-General V K Saraswat had stated that Agni -V will be test fired in coming February. The missile has already been termed ‘killer’ missile for certain countries. Chinese official media said that the “killer” missile with potential to reach several cities in China showed New Delhi’s intention to become major power in the region. Analysts articulate that while short range missile Agni-I and II are regarded as Pakistan-specific, Agni-III, IV and V are certainly China-specific. The People’s Daily also issued an analogous write up last month terming India’s decision to beef-up defense preparedness at borders with China with one lakh troops as a ‘sensitive move’. Moreover stated, “It will result in a tense situation in the region and harm India’s own interests. Increasing troops on the border area is always a sensitive move and it is especially sensitive to increase troops on a disputed border area,”
It is definitely right that India is focusing on building defense rapidly in coming years. It has been decided in the recent 11th Five-Year Plan to spend 8.2 billion US dollars purchasing equipment from foreign countries to improve its fighting capabilities. India’s pronouncement to acquire 8.2 billion U.S. dollars military equipments from the world’s top military powers is a step towards deterrence to its adversaries. This has also lead to a major enhancement in India’s relations with the USA, Russia, Germany, Israel, Japan, Australia and other countries, since India has become the world’s largest arm importer as said by a topical report of Sweden Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Australia has also lifted its ban on exporting uranium to India, despite India not having signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
However India itself has explicated its strategic aspirations and anticipations to have a significant position in world affairs, so said that it cannot abide these internal and external security environment constraints. It is the Indian goal to continue to reinforce its military and hold a military power to assure its standing as a major power.
India already has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear program; it has currently more than 20000 MWe nuclear capacities on line and expects to have 63000 MWe by 2032. India is at this time building 6 nuclear power plants (NPP) with a cumulative capacity of about 4,000 MW. Already in the pipeline with the necessary approvals granted are 18 NPPs with a collective capacity of about 17,000 MW to be built across the country. In addition, another 39 NPPs with an aggregate capacity of 45,000 MW have been proposed. Thus, towards the end of the next decade, India’s nuclear power capacity will reach over 70,000 MW. India plans to build these NPPs in clusters, each comprising about 6-8 plants with individual capacities in the range 1,000 – 1,200 MW, or with a total capacity of about 10,000 MW at each cluster. India aspires to boost its use of nuclear power from the existing 3 percent of electricity generation to 40 percent by 2050.
A noteworthy Indo-Russia nuclear project is on its way in Kudankulam. Kudankulam will have a total of 8 plants comprising two plants of 1,000 MW each and six plants of 1,200 MW each, thus making a total of 9,200 MW of capacity. Nevertheless, endorsements for the last four are yet to be approved. All eight units at Kudankulam are to be fabricated with Russian support, with Russia financing about half the cost of the plants. The capital costs of these plants are expected to be around US$ 1,600 per kWh. They will be built by India’s Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) under Russian supervision and NPCIL will commission and drive the plant. Work on two units would be completed soon while on units three and four are yet to be finalized. However the project has become contentious, thousands of protesters and villagers living around the Russian-built Koodankulam nuclear plant in the southern Tamil Nadu state, blocked highways and staged hunger strikes, prevented further construction work, and demanded its closure as they fear of the disasters like the Environmental impact of nuclear power, radioactive waste, nuclear accident similar to the radiation leak at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. The protesters have noticeably stated few explicit reasons for opposing the Koodankulam NPP project. Russia has also backed India’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat. Both countries have lately signed a deal for 42 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets. Russia also has other contracts with India, in particular the modernization of weapons already delivered. By one ballpark figure, 80% of India’s Army is equipped with Russian hardware, while a nuclear submarine leased from Russia is all set to join the Indian Navy in early 2012. All these developments are in a wary of its regional adversary China.
The Kudankulam case show that despite every preventative measure being taken to guarantee the safety of the plant and people, NPPs could go out of control due to unpredicted circumstances and accidents could take place causing radiation revelation to people living over a very wide area. Kudankulam is only 240 km from the west coast of Sri Lanka, in line with Puttalam. If any of the 8 nuclear power plants, being constructed or planned there develops a radiation leak due to some surprising reason; its impact would be felt directly by Sri Lanka. This is chiefly so during the monsoon months when the winds blow from the southern tip of India towards the North Central Province for several months. As 2 plants each with capacity 1000 MW will come into operation this year, and 2 more in another 5 or 6 years time. The balance 4 will also come into operation during the next decade. All these plants will draw sea water for cooling purposes, and if the water supply system breaks down due to an earth quake or a tsunami, as happened at Kalpakkam in 2004, there could be a great disaster, directly affecting Sri Lanka. Even otherwise, there could be a possibility that a mishap could take place due to human error or hardware error as ensued in Chernobyl and cause radiation leak. Hence the nurturing of Indo nukes can have serious implications for China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. At a time when India is boosting its defense ties with Russia to counter Pakistan and China, comprehensive defense pacts should take place to boost Pak-Sino defense to counter India, besides Pakistan needs to try other options as well especially the world’s second largest arms exporter Russia. Hence an immense swing in foreign policy is some how requisite!
(Maimuna Ashraf is defence & diplomatic studies analyst based in Rawalpindi)