British TV crucifies India`s nuclear programme

  • 14/11/1992

British TV crucifies India`s nuclear programme DOMESTIC critics of the country's nuclear programme campaign as stridently against it abroad as they do at home. With considerable help from some of them, Yorkshire TV, one of the ITV companies in UK, recently telecast an hour-long documentary entitled Nuclear India -- A Dream Gone Sour. Unfortunately, accusatory quotes and an alarmist commentary make for a film that smacks more of activism than scientific investigation.

Producer James Cutler was heroically clandestine, smuggling his crew into India as tourists and filming installations, villages and people using a small video camera.

The film's thesis is simple. In its pursuit of a nuclear power programme, India has outdone every other country in the world. (The commentary alternately calls it the world's most ambitious nuclear power programme and the world's fastest growing nuclear programme. Both statements are untrue.) The film contends India has invested heavily in nuclear power installations and in the bargain is polluting the countryside and deforming the people. Yet, barely 2 per cent of its energy needs are met from nuclear power sources. But since India persists, there must be an ulterior motive. Dhirendra Sharma, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, triumphantly gives the motive as production of uranium.

False premises
The unspoken criticism is of the stupidity of a developing nation hankering after a technology that the developed world is rejecting, and bumbling in its pursuit. The film reports the Kalpakkam project consumes more electricity than it gives to the state grid and quotes a science journalist as saying that on the day a Kalpakkam fast breeder went critical, "it generated enough electricity to light a 200-watt bulb."

The misleading premises in this film need to be nailed. If India now meets 2 per cent of energy needs from nuclear energy, it is partly because the reactors have been of the 200-MW variety, compared to the 1,000-MW and still bigger reactors abroad.

The commentary says many European countries have frozen their programmes and mothballed their reactors, but India is going ahead enthusiastically. The countries that have frozen their programmes did so after achieving a higher percentage -- 20 to 30 per cent -- of nuclear-sourced power than India's 2 per cent. And, though Britain may have frozen its programme, the USA and France have not.

Dark hints in the film about India's nuclear power programme actually being a cover for a weapons programme display ignorance because knowledgeable sources say to produce weapons, one doesn't need a power reactor; the research reactor that India has at BARC will suffice.

Bleak scenario
The film visits the Uranium Corp of India's mine at Jadugoda in Bihar, whose far-from-exemplary safety regulations are described. It also dwells on the health hazards posed by the Hyderabad Nuclear Fuels Corp, focussing on a woman from a nearby village who is dying of cancer. The film says every single well in the vicinity of the corporation is now unusable.

And it ends with the radiation victims of Rawal Bhata in Rajasthan. A labourer describes how in one day he received 2,200 millirem of radiation within half an hour, more than what he should have received in the whole year. Many of the criticisms on working conditions are valid, but there are also studies to show that the proportion of deformities in these populations is the same as in villages far away from nuclear installations. Giving the other side of the rabid activist argument in each instance would have added to the film's credibility.

Much is made of the "secrecy" of India's nuclear programme, you'd think France and the USA invite tourists to see their nuclear installations. Predictably, the film ends with a disaster scenario: India is developing nuclear weapons to take on Pakistan, and if both India and Pakistan (presumptious Third World pigmies) persist in their folly, it would result in the first double-sided nuclear conflict in history.