This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by shivani makkar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Will India Learn From Japan”s Mistakes Before Taking The Nuclear Plunge?

More from shivani makkar

By Shivani Makkar:

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” — Richard Feynman

The fateful day of 11th of March, 2011, nature proved its might again, and man saw only impotence in the mirror. A nation known for its technological advancement, its collectivist culture, and the ability, to literally rise from the ashes after the atomic bombs, that were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki- Japan was shaken to its core by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, giving rise to massive tsunami waves. But this was not the worst of it. The most devastating atomic meltdown since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 took place in the age old Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan’s north-eastern coast, which suffered a total power failure, leading to a breakdown of the cooling system. Out of the six nuclear-reactors at the station, three of the cores got overheated, causing alarming levels of radiation to seep out over a tranquil countryside.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

The plant has been crippled to such an extent that the cap of the destruction has still not been figured out. 6,000 workers continue the battle to control the damage, working in the confines of suffocating gear. In February this year, there was news of leakage of highly toxic, radioactive water, into the Pacific Ocean, from one of the 1,300 or so storage tanks, each holding a thousand tons of water that was used to keep the reactors cool. And the numbers keep rising every couple of days. Despite some proposed plans-that do not guarantee any success-to deal with the problems of radiation that has spread far and wide, the government estimates that it will take more than 30 years to make this ‘seismically cursed land’ safe again.

So What Went Wrong?
The plant was commissioned in 1971; it should have retired naturally without the force of nature acting upon the issue. Hannah Beech hits the nail on the head when she says in her report titled ‘The world’s most dangerous room’, that it was not just a natural disaster, but also a man-made crisis, born out of “political hubris, corporate dereliction and an instinct to obscure Japan’s ugliest elements”. It is time we reflect deeply and accept that innovations in science and technology and a complacency born out of a sense of superiority, cannot keep nature at bay; lack of preparedness and oversight in regulation can have catastrophic consequences for humankind for many generations to come.

The problem, it should be noted, was not just with TEPCO’s (Tokyo Electric Power Company) deplorable emergency procedures and plans, but with a much larger political attitude towards preparing for such a situation that was not very hard to foresee. The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, in its 2012 report, said, “What must be ¬admitted–¬very -painfully–is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.”

The initial death toll was reported to be 20,000, but the post-traumatic stress continues to claim lives by the way of suicides. There is widespread fear among the people, almost a reigned-in panic about their young children, given the rise in health problems and uncertainty as to the hot spots of radiation that go well beyond the evacuated areas, which anyway were too little too late.

The Nuclear Ambitions of India: Ominous Signs
There is a lot to read between the lines in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Japan. The two countries have agreed to accelerate talks regarding a civil nuclear energy pact. While issues such as collaborating to develop 100 ‘smart cities’, construction of high-speed railways or bullet trains, investing in river cleaning projects and rural development are looked upon favourably by and large, the discussions regarding the exchange and collaboration on nuclear technology needs deeper reflections. India herself has had her share of cataclysmic disasters resulting from negligence that cost thousands of peoples their lives. The Bhopal Gas tragedy of 1984, that killed thousands and permanently injuring even more, is a dark blot on the nation’s history that needs some light to shine upon it. It was caused due to a lack of security system in place and woeful response in containing the extent of the tragedy, and is a lesson that must not be forgotten. Surveys are still determining the extent of soil, water and air contamination as a result of the tragedy. The poisonous underground water is proving hazardous for the people of the slums and the government’s indifference and half-hearted response has been disappointing.

The people fight back
In the recent past, we have seen India’s atomic power plant operator, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), set up two 1,000 MW Russian reactors at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. And The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, leading the local villagers, farmers and activists of the area, have raised their voices against the joint Indo-Russian venture, especially after the Fukushima meltdown. The sustained protests by way of hunger strikes, rallies, fishing strikes, by the people in large numbers shook the entire Indian nuclear establishment and also baffled the political parties. Despite government assurances, the misgivings about the quality of Russian parts in the plant, inadequate security provisions, and the fact that the area where the plant is located was affected by the Tsunami that hit Asia in 2004, have made people fear that history will repeat itself; Fukushima disaster is being invited to India.

