I remember it as if it were yesterday since it was the day of my last visit to Greenpeace HQ in Amsterdam in my capacity as Board Chair of Greenpeace International.
As the news of the Earthquake, followed by the devastating Tsunami started coming in, the farewell party metamorphosed into a collective sharing of shock, disbelief, reaching out to affected friends, colleagues and finally to all the thousands of victims of the tragedy at FUKUSHIMA. And this has in turn evolved into a determined global quest to find out the facts, to assist in all possible ways, to raise awareness and campaign at all levels against the dangers of nuclear power and therefore how to eliminate it forever .
This global collective commitment – not limited to a single organization – has found expression in an impressive, unprecedented network of local, national, regional activists on the ground , in innumerable social networking and internet based sites, and the active work and participation of scientists, academics, journalists and courageous men and women who have been catalysed as never before. It is as though NATURE decided to take a hand and deal planet earth a mortal blow so as to push the world to re-examine our arrogant actions as much as our calamitous inaction.
NATURE’S CHALLENGE TO THE WORLD ?
How could this have happened – the world had been assured over and over again that the nuclear power plants in the area – as indeed elsewhere – had been built to withstand the highest levels of natural calamities like earthquakes and tsunamis? .The sheer power and fury of nature put paid to the remaining mythology of 100% safety of nuclear power plants as also the arrogance of the nuclear industry that failed to factor into all their high level technical calculations what one can only term ‘Factor X’.
The world was stunned. And the world, predictably, reacted in vastly different ways.
During this past year we have witnessed the attempts to cover up the truth about Fukushima by national and international agencies, governments and industry.
We have also seen how several countries immediately announced a moratoria on operation of existing nuclear plants and eventually a pull back from going down the nuclear energy pathway for the future.
AND WHAT OF INDIA’S CONSCIENCE?
To the dismay and anger of many, the political establishment in active collusion with atomic scientists and the nuclear industry in our own India, swiftly went into overdrive to pronounce our nuclear plants 100% safe. There were announcements all over media that all the proposed new projects, especially the French built AREVA power parks proposed in Jaitapur would carry on as projected. And worse, the authoritative face of the system pulled out all the stops to persuade, browbeat, convince the public, that not only were the nuke plants totally safe but indeed they would be beneficial to the lives and livelihoods of local farmers and fisherfolk, not to mention the health of our oceans and marine life.
But truth will out – and the words of a senior scientist who made the cardinal error of telling the Indian people that “the GOI has had to keep in mind helping the commercial interests of the countries who had enabled India to get the approval from The NSG ( the nuclear suppliers group.)” keep echoing and have been quoted ad infinitum!
One year down the line it appears that the battle lines are firmly drawn – between the government and it’s agencies, (including captive scientists and bureaucracy) and a growing opposition to nuclear energy from various sectors. These can be attributed to a variety of reasons that range from serious concerns about safety regulations and liability, the untried and untested nature of foreign technologies such as the French EPR, scientific data as to impacts on health; and above all, the mounting evidence about the costs of nuclear as compared to the rapidly decreasing costs of all renewables. The Damocles sword of disposal of nuclear waste hangs over us ominously and the data from Fukushima points inexorably to mind blowing figures like US$ 16 billion and more for clearing up the debris and sealing it up in a sarcophagus as was done in Chernobyl.
The biggest factor on the ground, as always, has been the fierce resistance to massive displacement and disruption to livelihoods, combined with growing disillusionment and utter lack of trust in the current leadership as is testified by recent election results. In the case of Koodankulam and Jaitapur, this has also led to a an intelligent and deepened understanding of the bigger question of energy and energy sources.
TOWARDS RENEWABLE ENERGY SOLUTIONS
The past year has witnessed protests, meetings, stand offs, rallies and yatras from across the country. With little or no resources other than sheer human dedication and will, the pro renewable groups and individuals have slogged away creating an awareness at many levels. A recent two day Consultation Towards Energy Solutions which are both sustainable, based on renewables, safe and affordable, brought together in Delhi, an interesting cross section of people working on other forms of energy. Two days of animated debate and dialogue demonstrated an encouraging willingness to explore and implement projects of diverse types, with indications of capacity to meet needs of the diverse sectors across this country.
