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The computer infection of Kudankulam and its implications

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
M.V. Ramana and Lauren J. Borja

The October 2019 cyberattack on a computer system at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant points to new pathways to severe accidents that can result in widespread radioactive fallout. Attempts to lower this risk would further increase the cost of nuclear power.

On October 28, 2019 a computer security analyst tweeted that computer hackers had gained "Domain controller-level access at Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant" (KKNPP) in Tamil Nadu.1 KKNPP has two operational nuclear reactors that had been connected to the electric grid in October 2013 and August 2016.

The tweet was based on an information drop on the Dtrack virus at VirusTotal, which is an online repository of malware code.2 A version of the Dtrack virus found on the VirusTotal website included credentials specific to KKNPP's internal network, indicating that Dtrack had infected computers inside the nuclear power plant.

Nuclear energy is a unique source of electricity. One of its peculiarities is its capacity to suffer severe accidents that can spread hazardous radioactive contamination across thousands or even tens of thousands of square kilometres requiring evacuation of populations for decades or centuries. To avoid such accidents, the construction of nuclear power plants requires vast quantities of concrete and steel, exacting manufacturing standards, and layers upon layers of control systems at nuclear plants.

Despite such measures, there have been a number of accidents, of both small and large magnitude, since the beginning of the nuclear age. Each accident typically exposes a new vulnerability and often these accidents occur through pathways that were not conceived of by plant designers. The realization that hackers might be able to infect the computers in a nuclear power plant, potentially affecting the physical operation of the nuclear reactors themselves, is another safety vulnerability that had initially not been fathomed.

In addition to the technical aspects of accidents at nuclear power plants, the nature of organizations that operate hazardous technologies can affect both the likelihood and severity of accidents. Scholars who study safety in hazardous technologies have identified three characteristics of organizations that help to mitigate accidents, all of which involve how organizational leaders behave. These include placing a high priority on safety in design and operations; setting and maintaining safety standards and practices; and learning from failures. The little that is known of how the Nuclear Power Corporation of India has responded to the malware infection at KNPP suggests that organizational leaders did not meet these requirements adequately, especially the last one.

What happened

The Dtrack virus was well known in the computer security business. The prominent cybersecurity firm Kaspersky had reported that initial versions, called ATMDtrack, had been used to steal card data from Indian ATMs.3 Dtrack is the broader variant, which has been used to infiltrate Indian financial institutions and research centres.

The malware uses a remote administration tool that would allow a remote party to gain full control over an infected device.4 Specifically, the most successful version of Dtrack "is able to list available files and running processes, key logging, browser history and host IP addresses," according to a description provided by Kaspersky. These functions indicate that the primary goal of the Dtrack virus is to spy on or steal information from its victim.

Based on similarities to a previous malware attack in South Korea, Kaspersky attributed Dtrack5 to the Lazarus hacking group.6 Lazarus attacks have occurred in many different countries and have included the infamous WannaCry and Sony Breach8. Kaspersky has connected activity from Lazarus to IP addresses in North Korea; however, the cybersecurity firm acknowledges that this may be a 'false flag' operation intended to obfuscate the cyber criminal's true location.

In the KKNPP attack, the file dump from the Dtrack virus suggests that the hackers only had access to the internal information technology (IT) network of the plant.9 This network contains information pertaining to the organizational aspects of the plant corresponding to tasks associated with management or payroll. While valuable information, such as personal information on employees or business practices, still exists on IT networks, they are not considered as critical as operational technology (OT) networks. OT networks control industrial processes; at KKNPP the OT networks would control the management and safety of the plant's nuclear reactors.

More recent coverage10 and investigation by additional cybersecurity researchers found that the Dtrack variant at KNPP included credentials specific to the KNPP networks coded directly into the virus itself.11 This indicates that the October 2019 attack was more sophisticated than initially thought, and potentially targeted at retrieving information specifically from KKNPP.

The targeted nature of the malware version found on KKNPP computers suggests that this might actually be a second version of the virus, created from information gathered during an initial infection. By coding in information specific to KNPP networks, hackers might have tried to make the second round of malware more lethal. There is precedent for hackers using a persistent presence on a network to successively unleash more complex and devastating attacks: one example was the devastating cyberattacks in 2015 and 2016 on the Ukraine power grid.12

Despite this unsettling revelation, it still does not seem likely that the KKNPP attack was intended to cause direct damage. The hackers might have been just targeting information about the plant. What might motivate such information gathering expeditions? The reason is that if a hacker, either an individual or a group, were to be interested in causing serious damage to some nuclear installation, the biggest challenge might be obtaining the technical information about the design of the facility.

We know that in the case of the Stuxnet attack that was launched by US and Israeli intelligence services to attempt to sabotage Iran's uranium enrichment program, there is reason to think that the espionage component was perhaps the most expensive aspect of the entire operation.13 (Ralph Langner, the person who gets the most credit for deciphering the Stuxnet attack, has estimated that the development of Stuxnet may have cost "around ten million dollars".14) Malware, such as the Dtrack virus, aimed at gathering information, might be a way to reduce the cost of complex cyberattacks.

Three difficult conundrums

Cyber security should be a concern at nuclear power facilities worldwide, and the infection at KKNPP is one more indication that these types of cyberattacks are possible. Many other security researchers have sounded a similar warning. Two recent reports, one from the UK-based Chatham House15 and one from the US-based Nuclear Threat Initiative16, have identified multiple computer security concerns specific to nuclear power plants. The Chatham House report identifies the nearsightedness of the plant operators: "nuclear plant personnel may not realize the full extent of this cyber vulnerability," in part due to a "pervading myth that nuclear facilities are 'air-gapped'– or completely isolated from the public internet – and that this protects them from cyberattack.

Yet not only can air-gaps be breached with nothing more than a flash drive (as in the case of Stuxnet), but the commercial benefits of internet connectivity mean that nuclear facilities may now have virtual private networks and other connections installed, sometimes undocumented or forgotten by contractors and other legitimate third-party operators." (A Virtual Private Network or VPN is a connection that uses a public connection, like the Internet, to link two previously disconnected computer networks. The public network used to establish this connection, however, does not have to be the Internet. For a nuclear power plant, it is possible that the IT and OT networks could be connected via VPN, but still remain isolated from the broader Internet. This would allow employees to access control room operations while at their desk inside the facility. The Chatham House report, which was compiled after meeting with many nuclear industry professionals, suggests that the public network used was indeed the internet ‒ especially if “contractors,” who are less likely to be on-site than plant employees, set up the VPNs.)

Let us unpack that a little. First, the term commercial benefits refers to the fact that while connecting a computer system to the internet poses risks, it also provides benefits. An obvious one is operational convenience. Someone working on that computer might need to copy some information or download a piece of software that is needed to carry out a task or report to a supervisor. Connecting to a larger network also allows technicians elsewhere, such as maintenance personnel, to work on the system without having to physically come into the nuclear power plant. This is the first conundrum: one cannot even try to avoid cyberattacks without forgoing the benefits that come with network or internet connectivity. For nuclear power plants that require extensive use of computers and similar equipment, the operational cost of not being connected to the larger network could be considerable.

Second, the role of employees is important. The phenomenon where employees who either knowingly or unknowingly threaten the security or safety of the organization they work in is referred to as the "insider" threat. Many of the examples presented in the Chatham House report were either caused by an employee or contractor who was authorized to act on the internal plant control system. For the most part, these contractors or employees might well have had no malicious intentions. But nevertheless their actions do result in adverse consequences. The conundrum here is that nuclear power plants or other infrastructural organizations must have employees, so the risk from insiders cannot be eliminated.

Further, bringing in contractors or third-party operators further increases the number of people with "inside" access to a system. Furthermore, these outside employees, while they may have technical expertise in a subsystem, may have less familiarity with the nuclear plant as a whole. This is illustrated in an example from 2008 at the Hatch nuclear power plant in the United States.17 In March of that year, the industrial control system failed when a contractor restarted a computer to install an update on the IT network of the plant. The restart of the IT network, which is supposed to be separate from the OT network that controls the nuclear reactors, caused a zero value to be entered into the control system data. A safety system misinterpreted this zero value as an insufficient cooling water and automatically shut down the reactor. The contractor was aware that the computer would need to be restarted, but not that it could potentially shut down the nuclear reactor. The reactor was out of commission for 48 hours and the company had to purchase electricity from another provider to make up its power supply obligations.18 This cost the company US$5 million. Had the problem occurred at a different period, when the electricity grid is already stretched, there could have been blackouts.

The third conundrum arises from the almost inevitable conflicts between organizational priorities. It is clear that timely updates to plant computer systems is an important priority, but this can negatively impact operations. As everyone with a computer or smart phone should know, installing software updates of different kinds in a timely fashion is generally considered good for avoiding virus attacks and malware and so on. At Hatch, there may well have been some vulnerability that arises from leaving the system unpatched. But installing the update had a detrimental effect on the control system of the plant and thus its operations.

Likewise, there are conflicts between what is good for business and what is better for security. Having access to the internal control network of a nuclear power plant might be important from a business perspective. Creating this connection, however, also creates a security vulnerability. Since 2008, many companies recognized the problems with this connectivity and attempted to build separate networks. But the problem is far from fixed, as the NotPetya malware attack in 2017 revealed.19 While the virus primarily targeted IT networks, its impact was felt in OT networks around the world, such as in the radiation monitoring systems at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.20

One definition of the word conundrum is that it is a problem with no good solutions. That is definitely the case with cyberattacks on complex facilities like nuclear power plants. In most realistic circumstances, there can be no guarantee that the computer systems at nuclear power facilities can be kept completely safe from attacks.

Inadequate response from plant operators and government

All of these vulnerabilities can be ameliorated or intensified by the organization that controls the hazardous technology under question. One way that organizations can make things worse is to think that there is no danger. The safety theorist James Reason once wrote that one of the many paradoxes about safety is that "if an organization is convinced that it has achieved a safe culture, it almost certainly has not". This has, unfortunately, been the case with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).

The Chatham House report mentioned earlier described a similar phenomenon in nuclear power plant operators ‒ the false belief that an air-gap was sufficient protection for their computer systems.

Belief in that myth was on full display on October 29, 2019, the same day as the initial tweet, when NPCIL issued a press release on behalf of the KKNPP plant:21

"Some false information is being propagated on the social medial platform, electronic and print media with reference to the cyber attack on Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. This is to clarify that the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) and other Indian Nuclear Power Plants Control Systems are stand alone and not connected to outside cyber network and Internet. Any Cyber attack on the nuclear Power Plant Control System is not possible."

While the press release did not explicitly deny a malware infection, it dismissed public concern over cybersecurity at the plant. Within a day, however, the NPCIL issued a second press release confirming the presence of malware:22

"Identification of malware in NPCIL system is correct. The matter was conveyed by CERT-In when it was noticed by them on September 4, 2019. The matter was immediately investigated by DAE specialists. The investigation revealed that the infected PC belonged to a user who was connected in the internet connected network used for administrative purposes. This is isolated from the critical internal network. The networks are being continuously monitored. Investigation also confirms that the plant systems are not affected."

While it is possible that both of the press releases are true, the initial press release is misleading. And while the second press release admits malware infection, it affirms earlier statements that control systems were not affected. Requiring this nuanced reading of the press release, however, makes it seem like NPCIL was not being forthcoming with information about this security threat.

Despite not containing any falsehoods about the infection itself, from what is known publicly now there was one glaring falsehood in the first press release: the claim that it is not possible to carry out a cyberattack on a system that is not connected to outside networks or the Internet.

Why do we say that this claim is false? This is because air-gapped networks can be infected in many ways, most obviously when an employee connects an infected device, such as a PC or USB drive, to the isolated network. This is what appears to have happened at Natanz, the uranium enrichment plant in Iran, where a spy recruited by the Netherlands is reported to have installed the Stuxnet virus.23 That virus operates by infecting computers that are used to control centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium. The computer does not need to be connected to the internet. If this computer is infected, the virus causes the centrifuges to spin faster than designed, which results in their destruction. Thus, a computer virus can have a physical effect on a system that is not connected to the internet.

Furthermore, as our discussion of security conundrums illustrated, establishing and maintaining this separation is operationally challenging. In some instances, the systems are not separated at all and the "air-gap" may exist only in the minds of plant operators.


There are two major implications that flow from the attack on Kudankulam's computer systems. The first has to do with the potential for severe accidents at nuclear power plants. Cyberattacks can create a further pathway for accidents. Even if the attacks themselves might not cause, say, the meltdown of the core, by potentially disabling safety systems or causing other problems, such as loss of electric power at the plant, these attacks could set the stage for a meltdown if it is combined with some other challenge to the plant's safety systems, for example a severe storm or an earthquake.

The second implication has to do with one other peculiarity of nuclear power, besides its propensity for severe accidents. Unlike most other sources, the cost of building nuclear plants has increased rather than declined with more experience. This is most evident in the US and France, which are the two countries with the most number of nuclear plants. Under very specific conditions and among small subsets of these plants, there have been slight declines, but the overall trend is unambiguously one of cost appreciation. Analysts have termed this a case of negative learning.

The observed increases in cost have to do with the peculiar characteristic that we started with: the potential for severe accidents at nuclear plants. A substantial part of the cost of building nuclear plants comes from the need to avoid such accidents. The inclusion of safety measures, often designed to deal with new vulnerabilities discovered by examining the record at all nuclear plants, does drive up the cost. Of course, these costs might be only a very small fraction of the already astronomical costs of nuclear power plants, but they serve to increase the bill. The cyberattack on Kudankulam is an example of a new vulnerability.

Should NPCIL address it by instituting new safety measures at not just that reactor but also other nuclear power plants, those would typically drive up the cost of building and maintaining these nuclear plants. That, in turn, would make electricity from these plants even more expensive than it already is.

M.V. Ramana is professor at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, Canada; Lauren J. Borja is postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University in the US.

Reprinted from The India Forum,

























Cyber vulnerability of Kudankulam nuclear plant: risks more pronounced than the current episode reveals

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Kumar Sundaram ‒ Editor of

October 31 ‒ It has been over 48 hours since Pukhraj Singh, a former officer in the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), India's key federal agency that deals with cybersecurity and other intelligence challenges, sounded an alert about a 'domain-controller level access' at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) located at the country's southernmost tip.1

Singh based his claim on a report made public by cyber-security website VirusTotal.2 He also claims that he had notified the National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) almost two months ago, on September 3rd, about witnessing a massive cyber attack breaching India's crucial infrastructure.3 This attack apparently included other targets, at least one of which was more frightening than the KKNPP, according to Singh.4

Besides getting publicized widely in the media, Pukhraj Singh's attempt to highlight the development was lauded and retweeted by renowned national and international security experts5, including Google's Security Researcher Silas Cutler.6 The opposition MP Shashi Tharoor also raised the issue and demanded that the government put out a public explanation.7

Meanwhile, online media dug out a few more facts about the episode.8 The security firm, Kaspersky had stated in September that it had detected a spy-tool named DTrack infiltrating India's financial institutions and research centers. DTrack can be used as a malicious 'Remote Administration Tool (RAT)', Kaspersky said.

