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Mar 13, 2011 at 09:57am IST

Japan's nuclear crisis, lessons for India

New Delhi: Earthquake, tsunami, and now a possible meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power station north of Tokyo. The plant comprising six reactors generates 4.7 gigawatts of power. So when this explosion happened the worst was feared. The government said the blast was caused by water vapour in the cooling process.

But plant officials confirmed several workers were injured. There could have been damage to the reactor's cooling system, which resulted in pressure in the reactor core rising. If unchecked it could result in the core melting.

Japan's experience holds lessons for India, warns atomic scientist Dr Gopalakrishnan. Nuclear safety in India is compromised, he laments, by the lack of independence in the functioning of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

Dr A Gopalakrishnan, Former AERB Chief: There have been near misses. At Narora. Also the Kaiga dome which collapsed. Luckily they didn't result in a catastrophic incident.

India's plans to buy 21 foreign nuclear power reactors worries him more. Indian engineers will take time to grasp new and unfamiliar technologies - a dangerous situation in case of an accident.

Besides reactors like the European Pressurised Reactors EPR from the French firm Areva comprise unproven technologies. The negotiation process with foreign firms is secret and there is no distinction between buyer and seller.

So India may end up paying as much as Rs 20 crore per megawatt.

Former AERB Chief Dr A Gopalakrishnan said, "Why not big 700 MW power? We can get uranium from abroad. The government is hell bent on buying French technology because the Prime Minister has given his word to French President Sarkozy."

But for reasons clearly driven by the India-US nuclear deal and strategic considerations, the government is pushing ahead with its ambitious nuclear energy plan. Disregarding it would seem, the larger safety issues at stake.

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