Several ideas were discussed, and some immediate steps identified:
UNANIMOUS DECISION THAT ALL THOSE IN THE NON NUCLEAR AND NON COAL SECTOR ACROSS THE COUNTRY, WILL PROVIDE SUPPORT FOR THE STRUGGLES AGAINST NUCLEAR POWER ON THE GROUND DESERVED AS A MATTER OF TOP PRIORITY . AND THE FIRST ACT OF SOLIDARITY WOULD BE TO VISIT KUDANKULAM.
Interrogation of the Nuclear Liability Bill and Safety Regulations and implementation of an independent, autonomous Nuclear Regulatory Authority. Moratorium on the continued or fresh operationalisation of nuclear power plants till doubts and fears are satisfied.
Unanimous agreement undertaking a comprehensive review of India’s energy requirements by way of a White Paper – A Peoples’ White Paper, on Energy .
The consultation also demanded the creation of a National Energy Policy Framework in support of Renewables.
The above to be combined with an accelerated stepping up of efforts across the country to build awareness , both about dangers of nuclear and undesirability of coal and fossil fuels – and the total feasibility of implementing a Renewable Energy Revolution in India
A decision to engage the scientific community and government departments in a public debate around the Energy future for India. The current monopoly of the PMO and departments of Atomic Energy over policy decisions and lack of transparency has to end.
KOODANKULAM – THE LAST BASTION?
However, it was also clear that the potential turning point around future energy decisions could be the unprecedented non- violent, peaceful struggle being waged more intensively over recent months, (but which in fact goes back several years ) against the imminent commissioning of the Russian Nuclear Power Plant at Koodankulam.
The fate of Jaitapur ( Maharashtra), Fatehabad ( Haryana), KOVVADA (Andhra Pradesh – notices for land acquisition issued ), and many others programmed as part of India’s ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ , will probably be determined around the future of Koodankulam. All these ” Nuclear Power Parks ” are planned to be dotted around our already fragile coastline and ecosystem, and indeed flaunted as the only clean and green solution to India’s burgeoning and inflated energy projections. So energies need to be focused on mobilizing massive support for Koodankulam.
The Foreign Hand and the neo-liberal Paradigm of Development
Our indebtedness to the many `foreign hands’ who are dabbling in India today, has led us into dangerous territory where we are ready to sell our souls, as well as our independence and sovereignty to the highest bidder. And since this is cleverly masked by highly paid spin doctors under the guise of `national progress and development’, we also face the opposition of a largely self centred and influential middle class which is ready to applaud the sarkari mantras as long as their quality of life and comfort levels are not affected. Many is the conversation I have had with well meaning friends who are convinced that India cannot do without nuclear power and it must be safe because Abdul Kalam has said so!
For those raising serious issues about energy, sustainability, life styles and renewables , it is critical to view the current struggle in India against the backdrop of the dominant neo – liberal economic paradigm, in short the mantra of the free market and capitalism. It is this framework which basically determines, and rationalizes, the assault on all our natural resources , including predatory mining activity, the aggressive push for GM crops and disastrous consequences in agriculture, as well as the single minded advocacy of Nuclear power to the neglect and detriment of all other energy sources. When this position is pushed hard by our own leaders, industry, media and several foreign influences – aka allies, advisors, bankrollers -, it is hard to go against the stream.
LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE
So, as we all prepare to observe Fukushima day with solemnity, let us also see it as a symbol of hope and courage. The sheer grit and tenacity of the Japanese people as they struggle back is inspiring. Even more so is the rise of powerful local and global resistance movements against Nuclear Energy, with many of them working together to forge a totally new Energy Road Map based on renewables, on conservation and cutting consumption. There are lessons here from which we have much to learn – and which help to reinforce our own will and confidence to keep going in the face of public opprobrium, repression , and even charges of being anti-national .
In conclusion, I want to share one of my favourite quotations in the words of Lao Tzu –
““Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say “We have done this ourselves”.”
And today we can say with pride that we have several in this ancient land and elsewhere, who are setting us those living examples and showing that this too is possible ………
(The author is an renowned educator and activist)