Official flip-flop, wordplay and unanswered questions

The immediate response from the Indian authorities was one of outright denial. KKNPP's operator, the government-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), issued a press statement on October 29 terming the revelation 'false'. The NPCIL claimed that since KKNPP control systems are stand-alone, meaning they are not connected to the network, they are not vulnerable to any such breach.9 In doing so, the NPCIL skirted two crucial issues – first, stand-alone systems are not immune to intrusions – as was seen in Iran's Bushehr reactor; and second, the NPCIL statement did not rule out the presence of malware in its IT-based 'domain control systems' that are outside the core Power Plant Control Systems and which are still crucial for running the reactors.10

Understandably, this denial did not quell the widespread apprehensions, speculations and questions which were being voiced by citizens on social media. Soon, the Indian Express quoted 'senior government officials' as having admitted that a recent audit, whose report is yet to be published, had in fact, found a cyber breach.11

As the cacophony grew louder, the NPCIL put yet another statement on its website, hyperlinked plainly as 'press release' on its home page, perhaps to purposefully downplay the episode, while admitting to the infiltration by the malware.12 This press statement raises more questions than it answers. It states for instance, that while a personal computer of a 'user' who was connected to the IT-enabled administrative network had been infiltrated, the critical internet network of the plant itself remained isolated. Cybersecurity company, VirusTotal has dumped the data scraped by it in this case on its Twitter handle where the user has been identified as 'KKNPP administrator'.13

While the NPCIL's late admission raises crucial issues about administrative probity and laxity, the more alarming aspect is the admission that "identification of malware in NPCIL system is correct". This might imply, given the NPCIL's habitual wordplay, that not just the KKNPP, but the administrative and domain control systems of all nuclear plants and other facilities run by the NPCIL across India might have suffered from or have been vulnerable to this cyber-attack. An analysis in Asia Times claims that the DTrack found in this episode is highly sophisticated and was customized for the KKNPP.14 However, after the NPCIL's press statement, it cannot be ruled out that the nation-wide administrative network of India's nuclear facilities might have been compromised.

The NPCIL's claim that the breach is confined to the administrative network and the control and safety network remains untouched is hard to digest. Last year, the Nuclear Threat Initiative's (NTI) report underscored that cybersecurity risks to powerplants have multiplied since the Stuxnet episode in 2010.15 Stuxnet's biggest target was India although the Iranian case attracted more international attention for geopolitical reasons.16 At the time, Forbes Magazine had carried a story suggesting that Stuxnet had killed India's communication satellite.17

More recently, a Chatham House report delved deeper into cybersecurity challenges for nuclear plants and highlighted "low levels of cyber incident disclosure, creating a false sense of security" as a crucial challenge for the nuclear sector.18

The Indian authorities' flip-flop does not inspire any confidence in this context. The NPCIL has been notorious for its opacity19 and cover-ups20. Within four days of the Fukushima accident in 2011, the NPCIL's top-brass organized a press conference in Mumbai and claimed that "there was no nuclear accident" at Fukushima, even as the accident in Japan took a turn for the worse and the Japanese government had remained tight-lipped.21

Kudankulam: Threats beyond Dtrack 

While some commentators seem justifiably concerned about the DTrack being ransom-ware as in Sony's case earlier and being a reason for the unprecedented and frequent shut-downs of the KKNPP ever since it was commissioned in 2013, amid massive grassroots protests, the network-related vulnerabilities of the Russian-imported nuclear plant might run deeper.22

All that NPCIL has clarified so far, is that in the current episode, the compromised windows PC, known for its vulnerabilities and Microsoft's voluntary collaborations with US security agencies, was not connected to the KKNPP's internal network system. However, even for the reactor-level information network, the Kudankulam plant uses imported Operating Software (OS) that opens up ways for infiltration and even deliberate manipulation by external forces.

While the automated control systems in Kudankulam have been supplied by the Rosatom affiliate Automated Control Systems (RASU)23, this subsidiary of Rosatom is just a system integrator ‒ it sources software and systems from other corporations such as Areva, Mitsubishi and Seimens.24 Areva, the French nuclear giant, has been supplying major Instrumentation and Communication Systems (ICS) to the Russian nuclear industry for a long time.

For the Novovorenzh II reactor in central Russia, which is based on Kudankulam-type VVER design, Rosatom sources Instrumentation and Control Systems from Areva.25 This suggests that TELEPERM XS, the digital reactor protector system developed by Areva NS is used in the new generation VVERs. Similarly, the German company Siemens has also supplied its SPPA digital systems for VVER type nuclear plants in several countries of the world.26

While there might not be anything inherently scandalous in the Indian nuclear operator using foreign-supplied crucial digital systems, the case of Kudankulam and NPCIL begs a series of questions that begin thus: Why is the NPCIL so secretive about the imported digital systems being used in Kudankulam? Making public such information is almost a norm globally, and is meant to instill confidence among citizens.

During the intense people's protests in the run-up to the commissioning of the Kudankulam plants between 2011 to 2013, the local citizens' organization, Peoples' Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) had filed repeated Right To Information (RTI) queries asking for the safety assessment report and other important documents pertaining to plant safety, and had reiterated its demands when the government initiated a dialogue with citizens which later turned out to be nothing more than an exercise in public relations as well as an attempt to buy more time prior to the regional elections before unleashing brutal violence against the peacefully protesting communities.

Both the NPCIL itself and the official delegation deputed for the purported 'dialogue' had refused to meet this basic demand. India's then Chief Information Commissioner, Sailesh Gandhi, even wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling the protesters' demands a fundamental democratic right and expressing dismay over the government's unyielding attitude.27

In the KKNPP, either the Russian corporation Rosatom is using Areva's or Siemen's ICT systems or has installed an independent system purely built by itself. The reactors in Kudankulam have been supplied to India on a turn-key basis so it can be assumed that India has not used an indigenous ICT system. Whatever might be the case, the Instrumentation and Control Systems are crucial parts of a nuclear reactor's functioning and any trouble in them can potentially lead to major accidents and even meltdowns. Failures or weaknesses of ICTs can definitely compound any other problems in the power plant and situations can spiral out of control.

It is important to recall that Kudankulam is among the several reactors for which sub-standard equipment was supplied between 2007 and 2010, owing to a major corruption scandal that had blighted the Russian nuclear industry involving a supplier named Zio-Podolsk.28 This crucial issue was raised by the protesters, independent experts as well as the retired head of India's nuclear regulatory board, Dr. A Gopalakrishnan.29 Although these concerns were brushed aside by the government then, the companies supplying digital systems for the KKNPP must have taken it into account and may have insisted that they did not want to get embroiled in a future crisis, especially since the Indian Nuclear Liability Act has an exceptional clause holding suppliers liable in case of an accident.

If, in this scenario, the NPCIL has an arrangement with foreign ICT suppliers, which is less-than-formal and discreet and is therefore shrouded in secrecy, it might also lead to issues such as reliability of regular updating of the digital systems in the KKNPP's crucial plant control systems. Cybersecurity is a dynamic challenge and India must ensure that its systems are reliable, upgradable and that, suppliers remain accountable.

On the contrary, the Modi government has been attempting to dilute the Nuclear Liability Act as both the domestic and international nuclear vendors and suppliers have been insisting on a playing field free of liability.30 Additionally, the Modi government has introduced amendments to the Right to Information Act that will allow the NPCIL to be more opaque.31 India's nuclear establishment had been militating against the RTI Act ever since it came into existence.32

Thus, the NPCIL's opacity has far more serious implications than imagined in the current mainstream discourse. revealed, back in 2013, the connection between Kudankulam and Stuxnet, and the much deeper cyber vulnerabilities and safety challenges that it implies: "At Kudankulam NPP the same turbines of type К-1000-60/3000, made by Power Machines, are used as they are in Iran's reactor at Busher, the alleged target of the virus. Siemens owns 26% of Power Machines. Software made by Siemens is used to steer these turbines, Stuxnet expert Langner presumes."33

To put things in perspective, the Stuxnet infiltration in the Iranian reactor at Bushehr was widely believed to have happened via the Russian nuclear vendor Atomsroyexpert's systems.34

The NPCIL must come clear on the larger issue of suppliers and systems involved in the KKNPP. Transparency is a pre-requisite when the safety of millions of Indian citizens is at stake. Also, the foreign control of crucial infrastructure is an important aspect that simply cannot be ignored.

Reprinted from, 31 Oct 2019:




































India's unyielding quest for uranium on a dangerous upswing

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Author: Sonali Huria ‒ PhD research scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia Central University, New Delhi

The Indian Prime Minister is no stranger to the art of doublespeak. Launching the 'Status of Tigers in India Report, 2018' in July, Mr Modi lauded conservation efforts in India1, terming the country among the 'biggest and safest habitats for tigers in the world'. More recently, in an alternately loved2 and lampooned3 reality show aired on Discovery Channel4, the Prime Minister spoke eloquently of his love for nature and his government's commitment to environmental and particularly, tiger conservation efforts.

That in May this year, a Forest Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, had granted in-principle approval to a proposal of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to 'survey and explore' uranium deposits over an area of 83 sq kms in the Nallamala forest, home to the Amrabad Tiger Reserve in the State of Telangana5, did not appear to weigh down Mr Modi. Neither has the multiplicity of dissenting voices from civil society organizations, tiger conservationists, and environmentalists against the proposed uranium exploration and mining, deterred the Government from staying the course.

If anything, the government is making steady efforts to clamp down on dissenters and activists such as, Prof Kodandram, who was detained by the State Police6 while on his way to meet and express solidarity with the protesting communities. That however, has not deterred protestors who have come together to vehemently oppose the government's plans. An online people's petition7 to 'Save Nallamala and Stop Uranium Mining' has garnered close to 10,000 signatures over the past month.

Nallamala forest is spread over seven districts across two contiguous States of India – Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and is home to not only the Amrabad Tiger Reserve, among the biggest in the country, but also the fast-dwindling Chenchu Tribe who live deep in the heart of the forest and have been designated a 'Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group' (PVTG) by the Central Government8; the 2011 population census pegs their number at 47,315.9 The Amrabad Tiger Reserve, spread over 2,800 sq kms across the districts of Mahabubnagar and Nalgonda of Telangana, had earlier been part10 of the 'Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger reserve'. However, following the bifurcation of the State of Andhra Pradesh, the northern part of the reserve fell under the State of Telangana and was renamed the 'Amrabad Tiger Reserve'.

The Reserve is reported11 to have "around 70 species of mammals, more than 300 avian varieties, 60 species of reptiles and thousands of insects, all supported and nourished by more than 600 different plant species". With a little over 18 tigers12 and a spectacular variety of wild animals such as, the panther, sloth bear, wild dog and herbivores like the spotted deer, Sambhar, wild boar etc., the news of the proposal to mine this pristine forested area13 has understandably, caused much concern.

Apart from the rich diversity of flora and fauna in the forest, activists argue that the area is also of significant archaeological import – 'the remnants14 of the ancient Nagarjuna Viswa Vidyalayam run by the great Buddhist scholar Nagarjunacharya (150 AD), relics of the fort of Ikshwaku Chandragupta, ancient fort of Pratap Rudra, and several others' dot the banks of the Krishna river.

For the Government however, the proposal for uranium exploration and mining in the area is not new; it has been toying with the idea for several years now. In a written response15 to a question in the Upper House of Parliament in 2015, the Central government had stated that the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) had 'located significant uranium deposits in parts of Nalgonda District, Telangana'.

In 2016, the Field Director of the Amrabad Tiger Reserve Circle conducted a field inspection to assess the potential impact of the proposed uranium exploration on the forest. In his report16, the Field Director minces no words in stating that mining will result in "erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals also will affect the health of the native wildlife. In these areas of wilderness, mining may cause destruction and disturbance of ecosystems and habitat fragmentation", and goes on to recommend that permission 'may not' be given to the 'user agency'.

It is no less worrying according to environmentalists and activists that the proposed mining will be in violation of the Wildlife Protection Amendment Act of 200617, which disallows "any ecologically unsustainable land use such as, mining, industry and other projects within the tiger reserves", as well as the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) which recognizes and protects the rights of forest dwelling communities, such as the Chenchu Tribe, and requires their approval before any developmental activity can be undertaken in areas which fall under the PESA.

The stated objective for seeking environmental clearance18 for the exploration of uranium deposits in the region by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Atomic Minerals Directorate (AMD) is to 'augment uranium resources and locate new uranium deposits' for the 'quantum jump' that India is set to take "in harnessing electricity through the nuclear route". For the exploration, it is estimated that nearly 4,000 deep holes will be required to be drilled19 which conservationists argue will not only annihilate already endangered species of plants and animals, but also contaminate the surface and groundwater.

A key apprehension voiced by several environmentalists is the fact that the area identified for carrying out the mining survey is a stone's throw away from the catchment area of the Krishna River, and that the exploration will contaminate the river with radioactive pollutants, on which the Nagarjunasagar and Srisailam reservoirs are built.20

No strangers to the devastation caused by uranium

The people of the region however, are no strangers to the devastation caused by uranium mining. In Andhra Pradesh from which the State of Telangana was carved out in 2014, the underground Tummalapalle uranium mine has been in operation in Kadapa District since the earlier part of the decade, and its environmental and health impacts have become too stark to ignore. Panduranga Rao, former Sarpanch from Nalgonda District, informs this researcher that the health impacts of uranium mining including, cancers of various kinds, reproductive health issues in adolescent girls and women, and crop failure, akin to those documented around the Jadugoda uranium mines21 in Jharkhand in Central India, are now being seen in the villages around the Tummalapalle facilities, causing immense fear and resentment among local communities.

The trouble began in 2017 when agriculturists in the area around the Tummalapalle mine, dependent on drip irrigation, noticed that their banana plantations had been steadily drying up and were yielding little to no produce. Dr K Babu Rao, a retired senior scientist from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), who has been closely associated with the farmers' movement, informs this researcher22 that after a sample of the water was tested by the local centre of the State Agriculture Department, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, it was surmised that the water was 'unfit for farming'. In addition, bore wells in the area had begun to run dry and in some places even drilling up to 1000 metres yielded no water. Moreover, some water samples collected from the bore wells had revealed an increase in the percentage of uranium and other minerals.

Following this, the farmers made several representations to the District Collector and local political representatives regarding groundwater contamination due to mining activities as well as the dumping of waste in the tailing pond at Kottalu village which is roughly at a distance of about 8 kms from the project site. In response, expert committees have been instituted on various occasions, and water and soil samples from the area taken for testing. However, argues Dr Rao, there has been no genuine effort on the part of the local administration or representatives of UCIL to address the people's concerns. Instead, consistent attempts were made to rubbish their claims and deny them an equal voice by refusing permission to experts such as, Dr Rao to represent the farmers, even as the UCIL brought in scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to argue on its behalf about the 'safety' of the mining project.

The charge that UCIL operations had caused ground water contamination and resultant sickness and infertility of agricultural land is not one that the UCIL faces for the first time. There have been countless instances of tailing pipe bursts23 and leakages, dumping24 of radioactive waste in unmanned, unlined and uncovered ponds, from where it leaks into local water bodies used by communities25 for fishing, drinking and bathing, and enters the ground water and the food chain.

