Monday, March 14, 2011

Water guzzler, and vulnerable to water

Brahma Chellaney in Express Buzz (India): The various reactor incidents in northeast Japan have dealt a severe blow to the global nuclear industry, a powerful cartel of less than a dozen major state-owned or state-guided firms that have been trumpeting a nuclear-power renaissance and which are now penetrating the Indian market in a major way. The risks seaside reactors face from natural disasters became evident much earlier when the late 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated India’s second largest nuclear complex at Kalpakkam, shutting down the sole operating reactor at the Madras Atomic Power Station.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh bypassed Parliament to push the Indo-US nuclear deal through, overriding concerns about the economic viability and safety of an imports-based nuclear power programme. Yet what stands out about the final deal he clinched are the four ‘No’s for India: No binding fuel-supply guarantee to avert a Tarapur-style fuel cut-off; no irrevocable reprocessing consent; no right to withdraw from its obligations, and no right to conduct a nuclear test ever again.

The separate explosions at two Fukushima reactors and the cooling system problems elsewhere have brought the nuclear safety issue back in global spotlight. This will embolden grassroots objections in India to the building of reactors by foreign suppliers at Jaitapur, Haripur, Kovvada and Mithi Virdi. It will also reopen some of the safety issues related to the Indian imports of diverse reactor technologies. All the imports, however, will comprise light-water reactors (LWRs), which use water as the main coolant. The LWRs commandeer large quantities of local water for their operations and then pump the hot water outflow back into rivers, lakes and oceans. That can damage plant life and fish.

Many atomic energy plants in the world are located along the coast because nuclear power is a very water-intensive. Yet water is the force behind natural disasters like storms, hurricanes and tsunamis. Not only will such disasters become more common in a climate change-driven paradigm, but there will also be a rise in the ocean levels, making seaside reactors more vulnerable.

Because reactors located inland put serious strain on local freshwater resources, water-stressed countries that are not landlocked try to find a suitable seashore site to build such a plant. But whether located inland or by the ocean, nuclear power is vulnerable to the likely effects of climate change….

Cooling tower of the Limerick nuclear plant in the UK, shot by Peteburke73, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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