WASHINGTON DC, June 28, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Kakrapar Atomic Power Station in western state of Gujarat

Indian Nuclear Mafia Needs an Urgent, Ruthless Purge as Catastrophe Lurks

By N M Sampathkumar Iyangar
Special to the South Asia Tribune

AHMEDABAD, India, June 28: Pundits in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi would have the general public of India believe that the country is about to become a Superpower entrusted with the role of leading and guiding the other countries of the region.

They probably believe that the Bush administration in its second term has launched negotiations with the Manmohan Singh Government as well as the US Congress on facilitating India to play a more significant role as a big power.

Indians brainwashed by this megalomania think the country’s claim of having become a "legitimate" nuclear weapon power has been vindicated with the recognized nuclear weapon powers of the world lining up to have nuclear energy cooperation with India.

Promoting "Civilian nuclear cooperation" is touted to be among the top priorities in the agenda of Dr. Manmohan Singh during his forthcoming visit scheduled for July. Similar optimistic noises appeared and were carried in sponsored stories in Indian newspapers when Singh visited Russia two months ago.

If the clan of desk-bound strategic analysts of New Delhi who make a living by promoting a false sense of euphoria and déjà vu among willing takers by projecting larger than life role for New Delhi in international affairs are to be believed, the US proposal, is part of a broad new strategic initiative towards India unveiled by the Bush Administration. The National Security Pundits have gone to town with the theory that it signals a major shift in American nuclear policy towards India.

US Ambassador David Mulford has, on the contrary, underlined the "many legal and other difficulties" that have prevented such nuclear cooperation over the last three decades "have not gone away" and the proposed talks are only aimed at sorting out those difficulties. He however affirmed that President George W. Bush’s offer to help India develop the nuclear energy option is a "serious one".

It is worth noting that India’s first nuclear power plant at Tarapur was built by US-based transnational General Electric under an agreement signed in 1962. Even though it had completed safe operational life of 25 years, the creaking plant has been kept operational for the last 15 years. It is not a great technological feat as made out to be by the mandarins, but only because the country does not possess the technology to safely decommission and encapsulate it.

Its continued running beyond the designed safe life, according to the former Chief of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, constitutes a grave risk of hydrogen explosion that may devastate Western India anytime. Since New Delhi conducted its first nuclear test in May 1974, the idea of nuclear cooperation with India has been a taboo in Washington. "We are now moving in a different direction," Mulford said.

External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh had reaffirmed the importance of nuclear electric power in India’s energy mix and the role of international cooperation in accelerating the nation’s atomic energy development. India’s recent attempts to buy additional nuclear power reactors from Russia and France had come to naught. Both Moscow and Paris had to defer to American opposition to such sales to India.

Natwar Singh avers that India has "repeatedly said that every cooperation project in nuclear power would be open to international safeguards". Natwar Singh called on the international community to "discard the old mind set" and acknowledge the record of India that has proved time and again that they are reliable partners in the global effort to ensure non-proliferation. Singh also declared, "While India may not be a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, our conduct has always been consistent with the key provisions of the treaty as they apply to nuclear weapon states."

While the typical Indian rhetoric may be enthusiastically welcomed by the thoroughly brainwashed semiliterates of India, it is unlikely to find any takers in a rapidly globalizing world order. The US Administration would need broad support from the US Congress before it can come up with a legislative mandate waiving the requirements of the current American concerns on international cooperation in nuclear energy. That is tall order going by the record of belligerence on the part of New Delhi all along.

NPT makes it clear that barring the five recognized nuclear-weapon states, the US, the UK, France, Russia and China, others will have to open all their nuclear facilities to international inspection if they want outside help for nuclear civilian programs.

Indian mandarins have refused to accept this. Delhi maintains that while Indian nuclear military facilities developed indigenously (with clandestinely smuggled in components, to be precise) will not be open to inspection, it was willing to accept scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency of its civilian nuclear projects that have been developed with (formal and open) outside help.

"Article I of the NPT obliges a nuclear-weapon state not to transfer nuclear weapons to any other country or to assist any other country to acquire them. India’s record in this regard is impeccable….," the Indian Foreign Minister declared recently in Geneva. He was obliquely self-recognizing the country as a "nuclear weapon state". Although he did not mention Pakistan, Singh did not miss the opportunity to draw a distinction between the nuclear twins. India’s impeccable credentials were "in contrast to the poor record of some of the nuclear-weapon states" that have been either active collaborators to illegal proliferation, including sale of nuclear components and technology, he said.

This is like the willingness of an Osama Ben Laden to subject only selected portions of his dreaded organization for compliance with international regulations against terrorizing and harming civilians!

New Delhi is apparently hopeful that a bill to be tabled in the ongoing session of the parliament to prevent nuclear proliferation and tighten controls on nuclear facilities in the country will pave the way for further cooperation in this key sector.

Does the country really deserve "civilian nuclear energy cooperation" to generate enough power to sustain an absolute minimal quality of life for one-sixth of the world’s population, with oil prices touching $60 a barrel while indigenous production remains much below a third of the soaring needs? What exactly are the ground realities in the nuclear technology scenario in India?