The UCIL and larger nuclear establishment continue to remain in abject denial of the devastation that uranium mining has wrought on those living in the vicinity. One of the members of the expert committee formed following the directions of the Jharkhand High Court in 2016 to examine 'the effects of uranium radiation in Jadugoda' – the former director of the Radiological Safety Division of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), is reported to have said that the diseases afflicting the communities of Jadugoda were on account of "economic backwardness, smoking habits and malnutrition" and not radiation.26

Dr Rao doesn't expect any better from the recent 'committee of experts' set up on the initiative of the newly elected State Government of Andhra Pradesh to look into allegations by communities around the Tummalapalle uranium mine.27 The committee, comprised28 of government scientists and 'experts' from the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), as well as the Mines, Geology, Groundwater and Agriculture Departments of the State government and academics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Tirupati, can hardly be expected to make an impartial assessment, argues Rao.

It is this lived experience of the people that keeps them on the edge as the government moves in to open up newer fronts in its interminable quest for uranium and rides roughshod over environmental and health concerns and democratic processes in pursuit of its nuclear dream.


1. Tiger count in India at 2,967; PM Narendra Modi lauds conservation efforts. (2019, July 29). Times of India.

2. Twitterati goes gaga over PM Narendra Modi in 'Man vs Wild'. (2019, August 13). The Free Press Journal. Available at

3. Chitra Ramaswamy. (2019, August 16). Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls and PM Modi review – the most tasteless TV ever. The Guardian.

4. Narendra Modi walks in wild with Bear Grylls, talks about conserving nature. (2019, August 12). LiveMint.

5. Environmental Clearance Application Form seeking prior approval under section 2 of the proposals by the state Governments and other authorities for ‘Uranium Mining in Amrabad Reserve'. Part-I, Appendix, Form-A. Submitted by Regional Director, AMD-DAE, Hyderabad. Available at

6. Venkata Kondubhatla. (2019, August 03). Cops detain prof Kodandram over backing protesters of Uranium mining. The Hans India.

7. Raj Mahakala. (2019, August). "Save Nallamala Forest and Stop Uranium Mining". Petition, Available at

8. State-wise list of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India. Available at

9. Tribe-wise and Sex-wise population and their Percentages to Total Population in Andhra Pradesh – 2011 Census. Tribal Welfare Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh. Available at

10. About Amrabad Tiger Reserve. Tiger Available at

11. Imran Siddiqui. (2019, July 10). "Amrabad Tiger Reserve: An Eden under threat". Down to Earth Magazine, Centre for Science and Environment.

12. Rashme Sehgal. (2019, July 12). "Uranium Mining Set to Destroy India's 2nd Largest Tiger Reserve". Available at

13. Imran Siddiqui. (2019). Op.Cit.

14. Ibid.

15. Unstarred Question No.2409. Rajya Sabha. (2015, March 19). "Uranium found in Telangana". Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India. Available at

16. Field Inspection Report dated 24 July 2018, submitted by Field Director, Amrabad Tiger Reserve Circle, in context of according permission for survey and exploration of Uranium in Block-1 (38 and Block-2 (38 of Amrabad R.F. (around Amrabad and Udimilla village, Mahaboob Nagar District) of Achampet Division and Block-3 ( and Block-4 (04 of Nidugal R.F. (Near Narayanapur village, Nalgonda District) of N.Sagar WLM Division of Amrabad Tiger Reserve circle. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India. Available at

17. Section 38 O (1)(b) of the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006 (Act No. 39 of 2006). Available at

18. Environmental Clearance Application Form for ‘Uranium Mining in Amrabad Reserve'. Op.cit.

19. Rashme Sehgal. (2019, July 12). Op.cit.

20. Bobins Abraham. (2019, July 22). "Despite Fears Of Threat To Krishna River & Tiger Reserve, Uranium Mining In Nallamala Okayed". India Times. Available at

21. Amlan Home Chowdhury. (2019, January 06). "Cancers, Abortions, Deformed Children are the High Cost of ‘Clean' Nuclear Energy in Jharkhand". The Citizen. Available at

22. Interview with Dr K Babu Rao, a retired senior scientist from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) on 27 August 2019.

23. Arnab Pratim Dutta. (2015, July 04). "Uranium Spill". Down to Earth Magazine. Centre for Science and Environment. Available at

24. Chinky Shukla. (2013). "Jadugoda: The Nuclear Graveyard". Hindustan Times. Available at

25. Amita Bhaduri. (2016, August 04). "Mines Radiate Disaster". India Water Portal. Available at

26. Sagar. (2018, January 03). "Endorsed by Courts and the Government, Uranium Mining Continues to Create Health Hazards in Jadugoda as the UCIL Expands Its Operations". The Caravan. Available at

27. "Panel to study uranium contamination in A.P.'s Kadapa district". (2019, August 31). The Hindu.

28. Sandeep Raghavan. (2019, September 10). "Uranium Mining: Expert Team Inspects Kadapa Project Site". The Times of India.

'Away from reactor' spent fuel storage plan rekindles protests against Kudankulam nuclear plant in India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Kumar Sundaram ‒ Editor,

The Indian government has announced a public hearing on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Away-From-Reactor (AFR) storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from the reactors at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP). This public hearing will be held on July 10 at Radhapuram in the Tirunelveli district, on the southern-most tip of India where the nuclear plant is located. The facility hosts six reactors – four of which remain under construction. Two units were officially commissioned in 2013 and 2016 although they have been marred with unprecedented shut-downs and outages since the beginning.1,2

The announcement of this AFR storage facility has come as an unintended outcome of the local communities' protest against the nuclear project, in a weird turn of events that is itself symptomatic of deep-seated problems of India's nuclear sector.

Parallel to the intense grassroots agitations against the KKNPP in the immediate post-Fukushima years, a sympathetic environmental NGO named Poovulagin Nanbaragal filed a court case which, in its journey from the state high court to the country's Supreme Court, took an increasingly narrow techno-legal character.

On the one hand, the court did not look at issues like loss of livelihoods for thousands of farmers and fisherfolks, absence of disaster preparedness by the local authorities and environmental issues that were initially raised in the petition. It did however deliberate on matters of nuclear technology in ways that gave an upper hand to the nuclear authorities by default. Not only did the Supreme Court go way beyond its purview in upholding the necessity of nuclear power for the overall development of the country, something that should be essentially a policy decision, it also put unquestioning faith in the nuclear establishment and allowed it to change the goalposts repeatedly.

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), the plant operator, and the non-independent Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, initially pledged, when the court case was at the state level, to implement the 17 recommendations of the post-Fukushima safety audit although it was conducted internally and was not comprehensive.3 The Madras High Court gave them a clearance based on that affidavit.

Then, in 2013, when the case reached the Supreme Court, the Regulatory Board declared its own recommendations non-mandatory and said they could be implemented even after the reactor goes online. Similarly, the NPCIL also altered its previous commitments. Amid such jugglery, the Supreme Court gave a verdict in favour of the nuclear project with a few conditions. The court, evidently, had no other independent bodies to consult as the nuclear sector in India functions in complete opaqueness and has a monopoly on expertise on everything nuclear.

One of the crucial conditions on which the Supreme Court gave a go-ahead to the KKNPP in 2013 was finding a solution to nuclear waste within five years.4 While the NPCIL had initially promised to find a Deep Geological Repository for nuclear waste from Kudankulam, it changed the fine-print and included an AFR facility for spent fuel as an interim measure. In 2018, when the five-year conditional period ended, the Supreme Court granted it a four-year extension to build an AFR facility.

As per NPCIL's plans, the AFR facility being planned on-site at the Kudankulam nuclear plant and will be built on 0.35 hectares of land.5 The plant will cost around US$77 million and its construction is planned to commence in September this year. The facility will store 4,328 fuel assemblies after they have cooled sufficiently inside the primary containment of reactor buildings for five years each. In the initial agreement signed between India and USSR in 1988, nuclear waste was supposed to be shipped back to Russia.

Public hearings: designed not to listen to the people

When it comes to environmental public hearings, especially in the case of nuclear facilities, the NPCIL's conduct in earlier instances, as well as this time, does not invoke any confidence among people who are going to be potentially affected.

A hurriedly drafted EIA report for the AFR has been made available at District Collector's and taluka office in Radhapuram, but the administration has not taken efforts to put the document online or actively distribute it among the people to invite informed discussion. The report is however available on the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board's website.

The EIA study has been conducted by Mecon India, an entity notorious for carrying out plagiarized EIA reports to provide clearance for dubious projects. Mecon's EIA has been rejected in the past for the Mithivirdi nuclear plant.

The People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), a local umbrella organization spearheading the agitation for several years, rightly contends that "the Kudankulam nuclear power project has the length of 5.4 km and the width of 2.5 km. It is quite dangerous to pack in six to eight reactors, a reprocessing plant, desalination plants, and administrative offices, etc. so densely in this 13.5 square km area."6

Local residents and independent experts have raised important questions. PMANE states: "Between 1-2 reactors and 3-4 reactors, there is only a gap of 804 meters. Similarly, between 3-4 nuclear power plants and 5-6 reactors, the distance is only 344 meters. How can the AFR facility be built in this already crowded campus? Even if it was built, it would pose great dangers to the local people, and to the people of Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari districts."

The biggest concern at this stage is the brazenness with which the government of India, the NPCIL and the local authorities deny the need for a comprehensive environmental impact assessment at Kudankulam. For Units 1 and 2, no EIA was ever done, on the spurious ground that India did not have a law mandating environmental clearances in place before 1994. The Supreme Court agreed to this illogic.

For Units 5 to 8, EIA hearings were orchestrated in 2007 in a farcical manner, with shabbily-conducted research upon which no open discussion was allowed for the local communities. The administration declared the hearing successful despite overwhelming opposition and crucial questions that remained unanswered.

It is also important to note that the initial design envisaged in 1988 has drastically changed, and desalination plants have been added to provide cooling water for reactors which will have their own additional environmental impacts. Hence, the legitimate demand for a long-term and comprehensive environmental study taking into account all reactor units and other facilities.

Spent fuel and renewed resistance

Spent fuel is anything but harmless waste. In fact, it is taken out of a reactor precisely because it becomes too radioactive to be used for producing electricity. It contains high levels of radioactivity and toxicity. However, India officially does not consider spent fuel as nuclear waste as it has massive reprocessing plans, at least in principle although actual progress in this direction has been tediously slow.

Even as the country's nuclear establishment runs 24 nuclear reactors, Kudankulam will host its first declared spent fuel storage facility, and that only after getting strict instructions from the court. As admitted by the NPCIL itself in its legal affidavit, "the AFR facility is a challenging task on account of no previous experience with long storage requirements of high burnup Russian type PWR fuel and thereby being the first-of-its-kind facility in India."7

The resistance to the Kudankulam nuclear plant is far from being a spent force although the government had its way in 2013 after brutalizing thousands of local people from the local population. This time, the district-level citizens' groups have given a call to protest on June 25, while regional political platforms and leftist parties have also announced concerted protests on June 25.8

Rounds of intimidation have also started again, as movement leader Dr. S.P. Udayakumar notes in his recent open letter to India's President.9 His wife, children, parents, and comrades are facing threats on a daily basis and the police are creating every thinkable obstacle in the way of organizing protest gatherings and mobilizing people.











India's (im)modest nuclear quest in 2018: The measured 'normalization' of a nuclear state?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Kumar Sundaram ‒ Editor of

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the May 1998 nuclear tests in Pokhran, the 10th anniversary of the unprecedented exception from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) that the Indian government achieved in 2008, and the last effective year of the ultra-nationalist Modi government as it enters its lame-duck phase early next year. An overall look at the nuclear-related developments in India in 2018 reveals no remarkable development this year. Neither have any exceptional acquisitions or advancements been made by the government, nor has any massive anti-nuclear people's mobilization taken place at the grassroots compared to the immediate post-Fukushima years. On all these counts, the observable surface-reality appears less remarkable than what most observers would have expected.

The 20th anniversary of the nuclear tests remained rather low-key, at least in comparison to the chest-thumping frenzy and hyperbole that the Modi government has come to be known for. The release of a commemorative Bollywood movie, insipidly titled Parmanu (atom), was announced to coincide with the occasion, but it was silently and inexplicably postponed by a few weeks and the film remained a non-starter despite its overdramatic nationalist treatment of the subject.1 While in his pre-election rallies prior to 2014, Narendra Modi had promised a radical alteration of India's nuclear posture and the shunning of the country's long-standing policies of 'no-first-use' and 'minimum credible deterrence' with regard to nuclear weapons, his government did not go beyond heightened nuclear rhetoric against Pakistan.

On the nuclear energy front, progress has been tediously slow and prospects for even the revised short and medium-term projections look grim. But the government remains committed to pursuing both imported and locally-designed nuclear plants. This year, the government announced an ambiguous nuclear plan for the year 2030 and beyond, which was widely perceived as a scaling down of its nuclear ambitions.2 Despite the NSG opening the doors of international nuclear supplies for India in 2008 ‒ and in effect rewarding the country for its 1998 nuclear tests ‒ not a single foreign-imported reactor construction, sanctioned since 2008, has started in India.

However, it is precisely this deceptive calm and seeming indolence on the part of the Indian government that makes it easy to miss the details and the deeply worrying patterns of an unmistakable push for a massive nuclear weaponization and energy expansion that we should all be concerned about.

Even as the international gaze is set firmly on the increased nuclear instability owing to the misadventures of the American President vis-à-vis Russia, North Korea, and Iran on the one hand, and desperate attempts by the global nuclear industry to stage a comeback from perhaps its deepest crisis so far, by painting itself as an 'urgent' and 'imperative' solution to climate change, India is engaged in a steady, albeit understated consolidation of its capacities and postures in terms of both its civilian and military nuclear programs.

The unquestioned 'normalization' of a nuclear state?

The uncharacteristic and confounding absence of hyped official celebrations of the 20th anniversary of India's nuclear weapons tests was met with an equal silence on the part of the political opposition and civil society. Surprisingly, the 2018 Pokhran anniversary did not occasion any protests by either the major left-wing parties or civil society groups. This however, can also be explained by the fact that the political opposition, activists and civil society in India have found themselves unremittingly firefighting other, more immediate issues that have hogged the limelight during the BJP government's tenure – its gross mishandling of the economy and public offices as well as the havoc unleashed by Hindutva groups on the streets almost every other week on ever-newer issues since Modi's ascendance. However, this is definitely a reflection on the fact that nuclear weapons have fallen off the radar of public concern in India. In effect, this has meant an almost unquestioned and matter-of-fact acceptance of nuclear weapons and the relentless pursuit of a maximization of India's nuclear capacities.

