Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Development for whom?

Nuclear power plants leave a trail of long term impact. There is need to balance development

Sankar Ray / Kolkata

India’s most well-known agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan has written a letter to Environment minister Jairam Ramesh suggesting growth of mangroves and similar species as ‘bio-shields’ along the coast adjoining the atomic energy installations to protect the nuclear reactors from the fury of tsunamis of the kind that hit Japan last month.

A Rajya Sabha member, Swaminathan is not against the risky alteration of land use pattern in coastal areas for setting up nuclear power plants. This was not unexpected from one, who in the interests of agri-business of MNCs, vigorously promoted green revolution which destroyed fertility of at least 600,000 acres of land that became saline and unfit for farming through excessive and inappropriate use of fertilizers and pesticides. This also polluted waterways, poisoned agricultural workers, and killed beneficial insects and other wildlife. Such irrigation practices naturally led to salt build-up and consequential abandonment of some of the best farming lands.

All the new nuclear power plants are in coastal or fertile areas – some seismic too, like Jaitapur in Maharashtra and Swaminathan’s limitations are obvious. It can’t be that he is not aware of the fallout and the movement of radio-nuclides through marine and terrestrial environments . Ultimately they enter the food chain and the human body.

“The toxicity of contaminants and radioactivity fallout represent significant health risks. Acute exposures are further complicated when followed by chronic exposure, as such assaults have a cumulative and synergistic effect on health and well-being. Chronic exposure to fallout does more than increase the risk of developing cancers, it threatens the immune system, can exacerbate pre-existing conditions, affects fertility, increases rates of birth defects, and can retard physical and mental development, among other things. And we know the effects of such exposures can last for generations”, wrote eminent American environmental sociologist Barbara Rose Johnston wrote immediately after the nuclear catastrophe, triggered by the tsunami in Sendai region of Japan in the second week of March.

Take Haripur in the coastal tracts of south Bengal. It’s a self-reliant micro-society where poverty is unknown. “The main reason for setting up nuclear power plants in coastal regions is the proximity to water source. Such areas will experience a deleterious hydro-geological imbalance. There is no point in setting up nuclear power plants in developing countries like India when the West undergoes extensive decommissioning of them and abandonment of plans for future programme of addition of new capacities in nuclear power generation”, said Prof Sujay Basu, ex- director of School of Energy Studies, Jadavpur University –in fact, the SES’s founder director.

Almost in a symbiotic way, Warren Buffett, one of the biggest plutocrats the world over has asked India’s super-wealthy people at a dinner in New Delhi to be philanthropic and give away their wealth to the poor. However, his flagship company Berkshire Hathaway (BH) bought shares in the South Korean MNC and steel giant POSCO in 2006, following the signing of Memorandum of Understanding between POSCO and the Government of Orissa in 2005.

BH’s holding is about 5 per cent of total share capital in POSCO and is the single largest share-holder of POSCO outside Korea. The hypocrisy lies precisely there, as the livelihood of over 50,000 villagers of Dhinkia, Patna, Gobindpur in 4000 acres of Jagatsinghpur district is threatened POSCO’s the Rs 52,000 crore steel plant project - 12 Million Tons Per Annum (MTPA) integrated steel plant, plus a captive port adjacently at Erasma Block.

“How can Buffett claim to care for the poor, if his investments lead to the creation of that poverty in the first place” questions Professor Sirisha Naidu, a US-based economist. Buffet isn’t concerned about the agony that awaits betel leaf cultivators who earn annually Rs. 40,000 per decimal of land (100 decimals = 1 acre) on an average and POSCO offers a paltry, one-time compensation of Rs. 11,500 per decimal – less than a hundredth of the compensation.

All this is directly or indirectly an exhibition of development of (human) underdevelopment. Under attack are the sub-alterns, mostly displaced persons from villages.

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