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Stop selling your nuclear monster to India, Mr Abe

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How green do our becquerels glow. Shinzo Abe and Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, 2014 January. Photo: Press Information Bureau, Government of India

How green do our becquerels glow. Shinzo Abe and Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, 2014 January. Photo: Press Information Bureau, Government of India

The Japanese salesman has come and gone, leaving behind him not the whiff of cherry blossoms but the stench of radiation. Shinzo Abe the prime minister of Japan, sipped tea with his host and counterpart in India, Manmohan Singh, as they watched the Republic Day parade together. The future of republics (indeed of democratic principles) must have been a distant matter for these two prime ministers, both glowing with a renewed nuclear fervour.

For, although the long history of accidents at nuclear facilities is painfully evident to all those of us who have lived through an era that included Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, Prime Ministers Abe and Singh promised to “make our nuclear power generation increasingly safe” and to “ensure that the safety and livelihoods of people are not jeopardised in our pursuit of nuclear power”. Who is the “our”, we ask. And because neither can answer, Abe’s visit was met with widespread protests.

In his letter, made public, eminent Gandhian Narayan Desai wrote to Abe: “People of India have learnt from the experience of nuclear power over the last six decades. Local communities have overwhelmingly opposed nuclear projects despite persistent government propaganda … Developing closer relations between our two countries is a desirable goal. However, for this to happen on a healthy durable basis, it is necessary that people’s wishes are listened to and their long term interests protected. Selling nuclear components to help facilitate setting up of nuclear power plants is not the way. This is doubly so, when India has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and is actively engaged in the production of nuclear weapons. The well-being of future generations should not be sacrificed for short term commercial gains.”

In the 'Jaitapur Times', a resistance newspaper in Marathi printed in the district where the Jaitapur nuclear power plant is being opposed, a protest banner is reproduced.

In the ‘Jaitapur Times’, a resistance newspaper in Marathi printed in the district where the Jaitapur nuclear power plant is being opposed, a protest banner is reproduced.

More comprehensively, in ‘Resisting Abe’s Sales Pitch’, M V Ramana (Programme on Science and Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University and author of ‘The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India‘ (Penguin 2012)) has said that “Abe’s democratic credentials are evident from his various attempts at peddling reactors despite this overwhelming opposition. One outcome of Abe’s globe-trotting atomic roadshow was an agreement with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, another head of state who doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned about democratic sentiment, to sell two nuclear reactors. The majority of the Turkish public too opposes the construction of nuclear power plants.”

Abe must have warmly appreciated the technique of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (ably abetted by a ministers’ cabinet intent on gutting the country of its natural resources, witness the triumphant pronouncements by Veerappa Moily, the Minister for the Destruction of the Environment who is also the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas) who is skilled at replacing one bland statement with another opaque one and in this case he said, “Our negotiations towards an agreement for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy have gained momentum in the last few months”.

But apart from the boring boilerplate statements, Manmohan Singh has presented himself as the South Asian buyer of what the then Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called “a mutually satisfactory agreement for civil nuclear cooperation at an early date”. That the Japanese chair is filled by someone else now is of little consequence, for the position of Japan’s PM is to be an enthusiastic salesman for the country’s biggest businesses – high-speed rail, nuclear power and water-related infrastructure systems. [See the whole gamut of scary capitalist high-technology and anti-democratic partnership-mongering outlined here.]

The front page of the 'Jaitapur Times', a resistance newspaper in Marathi printed in the district where the Jaitapur nuclear power plant is being opposed.

The front page of the ‘Jaitapur Times’, a resistance newspaper in Marathi printed in the district where the Jaitapur nuclear power plant is being opposed.

The slow-motion nuclear meltdown that is taking place at Fukushima Daichi had prompted Kan to say that Japan should aim to be “a society without nuclear power”. But in India, inconveniently for a Japanese salesman PM and our own salesman PM, there is now significant opposition to nuclear power, especially at all the sites that have been selected for installing reactors imported from companies like Westinghouse, General Electric and Areva.

We have been educated by honest truth from within Japan itself, like the testimony of a Japanese engineer who helped build reactor 4 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and who said such plants are inherently unstable, urging Taiwan to ditch atomic energy for renewable resources. Our public opposition knows well that the primary motivation for a nuclear agreement between Japan and India dates back to the US-India nuclear deal. M V Ramana has reminded us that in 2008, William Burns, a senior American diplomat, told the Senate of his country that as its part of the bargain, the Manmohan Singh (UPA) government had “provided the United States with a strong Letter of Intent, stating its intention to purchase reactors with at least 10,000 megawatts (MW) worth of new power generation capacity from U.S. firms [and] has committed to devote at least two sites to U.S. firms”.

These are the deals struck in secret – whose grossly anti-democratic nature Abe and Singh were upholding as they watched soldiers from India’s most decorated regiments march down Rajpath – and here was a salesman who only a few months earlier had midwived a secrecy act that would make unlawful the release of information about the situation at Fukushima. In Japan itself, some of its most famous scientists, including Nobel laureates Toshihide Maskawa and Hideki Shirakawa, have led the opposition against this new state secrecy legislation with 3,000 academics signing a public letter of protest. These scientists and academics declared the government’s secrecy law a threat to “the pacifist principles and fundamental human rights established by the constitution and should be rejected immediately”.

The sites promised to American firms, said Ramana, are Mithi Virdi in Gujarat and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh. We also know thanks to Wikileaks that in 2007, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Anil Kakodkar told a nuclear trade delegation from the US-India Business Council that “the Jaitapur site in southern Maharashtra would go to the French”. Now, the salient point is that all of these reactors need key components produced in Japan and the Japanese government has to formally allow these exports.

Abe’s Republic Day sales trip has come soon after the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) acknowledged (was forced to, and did so, shamelessly and for the first time, nearly three years after
the accident started), that water was leaking from the reactor containment vessel in Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. According to Tatsujiro Suzuki the vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), “the leakage is a significant finding [and] could indicate that the Unit 3 containment vessel has significant damage”. Barely a fortnight ago, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported that TEPCO has withheld 140 measurements of radioactive strontium levels taken in groundwater and the port of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant between June and November last year. But Prime Merchant Manmohan Singh and his colleagues are intent on completing the US-Japan-India trimurti while the ordinary folk of India are demanding anumukti.

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