India has consistently expanded its missile program, both qualitatively and quantitatively, and has tested as many as eight nuclear-capable delivery vehicles this year alone.3 In addition, India launched an 'Advanced Area Defense' (AAD) missile this year, capable of intercepting incoming missiles, which the government has claimed as part of the country's home-grown missile defense system.4 India also operationalized the nuclear-armed submarine Arihant's patrolling in the Indian Ocean. Observers have raised concerns5 about the Indian nuclear triad6 – land, sea and air-based nuclear capabilities – further provoking Pakistan, which is already engaged in miniaturizing its nuclear arsenal to make it more 'usable', thus fueling a nuclear arms race in South Asia.7

India also figured among the key reasons for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moving its famed 'Doomsday Clock' closest-ever to midnight since its inception.8 However, the international response has been far more muted than the outcry on Iran and South Korea. This has also allowed India to maintain its low-key posturing as well as the government's strategy to perpetuate the image of "good nukes" and a "responsible nuclear state", which the US and other big powers have willingly and actively permitted India to adopt and proclaim.

The Nobel prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has highlighted the very real dangers of such nuclear hypocrisy.9 Thus the nuclear escalation in South Asia continues unabated and perhaps enjoys far more political consensus than in 1998 when nuclear weapons were tested by India and Pakistan. Questioning the nuclear arms and military build-up has also become rather perilous, since in recent years civil society activists and dissenters of all shades have been unrestrainedly labeled 'anti-national' by the ruling BJP government on the flimsiest of pretexts.

Nuclear power

Besides the military nuclear sector, the nuclear power industry is also being steadily expanded by India even as it lags behind earlier, ambitious announcements. Even as the global nuclear industry faces bankruptcies and terminal economic crises, the Indian authorities have used the opportunity in the most perverse manner. Rather than occasioning a serious rethink about the viability and risks of nuclear power, the situation has led the Indian government to ask the imperiled nuclear corporations in the West for technology transfers with the outrageous claim that these nuclear projects can be constructed by engaging private domestic companies with absolutely no experience in nuclear construction.

The French nuclear industry, now in a steep decline, has been more than willing to oblige, and Prime Minister Modi has announced 'maximum localisation' of the EPR design that has been questioned across the world and has been a crucial reason for the meltdown of Areva in France.10

This year, America's GE also entered the Jaitapur project and signed strategic cooperation agreements with EDF and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL).11 This patch-work approach to salvage the world's largest nuclear project and promote Modi's 'Make in India' pitch has understandably raised serious concerns.12 Even as the future of the Jaitapur project on India's western coast remains uncertain, the Indian government in December this year announced the completion of its land acquisition which has meant the forced eviction of villagers and suppression of the local communities' agitation by carrot-and-stick tactics.13 Despite losing their land, the villagers continue to protest the loss of livelihoods and safety risks that the nuclear project has and will bring to them.14 In August, hundreds of people in the Jaitapur region courted voluntary arrest ('jail bharo') as a form of protest.15

Both the Kovvada and MithiVirdi project sites, allotted to the US corporations GE and Westinghouse since 2008, continue to figure in the government's projections despite running into serious trouble.16 The ruling party's own Chief Minister in the State of Gujarat has assured the people that the MithiVirdi project will never be started as the safety concerns and farmers' protests are 'legitimate'.17 After GE's exit18 from Kovvada in 2015, citing concerns about India's liability law, the government has allotted19 the site to Westinghouse and the uncertainties20 of the ongoing negotiations have not stopped the Indian government from pushing ahead with land acquisition.21

While the future of the US and French nuclear projects in India remains uncertain, Russia has come to India's rescue. This year, the government signed design contracts22 with Russia for Units 5 and 6 of VVER reactors in Koodankulam and launched23 the construction of Units 3 and 4 despite the glaring failures of Units 1 and 2.24 India has also signed a new nuclear deal with Russia for six more reactors at a new site that remains officially unannounced.25

Domestically-built Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors

Given the complications of starting Western-imported nuclear projects, the Indian government seems to have shifted its focus to the domestically-built 'indigenous' Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs). Last year, the government repackaged plans for 10 such reactors of 700 MW capacity.26 This year, excavation work started in Gorakhpur27 and the government has continued28 land acquisition and environmental clearance efforts for Mahi-Banswara and pre-project activities in Chutka.

The localised nuclear expansion has also included construction of more PHWRs in existing plants like Kaiga where the government recently conducted a farcical public hearing29 on the Environmental Impact Assessment report, which has been criticized by independent experts.30 Despite the generally slow growth of the nuclear sector, India has steadily increased its import of uranium fuel from Canada, Kazakhstan and other countries.31


India's nuclear arsenal and missile capabilities continue to grow quietly, under an otherwise grandiloquent and ultra-nationalist regime. And even though the nuclear power sector's growth appears to be painfully slow, the Indian government has firmly set the country on a course of full-spectrum technology-ownership in the nuclear sector and is using every available opportunity ‒ including the decline of international nuclear industry ‒ towards this grandiose ambition.

One might ask then, if it is by design that the Indian government ignores the attendant problems of an unrelenting pursuit of nuclear projects like the EPR, even as the horror of Fukushima continues to unfold before us; and whether the growth of its nuclear sector, no matter how snail-paced, ensures a 'legitimate' and comprehensive growth of nuclear technology which in turn provides India not just military wherewithal but also diplomatic stature and the leverage to enhance its long-term power projection, as well as withstand any sanctions in the future in the event that the country conducts nuclear tests?

As nuclear power in the present situation does not make sense on either financial or safety grounds, it is only this super-power ambition which is plausibly guiding India's overall nuclear strategy. India's chequered nuclear past is reason enough to believe so.

































Has India really scaled down its nuclear power ambitions?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Kumar Sundaram ‒ Editor,

Last month, it was reported that the Indian government plans to cut nuclear capacity additions by two-thirds.1 These reports quoted a statement by Jitendra Singh, the State Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, which directly presides over the country's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Most journalists and analysts highlighted a scaling down from the previous projection of India achieving nuclear capacity of 63,000 MW by the year 2030 to 22,480MW in the same period, or roughly two-thirds.2

A closer look at the Minister Jitendra Singh's statement, however, reveals a totally different story.3

The government's announcement actually does not talk about cutting back nuclear power or cancelling any projects that have been discussed. In fact, two projects that have essentially been rejected figure in the list provided by the minister to the Indian parliament, under the category 'Green field sites, accorded 'In-Principle' approval'.3 One is at Mithivirdi in Gujarat's Bhavnagar district where US corporation Westinghouse was allotted a project for six nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) abandoned it last year after the project failed to acquire environmental clearance.4 Similarly, the Haripur Nuclear Power Project proposed in Bengal, for which the state government under Mamata Bannerjee has denied land ever since it came to power and continues to rule out the project5, is present in Jitendra Singh's list under 'Green field sites, accorded 'In-Principle' approval'.

The reality is the nuclear program has been delayed, not slashed as assumed. Such huge delays and under-performance have been the hallmark of India's Department of Atomic Energy. In the early 1950s, the DAE estimated that it would achieve nuclear capacity of 20,000 MW by the year 1980, whereas capacity was merely 540 MW when that year arrived. Again, DAE hoped that by 2000 it would have installed capacity of 10,000 MW, but it achieved only 2,720 MW.

After 2000, the DAE's capacity addition increased slightly, but again immensely exaggerated future projections were made. In 2007, the DAE thought capacity of 20,000 MW by the year 20206 was achievable and 30,000 MW by 20307 was an achievable target. These ambitions took a massive jump in 2008 after the culmination of the Indo-US deal under which India got an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) and re-entered global nuclear commerce. In 2008, projections were made for achieving 63,000MW by 20308 and a whopping 275,300 Gigawatts by 2052.9

However, despite the NSG exemption in 2008 and subsequent agreements with the US, France and other countries for the supply of nuclear reactors, not a single imported nuclear project has taken off. Construction is yet to begin in places like Jaitapur and Kovvada, despite the Indian government's rush to violently force local communities to give away their land and provide consent for environmental clearance. This has to do on the one hand with the terminal crisis of the global nuclear industry after Fukushima, leading to financial meltdowns and bankruptcies; as well as the reluctance of nuclear suppliers to accept India's nuclear liability law.10 The latter reveals much about the nature of multinational nuclear companies: the law caps the total liability in the case of a potential nuclear accident to an amount that is much less than the potential cost of an accident or the price tag of a nuclear power plant. The Modi government has tried every trick in the book to dilute even that.11

The Indian minister's statement should be viewed in this context. Since imported rectors have not progressed at the pace that the country's nuclear establishment hoped for, it is now focusing on expanding the fleet of "indigenously-designed" reactors to several existing and new nuclear power plant sites. These 700 MW Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) are in essence scaled-up models of a reactor design called the CANDU imported from Canada.

The recent statement, in fact, envisages a 'realistic' and determined shift in the strategy to expand nuclear power in India, although at a slower pace than advertised before. The Minister's announcement includes setting up ten 10 'greenfield' PHWR/CANDUs of 700 MW each by 2024 (four each in Gorakhpur and Mahi-Banswara and two in Chutka) for which administrative approval and financial sanction have been granted already. These constructions will result in an additional electricity generation capacity of 13,460 MW (PHWRs plus Russian VVERs), besides the 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), which the DAE has been claiming to commission 'this year' for the past several years.

The statement also lists another category of new projects – greenfield sites for whom 'in-principle' approval has been obtained and the DAE doesn't see any external obstacle. By 2031, this category of planned projects would bring 22,480 MW of additional capacity online. These include – Jaitapur (6 x 1650 = 9,900 MW), Kovvada (6 x 1208 = 7,248 MW), Mithi Virdi (6 x 1,000 MW = 6,000 MW) and Haripur (6 x 1,000 = 6,000 MW), besides a newly included project at Bhimpur in Madhya Pradesh (4 x 700 = 2,800 MW). The Minister's statement also mentions that pre-project activities are underway at these sites.

This new focus on PHWRs has severe consequences for communities at sites that have so far not been directly subject to nuclear risks. This includes Gorakhpur in Haryana, Mahi-Banswara in Rajasthan, and Chutka in Madhya Pradesh. In Chutka, the local communities have waged an intense agitation against their second displacement.12 They were first displaced for the Bargi dam on Narmada river in 1990, and now they have been served eviction notices. The government agencies have again approached them with the same promises – jobs, electricity, development, rehabilitation and welfare measures, but they know the reality. In Gorakhpur, the NPCIL is constructing a 2,800 MW plant merely 150 km from the national capital New Delhi with a population of 24 million –the plant depends on a small canal for the supply of water for cooling the reactors in normal operation and even during potential accidents.13

Therefore, the much-touted 'cut-back' is far being a reflection of any rethink in the Indian nuclear establishment. Moreover, the zeal to trample all safety, environmental and democratic norms continues unabated as reflected in the recent police atrocities against peaceful anti-nuclear protests in Chutka14 and Jaitapur15. It will be ironic for the villagers who continue to face fabricated sedition charges for their peaceful protest to find their government winning praise internationally for the sanity of an illusory nuclear cut-back.

The author is thankful to Dr. M.V. Ramana and Peter M. for their insights.

















Indian government slashes nuclear power target by two-thirds

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The Indian government, which had set the ambitious target of 63,000 MW of nuclear power capacity by 2031-32, has reduced it to 22,480 MW.1 "With the completion of the under construction and sanctioned projects, the total nuclear power installed capacity in the country will reach 22,480 MW… by the year 2031," said Minister Jitendra Singh.

The new target is a little over one-third of the target of 63,000 MW by the year 2031-32, announced by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in April 2015.

In 2015, the 2024 target was 47,80 MW; now, the 2024 target is 13,480 MW according to the Minister.

Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman wrote:2

"It appears that India's long list of nuclear reactors, which at one time it aspired to build, is now in the dust bin. Instead, a much shorter list of 19 units composed of indigenous 700 MW PHWRs and Russian VVERs will be completed for an additional 17 GWE. ... The list of 57 cancelled reactors also includes 700 MW PHWRs and Russian VVERs. In addition it includes future plans for Areva EPRs and Westinghouse AP1000s. Four fast breeder reactors are part of this list which raises questions about India's policy commitment to its three phase plan for nuclear energy.

"While the Department of Atomic Energy did not specify the reasons for the change, it is likely that India has come face-to-face with the same reality that other developing nations seeking rapid construction of nuclear power plants. The challenges are the lack of funding, a reliable supply chain that can handle a huge increase in orders, and a trained workforce to build and operate the plants at the planned level of activity."

Will India meet the new target of 22,480 MW by 2031? Not likely given that current capacity is 6,200 MW, reactors under construction amount to 4,350 MW capacity, and nuclear power accounted for just 3.2% of electricity generation in 2017.

Yurman warned about the implications of the underperforming nuclear sector: "The decision has enormous implications for expanding use of coal for electrical power generation and for release of CO2, other greenhouse gases, and for adding to India's dire air pollution problems in its major cities. The drastic reduction in planned construction of new reactors will diminish India's plans to rely on nuclear energy from 25% of electrical generation to about 8-10%. The balance of new power requirements will likely be met by use of India's enormous coal deposits."

However a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report found that the cost of wind and solar power has declined dramatically over the past year in India, well beyond the global average. According to BNEF: "Taking India as an example, BNEF is now showing benchmark LCOEs [levelized costs of electricity] for onshore wind of just $39 per MWh, down 46% on a year ago, and for solar PV at $41, down 45%. By comparison, coal comes in at $68 per MWh, and combined-cycle gas at $93. Wind-plus-battery and solar-plus-battery systems in India have wide cost ranges, of $34-208 per MWh and $47-308 per MWh respectively, depending on project characteristics, but the center of those ranges is falling fast."

Research released by Greenpeace India in December 2017 found that at least 65% of India's coal power generation in financial year 2016 – representing 94 GW of installed capacity – was being sold to distribution companies at a higher cost than power from new renewable energy projects.4 The analysis showed that replacing the most expensive coal power plants with electricity generated by solar PV and wind would save consumers up to 54,000 crores (US$8.3 billion) annually. Just replacing older, expensive plants – those older than 20 years – would still yield 20,000 crore (US$3 billion) in reduced power purchase costs annually.


1. Pragya Srivastava, 5 April 2018, 'Modi government cuts nuclear power capacity addition target to one-third',

2. Dan Yurman, 6 April 2018, 'India Slashes Plans for New Nuclear Reactors by Two-Thirds',

3. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 28 March 2018, 'Tumbling Costs for Wind, Solar, Batteries Are Squeezing Fossil Fuels',

4. Greenpeace India, 21 December 2017, 'Win-win: India can save 54,000 crore in power costs and reduce air pollution by replacing expensive coal plants with renewables',

Energy security, climate change and nuclear power: India's real problems and false solutions

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Kumar Sundaram ‒ researcher with the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace.

Dubbing nuclear energy as a solution to climate change has been a key strategy of the Indian government in recent years. The government has been using "clean energy" as a short-hand for nuclear power in international nuclear deals1, and offered nuclear power as part of its climate pledge submitted to the UNFCCC ahead of the COP21 meeting.

