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Dr Bikash Chandra Sinha Homi Bhaba Chair Professor Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre Rupur is a far-flung area in Bangladesh’ Pabna district. The place has recently come to limelight with the works for two 1000 MW nuclear power plants beginning there with the Russian help. Significantly, it was in 2007 that Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission had decided and had come up with plans to put up 500 MW nuclear plants by 2015. Accordingly, the Parliament (the legislative assembly) of that country had passed the nuclear energy bill in 2012. But before that Russia, China and Korea were the three contenders to build nuclear reactors at Rupur and in 2009 Russia finally won the bid to build two 1000 MW nuclear reactors at Rupur. While laying the foundation stone for this much-hyped nuclear power station in Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina categorically said that the government would strictly monitor and supervise and ensure the security aspects of the nuke plant. The plant is scheduled to be commissioned by 2022. And once that is commissioned it will help Bangladesh bridge its huge demand-supply gap in power. The bold decision of the Bangladesh government has come as a pleasant surprise to many of us. Interestingly, Pabna in Bangladesh is not too far off from Haripur in West Bengal (in India), where again the Russians were supposed to build at least three 1000 MW nuclear reactors. But unfortunately, West Bengal power minister Manish Gupta has recently said emphatically that the local government would in no way allow nuclear power plant to come up at Haripur. He advocated solar power. What he unfortunately overlooked is the fact that solar power can lit up our homes or it can handle household cooking, but it cannot run large industries, factories. Can it? At present, West Bengal is mostly dependent on coal-fired thermal power stations. But the coal which is used as fuel at thermal power stations has high ash contents and as a result there are often instances of generation drops and power stations going out of order. Indian Railways has already said that it would not transport large volumes of ash from one part of the country to another, any longer. So we need to import high grade coal from abroad, which is expensive and in fact prices of high grade coal are on the rise continuously. Besides, coal-fired thermal power stations cause air and environmental pollution, adding on to the greenhouse effect. Compared to this, the degree of environmental pollution caused by nuclear reactors is almost negligible. And when it comes to the question of safety and security, one has to remember that India’s track record in nuclear safety post independence is the best in the world. One also has to keep in mind that safety is to be ensured by all stakeholders and not by one. For Bangladesh also nuclear safety is of utmost importance. God forbids, if for some reasons, there is an accident like what happened in Fukushima then this side of the river (West Bengal) will not be spared either. But is it logical or rational to stop or disallow a nuclear plant to come up for fear of an unpredictable accident? For the last 30 years I have been hearing that nuclear plants are not safe. But how come we are oblivious of the innumerable death toll at coal mines in and around West Bengal? The other common argument against a nuclear power plant is that such plants render thousand of local people homeless, landing them in great difficulty. But then when a dam is constructed for hydel power, that also cause dislocation or relocation. In fact why should we look at it negatively? We should take care of these local people carefully. We should take proper care of their better relocation. Instead of completely and indiscriminately stopping a nuclear plant, one should ensure that good and better rehabilitation for locals, good schools, colleges, hospitals and other social infrastructure and better employment for the local fishermen community. These are very important but a blanket ban on nuclear power plant would lead to nothing. When I first visited Mahabalipuram near Chennai in 1976 on my return to the country, there were nothing but few non descript villages and people used to earn their livelihood through fishing. Then there came up the atomic centre—few reactors, one after another. Some more reactors will come up soon. The local fishermen are palpably much better off now. Their children are studying at good schools and colleges. There is a positive and vibrant atmosphere all around. I sincerely wish that West Bengal does not miss out on these great opportunities!
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