Socio-economic as well as environmental grievances are being voiced in various regions of the country, from West Bengal and Tamil Nadu to the states of Haryana and Maharashtra, where new nuclear power plants are planned in primarily fertile farmlands near fishing grounds. Heads are also rising in the tribal areas of Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh, where the government plans to open up mines to tap into huge reserves of uranium, needed for nuclear technology.

What needs to be taken into account here are the issues being raised by these grassroots movements against such proposed projects. Apart from the human and environmental costs, this local activism raises concerns that relate to displacement, starvation, loss of land rights and economic livelihoods. The affected communities usually comprise of low income groups such as miners, farmers and fishermen, and their fight is reflective of a deep mistrust towards the government due to corruption and a lack of accountability. The resistance challenges the ideas of development that cater to only a certain tiny section of the population while putting entire local economies and communities at the guillotine, and highlights the dangers of formulating policies primarily around technological considerations rather than people’s well-being, cultural values and justice. Moreover, they question the power equations between the state, citizens and private interests.

Lessons to be learnt from Japan
The disaster in Fukushima showed once again that nuclear plants are always prone to human errors and natural disasters, and are dangerously unsafe. Apart from the tremendous loss of human lives and the damage to environment that will leave its mark for decades to come, there is a huge financial cost that the people themselves have to bear. Of the millions of people living near nuclear reactors, none of them are immune to a life threatening crises at any point. The 160,000 victims, who fled their home after the Fukushima collapse and exposure to radiation, are struggling to make a livelihood, and they still await an adequate and just compensation. There was no emergency and evacuation planning, no liability of TEPCO, and no satisfactory nuclear regulators.

With India undertaking an expansion of its nuclear programme, the red flag raised by Japan must not be ignored. But that is what our policy makers seemed to be intent on doing, minimising the gravity of the Japanese crisis to a “purely chemical reaction”. This was the eye-opening statement by our department of Atomic Energy. True, nuclear energy is the need of the day, especially in a developing country like India where energy demands touch new heights every season. But what is more important is to develop human and political institutions, industrial regulations, acknowledge the risk factors and take appropriate steps to safeguard and secure human lives and environment in case of a crisis. And this is precisely where Japan failed. In truth, there is no such thing as ‘nuclear safety’; there are only nuclear risks which are constitutive of all reactors, and the risks of a breakdown cannot be predicted.

India needs to develop economically, but the question is how; do we simply ape the west, or is there a way to find alternatives sources of energy to drive our economy forward. “Mature, robust and affordable renewable energy technologies are available and up to the task of replacing hazardous nuclear reactors. During the last five years, 22 times more new power generating capacity based on wind and solar was built (230,000MW) compared to nuclear (10,600MW). Renewable power plants built in just the one single year of 2011 are capable of generating as much electricity as 16 large nuclear reactors. This is where the opportunity stands for a nuclear- hazard-free-future.” (Source)

Stepping back from the question of rejecting the nuclear technology, we must radically review our policy processes to ensure appropriate, safe and acceptable outcomes, and there must be a transparent, independent audit of all the nuclear facilities. The foundational principles of democracy must be called upon here, and citizen rights and governmental accountability should be the basis of any decisions taken, if India is to have a nuclear energy program that is socially just, environmentally sustainable, and economically feasible. We must not develop the same cracks that tore apart Fukushima; we must not repeat a history that never should have happened in the first place.

You must be to comment.
  1. Suraj

    I’m skeptical of the government’s initiative towards safegaurding the environment. Though “Cleaning Ganga” might seem impressive enough, allowing mining in forested areas for coal clearly shows that the govt. does not care about the environment.

    The Environment Ministry’s relentless clearance policy is contrary to it’s very objective – protecting the environment.

  2. Keyser Soze

    Nodoubt der is nothing like nuclear safety n der r only risks, but den nothing is averse from risks either. The latest power crises we see in the country also risks our whole economy. Energy generation does not benefit just a ‘minority’, it benefits all. Ofcourse millions in India are still not getting its fruits. This also has various socio-economic disadvantages attached like children can’t study, energy deficiency for small scale industries etc..Coal is too polluting and expensive, nodoubt we hv huge reserves of it. We should move towards Renewabke energy sources , but dey also hv dwr share of problems- commercial viability, technological hurdles and soon.
    Article was nice and informative. Appreciate.

More from shivani makkar

Similar Posts

By Bidisha Bhatacharya

By Raj Iyre

By Yash Johri

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below