India is one of the few countries in the post-Fukushima world to have massive nuclear expansion plans. The Indian government has planned an expansion of the total installed nuclear capacity to 63 gigawatts (GW) by the year 2032.2 At present, the total installed capacity is 6.8 GW, merely 1.8% of the total electricity production capacity.3 In July 2017, Dr. R B Grover, senior nuclear scientist who holds Homi Bhabha Chair in India's Department of Atomic Energy, called for promoting 'Nuclear Variable Renewable Energy' for achieving 40% of electricity by 2030 from non-fossil sources.4

However, an intriguing display of extreme opposites can be seen when it comes to the Indian government's policy on climate change under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His brazen denial of climate change, during a patronising address to young students in 2014 ‒ where he claimed "it's not the climate, but we who are changing"' ‒ came under heavy criticism.5

However, at the Paris Summit in 2015, Modi adopted a strongly assertive posture against the West from a developing world perspective, which understandably resonated with some sections of international civil society, but actually meant garnering more concessions for the home-grown industries.6 In his most recent trip to France this June, Modi was seen expressing concern about Trump's exit from the Paris climate accord and reassuring the new French President of reinforced support from India.7

In terms of actual policies back home, the Modi government has been hugely scaling up the renewable sector8, but has also made an unwavering support for nuclear power, purportedly as a solution for climate change.9

To understand the co-relation between climate change and nuclear power generation, experts the world over have conducted comprehensive research on the carbon-footprints of the entire nuclear fuel-cycles and compared them to other energy sources, in the specific context of their countries.

In India, such research on the nuclear fuel cycle is rendered effectively impossible by the non-transparency of the country's nuclear establishment, which does not share with its citizens even basic information like radiation readings, Safety Assessment Reports and Site Selection Reports for its installations. The Atomic Energy Act of 1962 provides insulation to the nuclear sector here, providing it with a fig leaf of 'national security' to avoid public scrutiny. Faced with such situation, we can adopt an alternative method – study the impacts of climate change on the surrounding environment of the sites where new nuclear plants are proposed, and what would it imply for communities living there.

Chutka, in central India, and Gorakhpur, just 150 km from the national capital, offer good case studies in this regard. Both these projects are inland, so they will impact huge areas and large populations. Moreover, they are being built in ecologically sensitive regions. As such they offer important counterpoints as case studies. Also, nuclear power plants in Chutka and Gorakhpur are being set up using the 'indigenous' Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor technology, so these plans are in fact more feasible and more likely to be built than sites like Jaitapur and Kovvada where imported nuclear projects face hurdles such as financial cost, liability and the declining financial health of foreign suppliers.

Chutka: Nuking Narmada

The proposed Chutka nuclear plant in the tribal-dominated Mandla district in central India will displace hundreds of people for the second time and dangerously compound climate change impacts.10 The scars of displacement and fear of being uprooted again is visible on the faces of all inhabitants of the village – most of whom are Gond adivasi tribes. For the Bargi dam, built between 1974 and 1990, they had to leave their villages in the valley and flee uphill. They were driven out of their ancestral villages, where they had been living for centuries, for as little as 500 Rupees (less than US$10 dollars) for an acre of land.

Faced with such injustice and threats to their safety and livelihoods, villagers have started a two-month long intensive campaign which started on Mahatma Gandhi's anniversary and will culminate on International Human Rights Day, December 10.11 Memories of being uprooted are still fresh in their minds. They were among the inhabitants of 162 villages displaced for the Rani Avantibai Bargi Dam built on River Narmada.

However, the real red-herring might be the cumulative climate change impacts in the region when seen in the long-term perspective. Undemocratic and irresponsible changes in water-usage at Bargi Dam, coupled with the general decrease in water levels in Narmada owing to massive deforestation upstream, spell catastrophe especially with the siting of the Chutka nuclear plant on the same dam. When seen on a time-scale of the next 60‒70 years, there are ominous indicators that communities and industries will compete for the fast-decreasing water reserves of Narmada, and a massively water-guzzling nuclear plant on the bank of Bargi Dam will make the scenario much worse.

The problem of decreasing water availability in Bargi Dam will lead to two serious challenges – nuclear reactors in Chutka will scramble for water, along with other industries rapidly coming up in the region, and compete with the local communities including the Jabalpur city, with a population of 1.56 million, that sources its drinking water from Bargi Dam. Water shortages would also pose an insurmountable safety risk in case of a serious nuclear accident.

Gorakhpur: Nuclear plant over a canal

Four Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors are being constructed in Haryana, the state neighbouring New Delhi, the national capital of India. This nuclear plant would have a total capacity of 2.8 GW, with four reactors of 700 MW each. This will be India's largest indigenous nuclear power project built so far. The water usage for the reactor complex would be 320 cusec (783 million litres daily) for cooling and other purposes.12 However, the entire project will depend for water on a small canal, Fatehabad branch of the Bhakhra Branch Canal, which is the main source of water for irrigation in the region.13 This is perhaps the only nuclear power project in the world to have such a limited and unreliable source of water supply.

Water will pose three huge problems in Gorakhpur: the water will be inadequate even for the cooling of reactors in their normal operation; in case of an accident, the situation could be worse than even Fukushima due to non-availability of water; and the high temperature of the discharge water from the reactor will destroy agriculture downstream of the canal, which dozens of villages depend on for irrigation. Here too, like Chutka, the water was initially meant only for irrigation but now the government is undemocratically diverting it for a nuclear plant. With changing climate, water supply in the canal is expected to decrease.

Therefore, far from being a solution to climate change, nuclear power expansion is going to compound the problems in India's most eco-sensitive regions. Destroying fragile ecologies and depriving local communities of their livelihoods is all that such ill-conceived plans would achieve.















AP1000 reactor projects in the US, the UK and India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

It remains unclear whether the four partially-built Westinghouse AP1000 reactors in the US will be completed ‒ and it will probably remain unclear for some months. Westinghouse CEO Jose Gutierrez said the company is working with the owners of the Vogtle and V.C. Summer nuclear plants ‒ Southern Co. in Georgia, and SCANA Corp. in South Carolina ‒ "to find a long-term solution to complete those reactors".1 Gutierrez said he hopes more reactors get built in the US and that "we hope they do a better job than we did".1

Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning said a decision may not be made on the Vogtle project in Georgia until August.2 A decision on the Summer project in South Carolina might be made by the end of June3 ‒ but none of the deadlines associated with the crisis are being met and it's unlikely the fate of the Summer project will be decided this month.

Work is proceeding on the Vogtle and Summer projects, albeit without Westinghouse funding, under interim agreements. The latest agreement to continue work on the Vogtle project expired on June 5 (an agreement extending to June 3 was extended for 48 hours). Presumably there will soon be another announcement extending the interim agreement ‒ or possibly a more significant, decisive announcement on the future of the project. The interim agreement to keep the South Carolina project moving ahead ends on June 26.

Anya Litvak summarized some recent developments in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 6:4

"On May 16, Westinghouse reached a tentative agreement with Southern Co., the parent of the utility that commissioned the Plant Vogtle AP1000 projects in Georgia. The deal called for Southern to take over responsibility for completing the construction. The two parties were supposed to finalize a path forward by Sunday, but they were still negotiating Monday.

"Parallel discussions are ongoing between Westinghouse and Scana Co., which owns the two AP1000 units under construction at V.C. Summer in South Carolina.

"It has been rumored for months that Fluor Corp. and Bechtel Corp., two of the country's largest engineering and construction firms, might be preparing bids to take over the projects in Georgia and South Carolina. Fluor was brought in by Westinghouse more than a year ago to straighten things out after the nuclear firm's ill-fated takeover of the nuclear construction firm that was previously in charge of that effort, Stone & Webster. Bechtel, according to the recently filed financial statements, has also been on the job since at least January, as evidenced by two "staff augmentation contracts," one at each site."

Westinghouse is expected to break its construction contracts with the owners of the Vogtle and Summer projects but would gladly remain involved in some capacity if asked to do so. The owners must estimate the costs required to complete the reactors and then decide whether (and how) to proceed. Possible funding sources include contractual guarantees from Westinghouse's parent company Toshiba, further government subsidies, and ratepayers.

The extension of a federal government tax credit program has been seen as the most likely way of securing federal support for the Vogtle and Summer projects. The extension could translate into about US$2 billion in funding support for each of the projects. But Congress has not supported an extension to date, and if it arrives it may be too late to save the projects.5

Toshiba is reportedly prepared to pay about US$3.6 billion towards the completion of the Vogtle plant, payable over at least three years. The agreement is not final and is said to be contingent on a similar agreement between Toshiba and the owners of the Summer plant.6 But that US$3.6 billion may not be enough to complete the Vogtle plant.7 Likewise, Toshiba's commitment to pay about US$1.7 billion towards the completion of the Summer plant isn't set in stone, and it may not be sufficient to complete the plant.3

There has been speculation that Toshiba may seek bankruptcy protection in Japan, just as Westinghouse has in the US, which would probably be the final straw for the Vogtle and Summer projects ‒ but it remains nothing more than speculation.3

Another possible source of funding to help complete the reactors would be to once again increase power bills in Georgia and South Carolina. Ratepayers are paying in advance for the Vogtle and Summer projects. Georgia Power had collected almost US$1.2 billion by the end of 2016 to pay for Vogtle.8 Power prices in South Carolina have increased by 20% since 2009 to pay for the Summer reactors3 and at least US$1.4 billion has been collected.9

Public utility commissions would need to approve further rate increases. Numerous increases have been approved as the cost of the reactor projects has escalated time and time again. Ratepayers are fed up, and politicians or commissioners proposing further increases might find themselves out of a job. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that funding the two AP1000 reactors in Georgia "may become the most volatile issue of the 2018 campaign for governor, lieutenant governor, Congress, the state Legislature, and perhaps dogcatcher."10

Given the history of state utility commissions repeatedly approving further imposts on ratepayers, no-one would be surprised if power bills are increased yet again. But there is some push-back. Public Service Commissioner Bubba McDonald said Georgia Power should voluntarily stop billing ratepayers for Vogtle costs, and the Public Service Commission has asked the state attorney general's office for advice as to whether it would be legal for Georgia Power to remove the charge.11 In circumstances where existing charges are being challenged, it will be difficult to increase those charges.

Georgia Power spokesperson Jacob Hawkins said the pay-in-advance model "saves customers hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing financing and borrowing costs"11 ‒ but Georgians and South Carolinians have paid over US$1 billion for reactors that may never be completed. Georgians are paying about US$23 million each month ‒ not far short of US$1 million per day ‒ for reactors that may never be completed.12

Kennedy Maize, contributing editor at Power magazine, thinks the projects will be abandoned: "My guess – and it's just that, based on my reading of U.S. nuclear history – is that both Vogtle and Summer eventually will crater. While both utilities enjoy supine state regulators and the ability to earn on construction costs as they are incurred, that will trigger rate shock and political backlash, killing the projects. That's what we saw in the 1980s."13

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution summarized some of that unhappy history: "[C]onstruction of Plant Vogtle's first two reactors had provided a vivid example of the potential complications. Plant Vogtle was conceived around 1970, with an original cost estimate of about $660 million. Construction was expected to take about eight years. Then, Three Mile Island happened. Regulations tightened. Demand for materials and interest rates shot up in the 1980s. Construction took 13 years. The final price tag: around $9 billion."8

AP1000 reactor plans in the UK

NuGen's plan for three AP1000 reactors at Moorside in the UK has descended into farce. Tom Samson, chief executive of the NuGen consortium, insists the project has "100 per cent backing" from Toshiba14 and he is "110% certain" the reactors will be built.15 But Toshiba is 100% committed to selling its stake in NuGen and has no intention of building reactors in the UK or anywhere else ... for reasons that must be all too obvious. The likelihood of the Moorside project going ahead is closer to 10% than 110%. French company Engie recently exited the Moorside project, forcing Toshiba to acquire its 40% stake based on contractual agreements, and previously Iberdrola and SSE exited the project.16

Samson says there is a "universe of options ... to progress this phenomenal project of national significance".14 South Korea's Kepco is the most likely saviour, but South Korean interest in NuGen dates from 2013, if not earlier, yet nothing has been agreed ‒ and the recent election of Moon Jae-in as President may complicate South Korean involvement in NuGen. A delegation from China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) visited the UK in May, reportedly to meet NuGen. The Carlisle News and Star reported that "both organisations have not denied that such a meeting will take place."17 Chinese involvement has raised national security concerns18 that could scupper any such involvement.

NuGen has set up a 'strategic review' to assess whether the Moorside project can be revived.19

Meanwhile, David Wright, a director at UK's National Grid, says he is "sure" that the NuGen project will go ahead ‒ his confidence based on discussions with Tom Samson (!). But National Grid recently suspended its £2.8bn (US$3.6bn) project to provide a transmission link to the Moorside site.20

Oliver Tickell and Ian Fairlie wrote an obituary for Britain's nuclear renaissance in The Ecologist on May 18.21 They concluded: "[T]he prospects for new nuclear power in the UK have never been gloomier. The only way new nuclear power stations will ever be built in the UK is with massive political and financial commitment from government. That commitment is clearly absent. So yes, this finally looks like the end of the UK's 'nuclear renaissance'. Not with a bang, nor even with a whimper, but with a deep and profoundly meaningful silence. Not a moment too soon."21

AP1000 reactor plans in India

World Nuclear News reported on June 2 that six AP1000 reactors planned for the Mithi Virdi plant in the Bhavnagar district of India's northern Gujarat state will now be constructed at the Kovvada site in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.22 But there's precious little chance of AP1000 reactors being built anywhere in India. Both Toshiba and Westinghouse are exiting the reactor construction industry, and it's doubtful whether another company or utility would take over the project.

No binding contracts have been signed. No-one has any idea where the money might come from to pay for the AP1000 reactors. India's liability law remains an obstacle. And public opposition is still a major obstacle ‒ public opposition goes a long way to explaining the decision to abandon the Mithi Virdi AP1000 project and opposition will be keenly felt in Andhra Pradesh.23 That is, opposition will be keenly felt if the Andhra Pradesh project gathers any momentum, which seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Nuclear Engineering International reported on May 9 that India has asked Toshiba to offer ways to resolve the issue of reactor sales following the bankruptcy of its subsidiary Westinghouse.24 A firm agreement on AP1000 reactors was meant to be concluded by the end of June 2017, but that deadline will come and go without any agreement. Nuclear Engineering International also reported that India is seeking a loan of around US$8‒9 billion from the US Export-Import Bank to part-fund the AP1000 reactors.24 But there is very little likelihood that the Export-Import Bank will provide the funding.

According to a recent Reuters report, India's Cabinet has decided that foreign reactors will not be bought unless such reactors are already in operation elsewhere.25 Likewise, Sekhar Basu, secretary of India's Department of Atomic Energy, said in May that potential foreign reactor suppliers "have to sort out their financial issues before anything can come on the table" and India "will not buy a reactor unless a plant is operating in their own country."26

Some long-delayed AP1000 and EPR projects may be completed in the next couple of years; but even so, plans for AP1000 and EPR reactors in India will likely be scrapped.

In May, India's Cabinet approved a plan to build 10 indigenous pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR). That decision clearly reflects doubts about the ability of Westinghouse to deliver AP1000 reactors and French utilities to deliver EPR reactors. The plan for 10 new PHWRs faces major challenges27 but suffice it here to note that the PHWR program has more chance of success than the AP1000 or EPR plans.

