High Noon in Koodankulam– As the World Awakes, India Sleepwalks Into Nuclear Peril


Anti nuclear power movement's Smiling Sun logo...

Anti nuclear power movement’s Smiling Sun logo “Nuclear Power? No Thanks” Deutsch: Die Lachende Sonne der Anti-Atomkraftbewegung (“Atomkraft? Nein Danke!”) mit englischem Text Dansk: Solmærket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


by NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN

Many countries are rethinking their nuclear plans post-Fukushima.  Some are proceeding to draw down their nuclear power operations.  According to an AP report,

“Germany…turned decisively against nuclear power after the Fukushima crisis, shutting down eight reactors and planning to close the remaining nine nuclear power plants by 2022.”

Last June in the wake of the Japanese disaster, Italians held a referendum and rejected nuclear energy for their country, leading then Prime Minister Berlusconi to concede that his country would have to bid “addio” to nuclear power.

Having known nuclear devastation up close, first during wartime in 1945, and then in peacetime last year upon seeing the writing on the tsunami wall, Japan has acted with alacrity, From the same AP report,

“Japan will be free of atomic power for the first time since 1966 on Saturday, when the last of its 50 usable reactors is switched off for regular inspections. The central government would like to restart them at some point, but it is running into strong opposition from local citizens and governments.”

As Harvey Wasserman writes in CounterPunch, the recent election may hasten France’s move away from nuclear energy,

“And France has replaced a vehemently pro-nuclear premier with the Socialist Francois Hollande, who will almost certainly build no new reactors.  For decades France has been the “poster child” of atomic power.  But Hollande is likely to follow the major shift in French national opinion away from nuclear power and toward the kind of green-powered transition now redefining German energy supply.”

Wasserman’s article also declares that the chances of the United States building any new reactors are slim to none – the price tag of around $10 billion a reactor puts it at a decided disadvantage compared to  – renewable energy!

Following Fukushima, China is engrossed in a bottom-to-top reevaluation of its nuclear energy strategy.

Thus is there a pensive re-examination of faith even among fervent believers in nuclear power.  Theoretical argument is one thing; the sight of one of the world’s most efficient and advanced populations struggling to cope with a nuclear emergency gives an entirely different aspect to the matter.  The slightest chance that huge centers of population might not just be devastated, but rendered unlivable for hundreds of years, alters the mental odds-making completely, as well it should.

This is the setting in which an establishment high on the  ‘development’ narcotic and tantalized by the apsara of growth rate has decided to commit India to building no less than 30 new nuclear reactors in the next 20 years.

Deeming the Fukushima meltdowns no deterrent to their previous plans, the Indian government and its agencies have tried to downplay fears about nuclear power in general, and those concerning the Koodankulam nuclear plant in particular. The plant, located right on the ocean at the country’s southern tip, bears a certain situational resemblance to Fukushima.

Widespread misgivings about safety and health issues have been sought to be pooh-poohed by trotting out an army of ‘experts’, led by former missile scientist and ex-president APJ Abdul Kalam, best known for his well-publicized ardor for turning India into a ‘developed’ country by year 2020, read, an endorsement of every grandiose scheme to take Indians as quickly as possible into the top ranks of the world’s consumers.

But, Koodankulam’s residents and their neighbors have begged to differ with the authorities.  Their movement (there have been local agitations against the Koodankulam plant long before Fukushima), which the government has tried to ignore, belittle, slander and disrupt, is now engaged in a peaceful protest that has caught the attention of the world.  According to PMANE (People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy), some 9000 people are engaged in a sit in, with several hundred on an indefinite fast.  PMANE is now starting a ‘Respect India‘ campaign along the lines of Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ movement of 1942. A line from their crisp  indictment of India’s development mania says it all,  ”As a result of our ruling class’s nuclear madness, our land, water, air, sea, sea life, sea food and food security will all become spoiled and poisoned.”

