NUCLEAR SAFETY Climate Dangers

Nuclear power may help control climate change but what if the latter makes the former even more dangerous?<br>NAVIN SINGH KHADKA in London

March 28, 2011, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 04 No.-19 Mar.25-2011 (Chaitra 11,2067)

Exposed to criticism yet again after the radiation leak from the Tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, supporters of the nuke energy now have in defence a relatively new argument: climate change.

They say nuclear power is one of the most promising “clean energy” in the fight against climatic changes.

Even before the disaster in Japan, governments in both developed and fast developing countries had begun to cite nuclear plants as one of the best bets to cut down carbon emissions that warm the planet.

Rapidly emerging economies like China and India began to count on nuclear plants even more as they got increasingly power hungry while coming under tremendous pressure to reduce greenhouse gases.

And now that the prickly nuclear safety affair has disclosed stream of uncomfortable details yet again, those supporting the arguably most secretive energy source are playing the climate issue up.

“Melting polar ice and variant climate patterns may have more threats in store for humanity than could result from dozens of nuclear meltdowns,” Ronald K Chessar, director of the Centre for Environmental Radiation Studies at Texas Tech University, wrote in the CNN website last week.

“The past 150 years of indiscriminate consumption of fossil fuels has brought unalterable changes to our planet.”

And so, experts argue nuclear energy can help in the fight against climate change. News reports from India, Nepal’s immediate nuclear concerns, have also resonated similar arguments.

They may well have a point because compared to coal, diesel or gas-fired power plants, nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dioxide. Which means, overall less carbon will be emitted to the atmosphere slowing down the earth’s warming that in turn controls climate change.

But an even bigger question is: Can the nuclear facilities themselves be immune to the impacts of climate change?

The Narora nuclear plant in Indian state Uttar Pradesh bordering Nepal, for example, stands beside the river Ganga.

Already located in a seismically active zone, the plant benefits from the river water in normal circumstances. As did the Fukushima plant from the Pacific ocean waters.

But when the same ocean water turned into Tsunami and swept everything on its way, it became a lamentable liability for the Japanese nuclear facility.

Given that the sources of the Ganga and its tributaries are in the Himalayas, climatically one of the most sensitive regions in the world, the risk of, say, unusually disastrous flooding is quite high.

When climate-induced floods can pose threat to other infrastructures like bridge, barrage, embankments and highways, nuclear facilities built along rivers can be no exceptions – no matter how safe they are said to be.

What the Ganga is for Narora nuclear plant, the Indus can be for the Chashma nuclear power complex in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

And what havoc can a swelled Indus wreak is a fresh account.

The cataclysmic floods on the Indus last year have not been linked to the impacts of climate change so far. Imagine then what could happen if climate is at play.

These are only a couple of many possible risks whereas in the changing climate, disasters can take any shape not known to date.

Critically, experts say, climate impacts have hardly been factored in for nuclear safety.

Just like Tsunami was not for the Fukushima’s diesel-run cooling pumps.

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