Suvrat Raju and M.V. Ramana wrote in The Hindu on June 7:28

"Both Areva and Westinghouse had entered into agreements with the Indian government to develop nuclear plants. Areva had promised to build the world's largest nuclear complex at Jaitapur (Maharashtra), while last June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Barack Obama announced, with great fanfare, that Westinghouse would build six reactors at Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh).

"The collapse of these companies vindicates critics of these deals, who consistently pointed out that India's agreements with Areva and Westinghouse were fiscally irresponsible. If these projects had gone ahead, Indian taxpayers would have been left holding the bag ‒ billions of dollars of debt, and incomplete projects. This narrow escape calls not only for a hard look at the credibility of those members of the nuclear establishment who advocated these deals for a decade, but for a comprehensive re-evaluation of the role of nuclear power in the country's energy mix.

"Therefore, the government's recent decision to approve the construction of ten 700 MW Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) deserves to be scrutinised carefully. Strictly speaking, there is little that is new in this decision. A list of all the sites where the PHWRs are to be constructed had already been provided to Parliament by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2012. But delays with the first 700 MW PHWRs already under construction, the changed international scenario for nuclear energy, and the ongoing reductions in the cost of renewable energy all imply that these earlier plans are best abandoned."


1. Rebecca Kern, 25 May 2017, 'Westinghouse to Emerge From Bankruptcy Stronger, CEO Says',

2. Peter Maloney, 26 May 2017, 'Southern CEO: Decision on Vogtle's fate not likely until late summer',

3. David Wren, 11 May 2017, 'Reports of impending Toshiba bankruptcy raise new doubts about S.C. nuclear project',

4. Anya Litvak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 June 2017, ''We, Westinghouse, cannot fail': CEO gives fuller picture of business in new documents',

5. Sammy Fretwell, 22 May 2017, 'Could losing tax break sink SCE&G's nuclear project?',

6. Tom Hals and Jessica DiNapoli, 15 May 2017, 'Power plant owners limit Toshiba's Westinghouse liabilities: sources',

7. Matt Kempner, 25 May 2017, 'Kempner: Radioactive question looms over Georgia's nuclear mess',

8. Russell Grantham and Johnny Edwards, 19 May 2017, 'Plant Vogtle: Georgia's nuclear ‘renaissance' now a financial quagmire',

9. Sammy Fretwell, 3 June 2017, 'Once-secret records reveal pattern of costly mistakes at troubled nuclear project',

10. Jim Galloway, 26 April 2017, 'The first suggestion of a federal rescue for Plant Vogtle',

11. Molly Samuel, 6 June 2017, 'Ga. PSC Delays Nuclear Vote, Asks Attorney General To Step In',

12. Pam Wright, 23 May 2017, 'Sinking Into the Vogtle Vortex',

13. Kennedy Maize, 20 May 2017, 'Nuclear Farewell?',

14. 16 May 2017, 'NuGen chief says Cumbrian new nuclear has Toshiba's '100 per cent' backing',

15. ITV, 3 May 2017, 'Exclusive: NuGen CEO 'certain' Moorside will go ahead',

16. Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 4 April 2017, 'As Engie becomes the seventh international energy utility to give up on UK new nuclear build, NFLA say now is the time to move towards a decentralised, renewable energy alternative policy',

17. Carlisle News and Star, 23 May 2017, 'Chinese investors linked with £10bn Moorside nuclear plant,

18. Matthew Gunther, 15 August 2016, 'Chinese investor in Hinkley Point faces nuclear espionage charges',

19. Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, 17 May 2017, 'NuGen's investment turmoil sparks pylon delay for Moorside new-build',

20. Jane Gray, 23 May 2017, 'Transmission chief ‘sure' that Moorside will go ahead',

21. Oliver Tickell and Ian Fairlie, 18 May 2017, 'Conservative election manifesto signals the end of new nuclear power',

22. WNN, 2 June 2017

23. 2 June 2017, 'Green clearance for nuclear project in Gujarat withdrawn by NGT, but Govt shifts it to Andhra!',

24. Nuclear Engineering International, 9 May 2017, 'Westinghouse will miss deadline for India deal',

25. Geert De Clercq, 3 June 2017, 'France, India to cooperate in fighting climate change',

26. Douglas Busvine, 18 May 2017, 'Foreign suppliers urged to step up as India backs own nuclear design',

27. Dan Yurman, 23 May 2017, 'India Sets New Course for Nuclear Energy with 10 700 MW PHWR',

28. Suvrat Raju and M.V. Ramana, 7 June 2017, 'Nuclear power: Expensive, hazardous and inequitable',

Update on the Toshiba / Westinghouse crisis

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

As discussed in Nuclear Monitor #841, Japanese conglomerate Toshiba said on April 11 that there is "substantial doubt about the Company's ability to continue as a going concern". Toshiba's US nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection on March 29.

The companies are in crisis because of extraordinary cost overruns building four AP1000 reactors in the US ‒ two each in Georgia and South Carolina. Estimating the scale of the cost overruns is difficult because there is still much work to be done to complete the reactors. A reasonable estimate is that if the reactors are completed, the combined overruns will amount to about US$13 billion.1,2 Estimates compiled by Reuters put the cost overruns ‒ again assuming that the reactors are completed ‒ at US$3.9‒6.7 billion for the reactors in Georgia and US$11.9 for the reactors in South Carolina, a combined total of US$15.8‒18.6 billion.3

Toshiba wants to sell Westinghouse but can't find a buyer, although profitable parts of Westinghouse's operations might be sold off after a company restructure. Toshiba is also restructuring and selling some of its own businesses to avoid bankruptcy. Toshiba said on April 24 that it will establish its four in-house companies as wholly-owned subsidiaries.4 As of October 1, it will split off its Energy Systems & Solutions Company, and the Nuclear Energy Systems & Solutions Division, and transfer them to a newly established company. The other three companies to be established as independent business entities are Infrastructure System & Solutions Company, Storage & Electronic Devices Solutions Company, and Industrial ICT Solutions Company.

The Financial Times reported: "Toshiba is not expected to seek to sell the subsidiaries because the group last month identified that much of the activities done in these four areas as essential to its turnround strategy. But the shake-up will leave the 144-year-old conglomerate, once a proud pillar of the Japanese industrial establishment, as a mere shadow of its former self. Toshiba is planning to sell its Nand memory chip business, the group's flagship technology asset, as well as offload much or all of Westinghouse. The Nand business could raise more than $20bn for the group ‒ and therefore help repair its balance sheet."5

Toshiba's stand-off with its auditor

On April 11, Toshiba's auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers Aarata refused to sign off on Toshiba's financial report ‒ Toshiba reported a net loss of ¥647.8 billion (US$5.7bn) for the Oct. to Dec. 2016 quarter. The main sticking point has been Toshiba's accounting in relation to the AP1000 reactors in the US.

Over the past month, Toshiba has been looking for a new auditor.6 The other three of the Big Four accounting firms are probably non-starters. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and KPMG Azsa have past business ties to Toshiba. So does Ernst & Young ShinNihon, Toshiba's previous auditor. Ernst & Young ShinNihon incurred a fine and reputational damage for failing to detect Toshiba's billion-dollar profit-padding scam from 2008‒2014.6

Toshiba is seeking a second-tier accounting firm to sign off on its accounts but the Financial Times reported that only a few such firms have the expertise and the number of auditors needed to handle a group as large as Toshiba.6

Any auditing firm that certifies Toshiba's accounts does so at the risk of damaging its own reputation.

Sacking PricewaterhouseCoopers is not a simple option for Toshiba ‒ it would require shareholder approval.7 Sacking the auditor could unsettle the Stock Exchange, Reuters reported, but Toshiba "is out of attractive options."8

Toshiba has said it will release its figures for the March 2016 to March 2017 fiscal year by mid-May, but that could be extended to June 30. The company says it expects to report a net loss of just over ¥1 trillion (US$8.9bn) for the fiscal year, well over double the estimate of ¥390 billion provided in February.9

Stock exchange listing / delisting

Toshiba faces being delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange, an outcome that will be all the more likely if it releases unaudited figures for the 2016‒17 fiscal year (as it did for the Oct. to Dec. 2016 quarter). Delisting would create a new set of problems that would make it all the more difficult for the company to survive ‒ big investors would likely sell their stock, financing costs would increase, more lawsuits from shareholders would be expected, the share price would take another hit (it has fallen by 50% over the past six months) and, as Reuters reported, shareholders would be left with "near-worthless paper".8 Last but not least, the complete collapse of Toshiba would loom as a real possibility.

The Reuters report continued: "There are three hurdles. First, a Tokyo Stock Exchange review has to conclude managers have fixed long-running shortcomings in internal controls. Second, the company must claw its way out of negative equity by March – hence the 2 trillion yen-plus ($18 billion) sale of its memory-chip business. And third, it must file full-year results promptly: ideally by May 15, late June at the very latest."8

A zombie company?

Creditors and investors are nervous. In mid-April, Toshiba lost access to one of its subsidiary's funds after hedge fund Oasis Management went to court to get the subsidiary to take back its cash ‒ ¥87.8 billion (US$771m) ‒ from the parent company.10 If that trickle becomes a flood ‒ and in particular if the banks call in their loans ‒ Toshiba will be doomed.

The BBC outlined three possible outcomes for Toshiba.11 Firstly, it might become a zombie company like Sharp, TEPCO and many others: loss-making or insolvent companies that should be allowed to fail, but continue to operate because of lenient creditors. The second ‒ and most likely ‒ option is a break-up of the company (the strategy that is already playing out with Toshiba's plan to sell its memory chip business). The third possibility is a complete collapse of Toshiba. "If the chip sale falls through, more accounting irregularities emerge or the banks decide to call in their loans, then all bets are off," BBC business reported Leisha Chi said in an April 16 article.11

Might Toshiba file for bankruptcy protection?

Southern Company, which hired Toshiba subsidiary Westinghouse to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia, is concerned that Toshiba will apply for protection from creditors and relieve itself of the guarantees made on Westinghouse's behalf, sources have told the Wall Street Journal.12 A Toshiba official reportedly said the best way to save the company could be a filing under Japan's corporate reorganization law, which is similar to US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection legislation in that it seeks to allow a company to stay in business by relieving it of some obligations. The Toshiba official said the move could free Toshiba of its obligations to Westinghouse and its customers, including its obligations to provide funding to complete AP1000 reactors under construction in the US.

However a Toshiba spokesperson said: "At this moment, we do not have any thought or intention of seeking protection under corporate-reorganization proceedings."12

The Wall Street Journal reported:12

"A Japanese chapter 11-style filing is only one of several scenarios Toshiba could choose. It presents several downsides: Suppliers could take a hit, hurting the broader economy, and shareholders could be wiped out ‒ though Toshiba's shares are already in danger of being delisted in Tokyo because of accounting problems that emerged in 2015. But the filing would strengthen Toshiba's balance sheet and could allow it to keep its profitable memory-chip business, the Toshiba official said ‒ relieving Japanese government concerns about technology leaks to Chinese or other competitors. A person familiar with Southern's thinking said Japanese creditor banks have significant leverage in deciding what to do with Toshiba, and that their loans would come ahead of other obligations. "We are not first in line," this person said."

Westinghouse and the AP1000 reactors in the US

Westinghouse filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 29, listing assets of US$4.3 billion and liabilities of US$9.4 billion among about 35,000 creditors.13

Westinghouse said on March 29 it would no longer spend money on the Vogtle (Georgia) and Summer (South Carolina) AP1000 projects, but reached an agreement with the utilities involved to allow them to pay costs to continue the projects during a 30-day interim period while decisions on the future of the projects are made. That 30-day period was later extended until May 12 for the Georgia project and June 26 for South Carolina.14

Between April 7 and April 20, about 30 vendors asked Westinghouse to return US$35 million in materials and products ordered for the four reactors in Georgia and South Carolina before the company filed for bankruptcy protection.15 No doubt other vendors have done likewise since April 20. Many Westinghouse suppliers received letters saying that their invoices for work performed or products supplied before the bankruptcy protection filing could not be paid at this time.16

Westinghouse plans to complete a restructuring plan by the end of June 2017 and a new business plan by the end of July 2017. The aim is to ring-fence the four AP1000 reactors. Gavin Liu, Westinghouse's president for Asia, said the "rest of the Westinghouse business, the healthy part, which is new plant construction, fuel, service, decommissioning ‒ we anticipate an ownership change."17 Liu noted that there has been "high interest from the financial community" in the profitable parts of the company's operations.17

Toshiba would like to sell Westinghouse and keep its profitable businesses ‒ but must instead sell profitable businesses to cover the debts from Westinghouse's nuclear projects. Westinghouse, in turn, would like to rid itself of the US AP1000 reactors projects and keep its profitable operations but must instead sell profitable operations to cover debts from the reactor projects.

No amount of ring-fencing will make the AP1000 problems go away. According to Westinghouse, an additional US$4 billion is required to complete the four reactors (US$2.5 billion in Georgia and US$1.5 billion in South Carolina).13 That figure may be an underestimate. Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning has said the company needs at least US$3.7 billion needs to complete the two reactors in Georgia ‒ possibly more.18,19

If the additional costs can be kept to US$3.7 billion, Southern Co. hopes that funding from Toshiba will suffice to complete the reactors in Georgia.19 Of course, those hopes could be dashed if Toshiba seeks protection under Japanese corporate reorganization laws.

Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power is also trying to convince the Georgia Public Service Commission to allow it to recoup further costs from ratepayers in Georgia, but the Commission appears reluctant.19 Georgian ratepayers have already been paying for the construction of the two AP1000 reactors since 2011, based on provisions of the 2009 Georgia Nuclear Finance Act.20,21

Tax credits and loan guarantees

The AP1000 reactors in Georgia and South Carolina need to be operating by the end of 2020 to be eligible for a US$18/MWh federal production tax credit. For the South Carolina project, the tax credit would amount to a government subsidy of about US$2.2 billion.22 Relaxation of the 2020 deadline for the tax credits is shaping as an important determinant of the future of the four reactors given the receding likelihood of completing the reactors by then. South Carolina Electricity & Gas recently said it is re-evaluating its timeline for completion of the two reactors in that state because of Westinghouse's "historical inability to achieve forecasted productivity and work for efficiency levels" and in light of Westinghouse's bankruptcy filing.23

The extension of the tax credits is "absolutely imperative" to the AP1000 projects and "next-up U.S. nuclear projects" according to David Blee, executive director of the US Nuclear Infrastructure Council.24 However an attempt to include a relaxation of the 2020 deadline in a government spending bill recently failed.25 Congressional leadership is reportedly delaying the issue until lawmakers take up tax reform later this year24 ‒ but that could be too late to save the AP1000 projects. Republican senator Lindsey Graham said: "I'm not going to sit on the sidelines and watch the nuclear industry be destroyed. For three years, we've been trying to get these tax credits extended. ... The reactors that are being built are very much at risk."24

If the Vogtle project in Georgia collapses, the federal government is on the hook for US$8.3 billion in loan guarantees. Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said:26

"The Title XVII program at the Energy Department provides broad authority for it to guarantee loans for early commercial use of advanced technologies if there is a "reasonable" prospect of repayment by the borrower. Loan guarantees are like cosigning a loan. The government (taxpayers) are on the hook for repayment of the loans if the borrower defaults.