It is noteworthy that the anti-nuclear struggle has no backing from major political parties, handmaidens all to a development ideology run amok, unhinged from any concern but economic growth rate.

READ MORE AT COUNTERPUNCH

Inequality is the Issue – P.Sainath on World Economic Forum


The comforting thing about the sham wrestling ‘championships’ on television is that everybody knows they are a farce. Steroid-stuffed Cro-Magnons stomp the living daylights out of painkiller-primed Neanderthals. Good, unclean fun. The results are safely predictable. You should expect the 600-pound gorilla to overwhelm the 900-pound one in a staggering twist of fortune (after the bets have been laid). But the audience, the organisers, and the fighters all know the fighting is rigged and everyone’s happy.

There were many, pre-television Indian symbols of this honourable tradition. As school kids, we cheered wildly as Black Spider brutally crushed Red Spider’s brother in an open-air bout. The roaring crowd dispersed only after Red Spider jumped into the ring to promise us he would throttle Black Spider in a revenge match the next week, so buy your tickets in advance. (He then toddled off to dinner with Black Spider). At age 8, it was magical.

Decades later, television has given sham ‘wrestling’ giant audiences, made it more spectacular, but perhaps less convincing. (The close-ups are a dead giveaway). But almost everybody still knows what to take seriously and what not to. That, and the fact that they entertain more people, are what demarcate the world wrestling extravaganzas from the World Economic Forum. (Both, otherwise, fully corporate enterprises). The wrestling corporations take the money seriously. The World Economic Forum takes itself seriously, besides the money.

The WEF‘s first ever summit in Mumbai ended on the 14th Nov . Its main organiser was the Confederation of Indian Industry. But both the Centre and the Maharashtra government came out in “support.” The Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Kerala (both States reporting rising farm suicides) hosted ‘cultural evenings’ and/or expensive dinners for this billionaires club, besides providing other forms of ‘support.’ The WEF’s May 31 press release announcing Mumbai as the venue had this mysterious line: “The Summit will return to New Delhi in 2012 and 2014 in time for India’s next national election.” Wow, is the WEF running for office? And why shift from Delhi to Mumbai? Was it embarrassing for a government drowning in corporate corruption and scams to “host” the corporate world’s Croesus Club in the capital?

And so, the governments that cannot add a few hundred rupees per quintal to desperate paddy or cotton growers find the means to subsidise the global billionaire fraternity. Union Ministers and Chief Ministers came down to the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai to reaffirm support.

But why? What exactly does the WEF deliver to India? Or anybody? Has it brought you staggering investments? Unlike the sham wrestling world, the WEF can predict nothing safely. (And they’re hardly entertaining). When did this crowd ever get anything right? Did it warn you of the 2008 meltdown or the Euroquake? ( It did grimly observe in Mumbai that Europe is in trouble. Gee. The rest of us would never have suspected that).

Dean Baker puts it so well: “Economic forecasters are not workers like dishwashers and cab drivers who are held accountable for the quality of their work. They can be wrong every day about everything and face little risk to their career prospects.” ( CounterPunch , August 25, 2011).

However, by WEF standards, the Mumbai show was a bit subdued. The U.S. and Europe are reeling in crisis driven by the very economics the WEF stands for. India was still rising but not shining. Even the Planning Commission-driven India Human Development Report admits: “the average percentage of undernourished children under five years for 26 Sub-Saharan African countries was 25 per cent, about half the Indian average of 46 per cent. Weight and height of Indians on average have not shown significant improvement over the last 25 years.”

India’s rank in the 2011 Global Hunger Index, at 67 out of 81, places us seven notches below Rwanda which apparently handles food security better. We’re also below Sri Lanka (rank 36), Nepal (54) and Pakistan (59). The GHI 2011 states flatly that its data “does not reflect the impacts of the 2010-11 food price crisis.”