A look at the yesteryears of India’s nuclear energy establishment would demonstrate the urgent need to rescue the Indian population from the clutches of a Mafioso that has held them hostage for too long.

The architects of India’s nuclear program Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and Jawaharlal Nehru were aggressive peaceniks who were firmly opposed to a repeat of Hiroshima or Nagasaki anywhere on the earth. Sarabhai had formulated the mission of the program of harnessing the atom as "availability of abundant quantum of energy that would be too cheap to meter." That indeed was a possibility as India earnestly embarked on the mission in collaboration with Canada much before China, Korea or Japan in the continent.

Unfortunately, their successor Raja Ramanna who became Atomic Energy Commission Chief during the tenure of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi turned out to be an out and out sycophant. He connived with the tyrant with dictatorial ambitions to become a "Durga" (Hindu goddess of power) in the eyes of the gullible masses by blasting an "Atom Bomb" in 1974. This was in breach of solemn sovereign commitment to Canada, a country that firmly stands by nonproliferation despite its high nuclear technology capabilities, of not diverting fissile material for weapon proliferation. This betrayal earned a junior ministership to the sycophant in the government but cut India off from international cooperation in the field as the country earned pariah status.

The atmosphere in Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has remained hush-hush ever since the 1974 misadventure of conducting the "peaceful underground nuclear implosion", a contradiction of terms. Decades of isolationism has erected a thick veil of secrecy around goings on in DAE. The financial and other affairs of DAE, which directly reports to the Prime Ministers Office, are beyond the scrutiny of the courts and the Parliament in the so called largest democracy of the world.

In the Kafkaesque secretiveness thrives a deadly Mafioso that has continued to keep successive Prime Ministers under their domination. After all, no PM under threat of uncomfortable disclosures about sleazy deals by his office would be willing to sacrifice his career!

Rampant nepotism and fast breeding of corrupt bandicoots on a mass scale plague the establishment. As a result, hundreds of dreamy eyed technologists and scientists attracted to the establishment in the hope of achieving something great languish as desk-bound babus (clerks) . The bright brains are forced to grope in darkness, sans any meaningful support for advancing the technology while fine-honing their knowledge.

Just when the damage done by the 1974 misadventure by Indira Gandhi and sycophant Raja Ramanna was about to be condoned by the world in appreciation of the country refraining from conducting further nuclear tests, and as there existed a possibility of meaningful cooperation in the wake of economic reforms, the Mafia forced another proliferation misadventure to scuttle any meaningful reform in the sector.

In 1998, the then Chief of DAE Dr R Chidambaram tendered an "advice" to the hotch potch coalition government of 24 parties led by hardline Hindutva obscurantists that fresh nuclear tests had become necessary. Incidentally, this scientist narrowly missed being crowned with "Bharat Ratna" award and perhaps the ceremonial post of President as well.

Politicians who were ruling India at that time were not so naïve not to realize that pursuing a program to acquire Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) would in fact weaken the military strength of the country; any nuclear proliferation would sure provide a justification to Islamabad’s friends to arm it with nuclear weapons as well. Turning Pakistan nuclear would snatch away from India its superiority in terms of size in conventional warfare. It would also nullify the advantage of India’s strategic depth geographically. Yet, Atal Behari Vajpayee did have to bow to the dictats from the nuke Mafia.

The Tsunami that swept the Southern coast of India and flooded DAE’s Kalpakkam complex in December last year demonstrated the shocking state of incompetence that plagues the Mafia-controlled set up and consequently the threat to the safety of the environment entailed by leaving the inherently dangerous technology in the hands of ham-fisted incompetents.

After days of being casually dismissive about anxious queries following monstrous tidal waves on, the mandarins came out with a Press release on Tsunami damage. It contained more of philosophy and less of technology in an attempt to rationalize the officialdom's insensitivity to the grave risks the nuke facilities pose to the environment: "Man has to live with natural calamities. Wisdom lies in effectively meeting the challenges of such situations and ensuring safety of human life and property."

Proof of the wisdom these wise ones possess can be had from a paper published by Reactor Safety Analysis Group in November 1986. "For coastal sites, flooding may be due to tropical cyclones, Tsunamis, or seiches. In India Tsunamis or seiches do not occur. Hence, cyclones alone have been singled out for detailed study."

The oceans were apparently untutored and ignorant of the DAE "reasoning"! While most of the structures in the nuclear complex lay at five to six meters above mean sea level, tsunomic waves towered 10 to 12 meters tall. The waves claimed more than 300 lives in the area; 61 people perishing in the residential colony of DAE itself. One of the two 220 MW reactors forming part of Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS), commissioned in 1984 and 1986 and operated by Nuclear Power Corporation of India, was operational at that time. It promptly tripped as seawater inundated the tunnel leading to the pump house supplying cooling water to the condenser. Providentially, no online fueling was taking place and a critical accident in the reactor that could have contaminated vast portions of Tamilnadu and the Indian Ocean was averted.