"Building a nuclear reactor – two nuclear reactors – is expensive and risky. The amount of risk represented by a particular loan guarantee is measured in the project's "subsidy cost." The higher the risk, the higher the cost that gets assigned to the guarantee. You would think a loan guarantee for a nuclear power plant – the riskiest project of all – would be assessed a pretty high price. It should have been. But the Energy Department guaranteed at least $6.5 billion of the $8.3 billion total at a cost of $0. That is, it recorded no potential liabilities for its guarantee of more than $6 billion in loans for the construction of two nuclear power plants. ...

"While this might mean huge losses for taxpayers, the real tragedy is that financial entanglement with the project could have been avoided altogether. It's not clear what the Department of Energy can do now to mitigate the potential for losses. In the end, the Vogtle mishap could be a very expensive way to learn what we should have known all along – the federal government cannot ignore risk when taxpayers' money is on the line."

The plan for AP1000 reactors in the UK

NuGen was established in 2009 as a consortium between Engie, Iberdrola, and Scottish and Southern Energy. After various twists and turns, Toshiba had a 60% stake in NuGen and Engie the remaining 40% by the end of 2013. In 2014, NuGen announced plans to build three AP1000 reactors at Moorside, near Sellafield in the UK. But Engie has exercised its contractual right to force Toshiba to buy its 40% stake. Toshiba wanted to sell its 60% stake ... and now wants to sell its 100% stake.

Reactor construction never began and likely never will. In April 2017, NuGen said it has put its application for development consent on hold and is "undertaking a strategic review of its options following shareholder and vendor challenges".27 The consortium has written to suppliers to warn them it will have to cut spending, and also plans to order staff who have been seconded to the project from other companies to return to their employers.28

Toshiba (and the British government and others) are hoping that South Korean utility Kepco will buy a stake in NuGen (Toshiba presumably hopes Kepco will buy its entire 100% stake). Kepco has been considering buying a stake in NuGen for some time, but a deal has not been struck. Kepco may prefer to build its APR1400 reactors rather than Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, which would delay the project by several years: the APR1400 design has not been approved by UK regulators whereas the AP1000 design recently received approval.

Some see Kepco's purported interest in building its own reactor technology as a bargaining chip to use in negotiations. Kepco might agree to build AP1000 reactors ‒ or to be the engineering, procurement, and construction manager of Westinghouse-built AP1000 reactors ‒ on the condition that Kepco supplies expensive items like steam generators, turbines, pumps, and other system components.29

A Hinkley Point-style guaranteed 'strike price' per kilowatt-hour might make the project attractive for Kepco, but still the question remains: where will the capital costs for the three-reactor project ‒ which could amount to US$20 billion or so ‒ come from? One pro-nuclear commentator suggests that the project could be revived with a guaranteed strike price plus UK government-issued bonds covering the capital costs.29 The commentator also recommends following through on BREXIT in order to prevent any challenge under EU legislation to the subsidies required to get the Moorside project off the ground (Austria and others challenged the Hinkley Point subsidies).

NuGen chief executive Tom Samson said in early May that the project faces "significant challenges" and that direct government funding is one option on the table. He said: "We already have tremendous support from the government, we look for all opportunities to secure funding for the Moorside project and the government's involvement is one of those areas we'll continue to explore."27

Plans for AP1000 reactors in India

A. Gopalakrishnan, a former Chair of India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, has written an opinion piece in The Hindu strongly criticizing plans to contract Westinghouse to build six AP1000 reactors in India.30

Gopalakrishnan wrote:30

"India must not enter into a contract involving billions of dollars with an American company that has already declared bankruptcy. ... Westinghouse going into bankruptcy causes much larger problems than just the financial consequences. With the bankruptcy filing, no creditors will come forward to lend the approximately $7 billion needed to bankroll the India project in the first phase. During the time of the Barack Obama administration, India had hoped to get a U.S. Export-Import (Exim) Bank loan for the Kovvada project. But with Donald Trump assuming the U.S. presidency and Westinghouse perilously in the red, there is little chance that the new American administration will favourably consider an Exim Bank loan for an Indian nuclear project to be technologically executed by a bankrupt U.S. company. Even if the Trump administration is willing, the project is definitely not in the interest of the people of India.

"From personal contacts, I understand that senior and mid-level Westinghouse managers and technical staff have already started looking for other jobs. The company will find itself hard-pressed to handle the completion of the eight AP1000 reactors for the U.S. and China that it is committed to, let alone competently take on and complete a new two-reactor project in Kovvada. Besides, six-eight years from the start of construction, which competent Westinghouse engineering team will be around to help India start up these reactors and provide periodic assistance thereafter? ...

"In view of these difficulties, it is best to completely keep away from agreeing to purchase the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. In fact, the current status of world energy technology does not warrant the inclusion and consideration of nuclear power of any kind in the energy basket of our nation."

Dr Vijay Sazawal, a former Westinghouse employee who is now a member of the Civil Nuclear Trade Advisory Committee of the US Department of Commerce, also urged caution.31 He said: "Basically, Westinghouse has backed out of the contracts in place [in the US] and will renegotiate contracts with those utilities which will have to bear previous cost overruns on their projects. So both Westinghouse and a new potential customer like NPCIL in India will have to be very careful in their financial negotiations in order to ensure that Westinghouse does not back out of its legal and financial obligations if it hits a road bump as it has in its four nuclear power plants under construction in the US and China, with all four plants having exceeded their original cost and schedule commitments."


1. 17 April 2017, 'The Westinghouse Bankruptcy: Test for Chinese Investment in US Infrastructure',

2. Tom Hals / Reuters, 3 May 2017, 'Westinghouse, CB&I spar in court over $2 bln merger dispute',

3. Tom Hals and Emily Flitter, 2 May 2017, 'How two cutting edge U.S. nuclear projects bankrupted Westinghouse', and see also

4. World Nuclear News, 24 April 2017, 'Toshiba creates subsidiaries 'to maximise value'',

5. Kana Inagaki, 24 April 2017, 'Toshiba to restructure to protect core businesses',
6. Kana Inagaki, 2 May 2017, 'Brave is the auditor that takes on Toshiba's accounts',
7. Intellasia, 28 April 2017, 'Toshiba plans to replace auditor PwC after earnings impasse',

8. Quentin Webb, 26 April 2017, Unaccountable,

9. BBC, 14 Feb 2017, 'Toshiba chairman quits over nuclear loss',

10. 16 April 2017, 'Toshiba: loses access to unit's cash after hedge fund sues',

11. Leisha Chi / BBC, 16 April 2017, 'Can Toshiba escape the clutches of corporate Japan's zombie hordes?',

12. Takashi Mochizuki, Mayumi Negishi, and Kosaku Narioka, 9 May 2017, 'Toshiba partners brace for possible bankruptcy filing',

13. World Nuclear News, 28 April 2017, 'US industry on tenterhooks over Westinghouse: NEI',

14. Augusta Chronicle, 3 May 2017, 'Too important to fail',

15. Kristi E. Swartz, 20 April 2017, 'Vendors line up to demand returns from Westinghouse',

16. Anya Litvak, 28 April 2017, 'Westinghouse battles trust issues with vendors, customers and employees',

17. Reuters, 28 April 2017, 'Westinghouse says will operate normally in Asia, Europe despite Chapter 11',

18. Power Engineering, 4 May 2017,

19. Kristi E. Swartz, 5 May 2017, 'Tug of war in Ga. over who controls Vogtle's fate',

20. Anne Maxwell, 8 May 2017, 'Georgia Power profits off Plant Vogtle construction despite cost overruns, delays, and contractor bankruptcy',

21. Georgia Watch, 'Protect Georgia Power Customers from Massive Cost Overruns',

22. David Wren, 27 April 2017, 'SCANA exec: Nuclear plant completion could hinge on extension of federal tax credits',

23. World Nuclear News, 8 May 2017, 'Summer plant construction progress continues',

24. Andrew Follett, 5 May 2017, 'Congress Gears Up For Showdown Over Billions In Nuclear Tax Credits',

25. Kristi E. Swartz, 4 May 2017, 'Southern turns to D.C. for help to finish reactors',

26. Ryan Alexander 6 April 2017, 'The High Cost of Ignoring Risk',

27. ITV, 3 May 2017, 'Exclusive: NuGen CEO certain Moorside nuclear development will go ahead',

28. John Collingridge, 30 April 2017, 'Toshiba mothballs Cumbrian nuclear power project',

29. Dan Yurman, 8 April 2017, 'A Modest Proposal to Save NuGen's Moorside Nuclear Project',

30. A. Gopalakrishnan, 31 March 2017, 'Say no to Westinghouse',

31. PTI, 30 March 2017, 'Westinghouse bankruptcy unlikely to impact Indo-US N-deal',

Will AP1000 reactor projects be completed and will more be built?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Eight AP1000 reactors are under construction around the world: four in China and four in the US. All of them, in both China and the US, are about three years behind schedule.

A Chinese nuclear engineer told nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger in 2015: "People felt we paid full price for a half-completed design." The result, Shellenberger writes, was three years of delay, higher costs, and a deteriorating relationship between China and Westinghouse.1 Likewise, the 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report noted that the AP1000 projects in China have suffered construction delays and cost overruns, design changes and equipment failure.2

Nonetheless, the four AP1000 reactors in China will very likely be completed.

Whether the four AP1000 reactors in Georgia and South Carolina will be completed is now subject to a 30-day "assessment period" according to Westinghouse.3 Work is continuing during the assessment period.

Costs to complete the four reactors could amount to approximately US$8.5 billion.4 The combined cost overruns for the four reactors amount to about US$11.2 billion and counting.5

Stephen Byrd from Morgan Stanley anticipates that the total costs of the plants in Georgia and South Carolina, if completed, will be about twice Westinghouse's original estimate.6

An April 2 article from the World Nuclear Industry Status Report website summarizes the situation:7

"The outcome for the U.S. AP1000 projects is more dire, and abandonment is an explicit option. In the case of the Vogtle project in Georgia, Stan Wise, chairman of the state's Public Service Commission, pointed out that it is "possible ... that Plant Vogtle just doesn't get finished at all. It's a real hit and a real blow to something that we felt like was going to be the very best possible energy choice for Georgia maybe even into the next century". But he also went on to talking about the changes in the energy landscape since the Vogtle plan was initially approved, "with natural gas getting very cheap, and technologies like solar power and batteries improving" and declaring: "If I'd known any of this a decade ago we would have gone a different way".

"[South Carolina's] SCANA chief executive Kevin Marsh, on the other hand, was more bullish: "Our commitment is still to try to finish these plants. That would be my preferred option. The least preferred option, I think realistically, is abandonment". But he has also said that SCANA will evaluate various options during the coming 30 days, including:

  • continuing with the construction of both new units;
  • focusing on the construction of one unit, and delaying the construction of the other;
  • continuing with the construction of one and abandoning the other; and
  • abandoning both units.

"Independent analysts have pointed out that not abandoning the project right away could result in "the chaos of bankruptcy and reorganization [leading] to a long period of project restructuring uncertainly and more spiraling costs".

"If either of those projects are abandoned, they would join the ranks of the forty nuclear new-build projects ‒ including 12 Westinghouse reactors ‒ that were abandoned in the United States between 1977 and 1989 at various stages of construction (see Global Nuclear Power Database for details8). At the time, several utilities went bankrupt."

No other reactors are under construction in the US and there is no likelihood of any new reactors in the foreseeable future. The US reactor fleet is one of the oldest in the world ‒ 44 out of 99 reactors have been operating for 40 years or more ‒ so nuclear decline is certain.

Will any other AP1000 reactors be built around the world?

In 2015, then Westinghouse chair Danny Roderick said he was "pretty confident" in achieving Westinghouse's goal of winning orders to construct 64 AP1000 reactors worldwide over the next 15 years.9 As recently as November 2016, Westinghouse said it had plans to build 30 AP1000 reactors around the world, and Roderick said the company was "very much in the running ... to get up near 50 units over the next 15 to 20 years in China."10

Those expectations have gone up in smoke.


An April 2 article from the World Nuclear Industry Status Report website states: "The idea that Westinghouse might get any more contracts to build nuclear reactors in China seems doubtful, to say the least. As Lin Boqiang, director at the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University told Bloomberg News: "The only way Westinghouse can win contracts in China is to demonstrate they can build reactors quicker and cheaper than anyone else in China's market and win hearts with actions, not words. Westinghouse so far hasn't demonstrated such abilities.""11


Toshiba received notice from French company Engie on April 3 that it had exercized its right under a joint agreement to require Toshiba to purchase Engie's 40% stake in the NuGeneration (NuGen) consortium that planned to build three AP1000 reactors at Moorside in the UK.12 NuGen is "facing some significant challenges", Engie said. Engie anticipates payment of approximately ¥15.3 billion (US$137.5 million) from Toshiba for its stake in NuGen.12

Once the transaction is completed, Toshiba will be left with a 100% stake in NuGen. Toshiba noted that Westinghouse's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing met the definition of an 'event of default' under the terms of its agreement with Engie. That gave Engie the option to sell its stake in NuGen to Toshiba, or to acquire Toshiba's stake, and Engie chose the first option.12

Toshiba was hoping to sell its 60% stake in NuGen and is now seeking to sell its 100% stake.

Ironically, just as the Moorside project took a giant leap towards being abandoned, UK regulators announced on March 30 that the AP1000 had successfully completed the Generic Design Assessment process.12

Engie is the seventh international energy utility to give up on UK new nuclear build over the past decade, the others being Toshiba, E-on (Wylfa), RWE Npower (Wylfa), Iberdrola (Moorside), SSE (Moorside), and Centrica (Hinkley Point).13

While South Korea's Kepco has shown no interest in acquiring a stake in Westinghouse, the utility is interested in acquiring a stake in NuGen.14 Whether that interest is affected by Engie's withdrawal remains to be seen. Kepco might seek to deploy its APR1400 reactor technology instead of AP1000 reactors, in which case development would be delayed by a further 4‒5 years while the APR1400 is put through a Generic Design Assessment by UK regulators.

In 2015, Toshiba estimated a total cost of ¥1.5 trillion yen (US$13.6bn) for the NuGen project but analysts now believe the cost could be roughly double that amount due to higher labor costs and revised safety standards.5

Of course, the cost could be brought down by weakening safety standards and one way to do that would be to abandon AP1000 technology in favour of South Korea's APR1400 design. The APR1400 lacks safety features of AP1000 and EPR designs such as aircraft crash protection.15


Danny Roderick from Westinghouse said in November 2016 that the company was on track to build six AP1000 reactors in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh and expected a final engineering, procurement, and construction agreement before the end of 2017.10

But funding had not been secured, India's nuclear liability law remained an obstacle, and the project faced stiff public opposition ... and that was all before the Toshiba / Westinghouse financial crisis began to surface late last year. The project is unlikely to proceed ‒ it is almost impossible according to three industry sources contacted by Reuters in early February.16 Likewise, a separate, less-developed plan for an additional six AP1000 reactors in India has little chance of progressing.