And the country gracing the top five when it comes to dollar billionaires now ranks 134th in the 2011 U.N. Human Development Report. Our over 55 billionaires grew their wealth at an astonishing rate in the post-1991 era. And there’s the India story: the consciously constructed, ruthlessly engineered inequality of it. Just see our HDI Value in the UNHDR. It reads 0.548. Adjusted for inequality, this value falls by close to 30 per cent. India’s ‘multi-dimensionally poor’ now exceed 612 million, as the report shows us.

But debates over India’s dismal performance in giving its people the basic minimums always evade the policy framework of the past 20 years that has driven such levels of inequality. You can blame ‘tardy implementation,’ ‘poor delivery,’ anything — except the policies that have devastated hundreds of millions of poor Indians. And, of course, there is not even censure for the top guns and whizz kids.

As Baker points out, for this kind of group, there are no bad consequences. If you think that disastrous failures would hurt their record “then you don’t understand economic forecasting. There is no reason to believe that forecasters are any more knowledgeable about the economy today than they were four or five years ago.”

Need a good Indian illustration of this? Take Planning Commission deputy chief Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Finance Ministry Chief Economic Adviser Kaushik Basu and their multiple predictions on the economy, particularly on inflation. (Which, says CRISIL, forced Indians to spend close to Rs. 6 lakh crores extra in 36 months). With inflation close to double digits and food inflation at 10.63 per cent, they now admit, sort of, that we were, ahem, not quite as right as we are normally known to be. But we will, umm … probably will return to being right in the near future.

Dr. Ahluwalia even admits to credibility issues popping up. “It is true that we were hoping that this [moderation in inflation] will happen earlier, to that extent our credibility becomes a question.” ( The Times of India , Nov. 21, 2011). And straightaway makes another prediction — “inflationary pressure would ease from the beginning of next year.”

Dr. Basu believes it will start declining in December itself. If in February, says Dr. Ahluwalia, the data show that “inflation is not coming down by then, then we really don’t know what we are doing.” India’s human development indicators suggest they haven’t a clue about what they were doing for 20 years. That, however, is not so. They knew what they were doing. Constructing a world based on a trickle-down, greed-is-good, inequality-helps philosophy. It made things much worse, though not for the authors of the mess.

The WEF has gone. This time, it did not get the kind of publicity to which it is accustomed. Which brings us to the media. Who has been paying for, or heavily subsidising, the large contingents of Indian media that do the Davos Drool each year? Answer: Indian industry, which likes to have its cheerleading team along. Some of the rent-a-report crowd is from media outlets which will not spend a few thousand rupees to send a journalist to cover huge issues of hunger within the country. Switzerland is an expensive place. And Davos is at its costliest in the WEF season. Yet several Indian journalists seem to afford it.

Quite a few have had their costs, including air travel and more, covered by industry lobbies, many of whose members are major advertisers and a big source of media revenue. There are newspapers that have given Davos summits far more coverage than they have the most vital bills before Parliament. There are channels that have had “partnerships” with the CII and the WEF to cover Davos (always euphorically). Strong and rigid rules are issued to journalists on how to report. One such instruction: “Please note we cannot say “WEF”… it is the World Economic Forum and one is not allowed to call it otherwise.” Wonder why? Does the acronym WEF sound too much like one of the sham wrestling outfits? Another fatwa from a television group: “the following programming from CII has to be incorporated in the programming of all channels.”

Surely, the audiences watching the completely uncritical coverage of the WEF have a right to be told that the content was sponsored? When the funding is not clearly stated, when the content heavily favours the sponsor, when criticism is unknown, when correspondents are told how to fulfil their duties to their “partners’ — this is what is called Paid News. But there is a pact of silence about this. A fine example of the kind of ‘self-regulation’ that media bosses have in mind?

The organisers, lobbies, funders, the media — all know what’s happening. But not, in this case, the audiences, readers or viewers. Where are you, Black Spider and Red Spider? All is forgiven, come home.

The audience, organisers, and fighters know that sham wrestling is not to be taken seriously. But the World Economic Forum takes itself seriously. (Appeared in Hindu novemebr 2011)

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