The other reactor remains shut down since a long time for ‘rehabilitation’, to replace coolant channels suspected to have turned brittle and degraded beyond safe limits due to excessive sagging of pressure tubes. A former Chief of India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Dr. A Gopalakrishnan described the MAPS reactors as the worst examples of ticking suicide nuke bombs in the guise of power reactors due to the prevalence of "chalta hai" (everything's OK) culture in the establishment toward safety deficiencies.

The Kalpakkam complex houses seven other nuke facilities. Spent fuel pools, reprocessing plants, waste management repositories, laboratories and a research center working on advanced materials for fast breeders. A small 15 MW fast breeder was built in the complex in mid 1980s. It has been operating at 10 to 30 per cent capacity, producing not-insignificant quantities of plutonium. Presence of stockpiles of the fissile material for fabricating WMDs in the complex at that time are not available, as the program is not under any credible safeguards.

Only the naïve would rule out damage due to entry of seawater into any of these other facilities, dispersing radioactive materials into the environment. It is just impossible to assess the extent without the facilities being opened to independent inspection. However, thanks to the unlimited propaganda budget DAE possesses, barring very few exceptions the Indian media meekly bought the establishment line ruling out any radioactive escape. That the township has a lot more inherently dangerous nuclear powderkegs than MAPS reactors was tactfully repressed from public view. DAE maintains that the complex has escaped the tidal wrath unscathed thanks to its "safety culture".

India’s nuke Mafia is keen to push ahead with Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) project that aims to build a bigger, and potentially more disastrous, plutonium-producing 500 MW reactor. Expert advice on the futility of the initiative has been falling on deaf ears. Even former AEC Chief Dr. MR Srinivasan has argued how heavyweights like the US, the UK, France, Germany and Japan "encountered various technical and control problems" with fast breeders and abandoned the idea after sinking billions of dollars. He is on record stating: "As of now, only Russia is operating some FBRs successfully and is building some more -- DAE has indeed taken a bold gamble in embarking on the PFBR at this time."

Forget the gaucherie of not factoring in seiche or Tsunami that "do not occur in India" while siting nuclear facilities. Outrageous flouting of safety codes that relate to fundamental structural engineering practice is no less unusual in DAE. These are indulged in in order to curry favors to pliant business houses friendly to the Mafia. Shocking as it may seem, the calandria of the dud MAPS1 reactor is now being rebuilt knowingly incorporating flaws that invite calamitous pressure tube ruptures. The reactor is scheduled for recommissioning later this year, compromising elementary safety norms. Consequences of pressure tube ruptures rendered quite probable due to the compromise could make the massive Tsunami devastation to the State pale into insignificance.

Behind the blunderous compromise are nepotism and currying favors to chosen vendors that are rampant in the establishment. What lapse, pray, is not serious in a reactor? The worthies have no use for the counsel of Dr Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist who served on the presidential commission on the "Challenger" disaster, "That the same risk had flown earlier without failure cannot be an argument for the safety of accepting it again."

When this is the extent of cover up that spineless scientists can indulge in for the sake of shielding bandicoots, can the world rest assured about the safety and quality aspects of the technologically advanced colossal program, where any mishaps could have catastrophic consequences transcending national borders? DAE's resistance to agree to independent survey of escapes of radioactive poisons into the environment simply proves that India’s N-program is not vested in competent, responsible and safe hands. Stalling incorporation of essential safety upgradations could turn out potentially calamitous not only for Tamilnadu but the whole Indian Ocean region.

Transparency and accountability are the absolute preconditions to safeguard public interest of the whole planet. Unfortunately, these are awfully absent in the case of DAE possessing an outdated concept of "development" that has no place for the ordinary people's interests in the so called democratic republic of India. The nuke establishment exploits to the hilt the anarchic attitude of the media that swears by narrow "national interests".

The misplaced patriotism of thoroughly brainwashed semiliterates has encouraged "fast breeding" of bandicoots steeped in the triple evils of unscrupulousness, incompetence and above all, towering arrogance of power. The bandicoots flourish unhindered and have become refractory to elementary ethics. Almost the entire posse of accomplished scientists happen to be creeping crawlies in DAE, which suffers the very same ills that plagued the scientific establishment of the now-defunct Soviet Union.

It is time for Indians to recall what Mikhail Gorbachev had to on the Chernobyl disaster: "It left us humbled with lessons on how disasters can occur as a result of denials and obfuscations and a callous and selfish attitude toward dangerous technology."

It is going to be sixty years since the Americans sent a "little man" and a "fat boy" to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the fanatical aspiration of imperial Japan to dominate half the world. Whatever the justification, the devastation had shocked the world so much to make recognized nuclear power to vow a "never again".

To avert the horror of a "little man" or "fat boy" devastating some of the most densely populated parts of Asia, this time as a culmination of greed and corruption of an unscrupulous axis, a ruthless purge of Indian nuclear establishment must precede any "civilian nuclear cooperation" from the civilized world. Till then, the only acceptable "civilian nuclear cooperation" between India and the US must be limited to assistance in decommissioning and encapsulation of the polluting Tarapur complex.

The writer is a technocrat who features in the Directory of Experts in Technology Acquisition compiled in 1990 by Dept of S&T, New Delhi. He specializes in the development of components for nuclear and aerospace applications

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