Toshiba said in mid-February that India's liability legislation ‒ which provides some recourse to sue vendors in the event of an accident ‒ would have to be changed to promote reactor projects in India.17

Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd noted in an April 7 article: "India is clearly not set to follow China into a rapid nuclear growth phase. Its targets announced for nuclear generation in the early 2030s look even more unachievable than before, and the Indian industry is becoming inward-looking once again. Its tie-up with Russia on reactors appears sound, but proposed cooperation with Areva, Westinghouse and GE now looks dead in the water after their recent financial disasters."18

A senior Indian government official reportedly said in early April that the "atomic meltdown" of Toshiba and Westinghouse "is a blessing in disguise", and the Economic Times of India reported that "many in the Indian atomic establishment are silently celebrating this premature death of suitors who were wooing to put tens of atomic plants in India".19 The argument is that the 'Indian atomic establishment' can take up the slack with new reactors in India and the atomic meltdown "could also provide an opportunity to the country to become a hub for low cost suppliers of nuclear technology".

But in all likelihood, despite the opportunities afforded by the meltdown of its competitors, the Indian atomic establishment will probably continue doing what it does best: building bombs, taking an axe to the global non-proliferation and safeguards regime, and failing to meet its nuclear power targets by orders of magnitude.


1. Michael Shellenberger, 13 Feb 2017, 'Why its Big Bet on Westinghouse Nuclear is Bankrupting Toshiba',

2. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2016,

3. Westinghouse, 29 March 2017, Westinghouse Announces Strategic Restructuring,

4. Samantha Cheh, 3 April 2017, 'Never-ending misfortunes: Toshiba stuck in the news cycle from hell',

5. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2 Feb 2017, 'Toshiba-Westinghouse: The End of New-build for the Largest Historic Nuclear Builder',

6. 1 April 2017, 'Westinghouse files for bankruptcy',

7. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2 April 2017, 'Westinghouse: Origins and Effects of the Downfall of a Nuclear Giant',


9. Reuters, 5 April 2017, 'Toshiba fired Westinghouse chairman two days before bankruptcy filing',

10. Nikkei Asian Review, 29 Nov 2016, 'Toshiba aims to nail down multiple nuclear orders in China, India',

11. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2 April 2017, 'Westinghouse: Origins and Effects of the Downfall of a Nuclear Giant',

12. World Nuclear News, 5 April 2017, 'Engie gives notice to sell NuGen stake',

13. Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 4 April 2017,

14. Song Jung-a in, 22 March 2017, 'Kepco rules out buying Westinghouse stake',

15. Steve Thomas, July 2014, 'Nuclear technology options for South Africa',

16. Geert De Clercq and Kentaro Hamada, 3 Feb 2017, 'Battered Toshiba seeks exit from UK, India in nuclear retreat: sources',

17. World Nuclear News, 14 Feb 2017, 'NuGen confirms Toshiba commitment to Moorside',

18. Steve Kidd, 7 April 2017, 'The future of the nuclear sector – is innovation the answer?',

19. 9 April 2017, 'Global nuclear giants go bust, should India celebrate?',

Australia's dangerous uranium deal with India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dave Sweeney ‒ nuclear free campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Late on the last night of the last sitting of Federal Parliament for 2017, Australia's two major parties passed a new law that is civil by name, but it is desperately uncivil in nature.

The Indian Civil Nuclear Transfers Act1 exists to provide certainty to Australian uranium producers who want to sell to India. In 2015, a detailed investigation by the Federal Parliament's treaties committee found there were serious and unresolved nuclear safety, security and governance issues with the proposed sales plan.2

The treaties committee also found a high level of legal uncertainty. Australian National University professor of international law, Don Rothwell, said the plan was in conflict with international treaty provisions, most notably the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty.3 Former Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office Director-General, John Carlson, said the plan was in conflict with Australian domestic safeguards legislation requiring the tracking of Australian uranium (and its by-products) overseas.

Given the severity of the inconsistencies and the significance of the issues involved, the government-controlled treaties committee took the unusual step of voting against the clear direction of the prime minister and foreign affairs minister and recommended that the Indian sales deal not be advanced unless several outstanding issues were addressed.5

This decision was welcomed by many. But not by Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop. A terse response to a measured and bipartisan report said the government was "satisfied" that steps had been taken to address each condition, and did not agree that exports to India should be deferred.6

The commercial interests of an underperforming industrial sector were given priority above parliamentary process and evidence-based, prudent public policy. But this favoritism was not enough to paper the deep cracks in this dangerous plan and now the government has rushed through the new laws to close the door on legal challenge and scrutiny.

The new law protects uranium mining companies in Australia from domestic legal action that challenges the consistency of the safeguards applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency in India and Australia's international non-proliferation obligations. It also protects any future bilateral trade in other nuclear-related material or items for civil use.

A recent truncated review of the new law said the bill "provides the certainty required to give effect to the Australia-India Agreement".7 So Australian uranium miners, who supplied the product that directly fuelled Fukushima8, are now legally covered from any challenge over a highly contested plan to sell to India.

This move highlights the extent and the risks of the Australian government's preoccupation with ending civil society access to legal recourse. Further, fast-tracking legal favors to provide certainty to the uranium industry simply highlights how profoundly uncertain this industry is. Following Fukushima, the global uranium market has crashed, as has the value of uranium stocks. Prices, profits and employment numbers have gone south. IBIS World's March 2015 market report said only 987 people are employed in Australia's uranium industry.9 Few jobs and dollars, considerable damage at home and escalating risk abroad.

The fragile economics of the uranium sector make it understandable that the industry is pushing for every potential market but fail to explain why our federal government is so intent on trying to pick winners with a sector that is clearly losing. Sadly, and unreasonably, the India uranium deal has become seen as a litmus test for bilateral relations.

Talk of a massive surge in exports is fanciful, and promoting Australian uranium as the answer to Indian energy poverty is more convenient than credible. Political proponents of the trade are driven less by substance than style ‒ the symbolism of Australia and India on the same page and open for business.

In a telling reference, a recent review of the new law highlighted the importance of the "foreign policy backdrop to Australia's nuclear trade with India".10 Sending political signals through trade is not unusual but to do so by ignoring substantive warning signals is unwise. When those warnings and that trade relate to nuclear materials, it is deeply irresponsible.

Buttressing flawed trade deals with bolt-on legislative exemptions is poor policy and practice and while all trades have trade-offs, this one risks far too much.












In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

African nuclear commission takes shape.
Afcone, a new commission to coordinate and promote the development of nuclear energy in Africa, is set to become fully operational after key founding documents were finalized and adopted. South Africa has agreed to host the commission. The African Union (AU) established the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (Afcone) in November 2010, following the entry into force of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty in July 2009, which required the parties to establish a commission for the purpose of ensuring states' compliance with their treaty obligations and promoting peaceful nuclear cooperation, both regionally and internationally. 
At a meeting in Addis Ababa on 26 July, the elected commissioners adopted the rules of procedure, structure, program of work and budget of Afcone. The commission will focus on the following four areas: monitoring of compliance with non-proliferation obligations; nuclear and radiation safety and security; nuclear sciences and applications; and, partnerships and technical cooperation, including outreach and promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The meeting agreed to a budget of some US$800,000 per year for the period 2012-2014. It also agreed on a scale of assessment for contributions to Afcone's funding. South Africa is currently the only African country to operate nuclear power plants for electricity generation, but several others - including Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria - are considering building such plants. Namibia, Niger and South Africa are major uranium producers, accounting for about 15% of world output in 2011. Other African countries have significant uranium deposits, with some having prospective uranium mines.
World Nuclear News, 13 August 2012

Koodankulam: Clearance for fuel loading.
The People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) condemns the undemocratic and authoritarian decision of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to grant clearance for the 'Initial Fuel Loading' and 'First Approach to Criticality' of Unit-1 of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project. 
Even as the country is awaiting the Madras High Court's judgment on a batch of petitions that have challenged the legality and appropriateness of the Environmental Clearance granted to the Koodankulam project, this decision amounts to contempt of court and outright insult of the rule of law in our country. More interestingly, the AERB has given assurance to the Madras High Court that the post-Fukushima taskforce's recommendations would be fully implemented in all the nuclear installations in India and that no fuel loading decision at the Koodankulam nuclear power project would be taken until then. The current permission to load fuel is a gross violation of that commitment made at the Court and the sentiments of the struggling people.
This attitude and functioning style, however, is very much in congruence with the undemocratic, authoritarian and anti-people nature of the atomic energy department. The political parties and leaders in India, especially in Tamil Nadu, the civil society leaders and the media must take a stand and protect the interests of the 'ordinary citizens' of India and reassert the rule of law in our country. 
The struggling people will do whatever democratically possible to oppose the  authoritarian and illegal decision of the Indian nuclear establishment.
Press release, The Struggle Committee PMANE, 10 August 2012

No permanent resettlement Chernobyl Exclusion zone in next 20 years.
Despite earlier reports, the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant remains unfit for habitation, said Dmytro Bobro, the acting head of the State Agency for the Chernobyl Zone. Short visits to the exclusive zone are not banned, and up to 10,000 visitors arrive there on memorial days, he said at a press conference in Kyiv. Concerning people who returned to the zone of their own accord and live there, relatives are allowed to come and see them for not more than five days, but if a longer term is requested, they are placed under radiological control, he said.
Experts said at a press conference on August 15 that part of the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and Chernobyl itself are already fit for living. Chernobyl could be opened to personnel working under the Shelter project to construct the new confinement shelter. These people work in shifts now. 
But a few days later, Bobro said that some 200 square kilometers in the total area of 2,000 square kilometers are relatively safe. "But again, there is no infrastructure there, and the territory has "contaminated spots" and should not be populated, although it could be sown with crops to be used as biological fuel," he said. Humans could return to this territory in about 30 years. But if rehabilitation measures are taken, people would be able to come back even earlier to an area of 200 or even 500 square kilometers, he said. "Half of the exclusion zone will remain unfit for habitation forever as it is contaminated with plutonium isotopes," Bobro said.
Interfax, 17 August 2012 / ForUm, 17 August 2012

South Africa: develop 'Plan B'.
South Africa should work on a ‘Plan B’ if nuclear build proves too costly, the newly released National Development Plan 2030 asserts. The plan, which was handed to President Jacob Zuma on August 15, acknowledged that the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity proposed that new nuclear energy plants be commissioned from 2023/24. But it also argued that South Africa needed a “thorough investigation” of the implications of nuclear energy, including its costs, financing options, institutional arrangements, safety, environmental costs and benefits, localisation and employment opportunities, and uranium-enrichment and fuel fabrication possibilities.
The National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordinating Committee (NNEECCa), which was set up late last year, had its inaugural meeting in early August, when it began deliberation on the findings of a so-called ‘integrated nuclear infrastructure review’. The review is a self-assessment of the country’s readiness to proceed with a new nuclear build and reportedly covers 19 areas. But the 26-member National Planning Commission (NPC) argued that an alternative plan be developed in the event that sufficient financing was unavailable, or timelines became too tight. The NPC did not say which entity or organ should conduct the cost/benefit analysis, only that one should be completed ahead of any decision to proceed to a procurement phase. The analysis should also not be confined to the economics of the project and should include social and environmental aspects.
Engineering News (South Africa), 15 August 2012

Sellafield: record number of hotspots found on beaches.
A record number of radioactive hotspots have been found contaminating public beaches near the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria, according to a report by the site's operator. As many as 383 radioactive particles and stones were detected and removed from seven beaches in 2010-11, bringing the total retrieved since 2006 to 1,233. Although Sellafield insists that the health risks for beach users are "very low", there are concerns that some potentially dangerous particles may remain undetected and that contamination keeps being found. Anti-nuclear campaigners have called for beaches to be closed, or for signs to be  erected warning the public of the pollution. But the government's Health Protection Agency (HPA) has said "no special precautionary actions are required at this time to limit access to, or use of, beaches". But it also pointed to a series of "uncertainties" in the beach monitoring that could lead to its risk assessment being reviewed. The latest equipment might miss tiny specks that could be inhaled, it said, as well as buried alpha radioactivity that "could give rise to a significant risk to health if ingested".
Adding to the attempts to down play the radioactive state of the beaches, the official monitoring of the coast has been deliberately abandoned - at the specific request of some local authorities - during the peak periods of school and public Bank Holidays for fear of alarming the tourists.
The Guardian, 4 July 2012 / CORE press release, 4 July 2012

Defer Koodankulam commissioning

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
People's Movement Against Nuclear Power

Much has been written about the protests and the repression by the state of India against the people near Koodankulam. Although many times delayed, current plans are to commission the first two reactors in the coming months. Disconcertingly, India's new coastal reactors are situated in an environment similar to that of Fukushima -a tsunami and earthquake zone, with the addition of karst formations, geothermal irregularities, and a lack of emergency water supplies. But there is more.

It is famously said: "In public domain, truth is not the truth, perception is the truth". This adage could be related to the discourse on the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant. While the arguments in favour of the plant is that it will generate electric power essential for 'development', People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) say that the plant will be 'destructive' to the life and livelihood of the Project Affected People (PAP).

While the touted 'truth' -that the plant is the safest in the world- is couched in utmost secrecy, public 'perception' - serious misgivings on the safety of the Plant is out in the open. As the nuclear establishment is racing towards the commissioning of the plant this percep-tion among the PAP is increasing and not diminishing. And there are several reasons for this.

First and foremost, the project is being commissioned without any legal Envi-ronmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a fact admitted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests in a sworn affidavit filed in the Madras High Court. According to this affidavit, environmental clearance for Units 1 and 2 was given 'as early as 9th May 1989' and renewed on 6th September 2001. Since EIA Notification under Environmental Protection Act came into existence only on 27th January, 1994 and provision for public hea-ring was introduced only on 10th April, 1997 there was no need for KKNPP to go through these critical processes.

Nuclear establishment has taken shelter behind this fig-leaf to ram a 2000 MW nuclear power plant down the throat of over 1.5 million PAP without even going through the most basic process of EIA and public hearing. What is more, Nuclear Power Corporation Limited (NPCL) has been consistently refusing to share the Site Evaluation (SE) and Safety Analysis Report (SAR) with the PAP.

This forced PMANE to appeal to the Central Information Commission who in turn ordered NPCL "to provide an attested photocopy of the SAR and SE Report after severing any proprietary details of designs provided by the suppliers to the appellant before 25 May, 2012." But the NPCIL has refused arguing that SAR 'is a third party docu-ment belonging to a Russian company' and therefore 'cannot be shared with anyone'. NPCIL even threatened to take CIC to court. Obviously NPCL is more interested in protecting a Russian company (third party) than safeguarding the PAP (first party)!

In the face of such persistent stonewalling, the humble PMANE scientists dug deep and did some quality research. Result is the startling revelation that there has been a serious breach of contract and perhaps deceit in that the VVER reactor under commissioning at Koodankulam differs from the one featured in the intergovernmental agreement between Russia and India. 

According to documents published in 2006, there was no weld on the beltline (middle portion) of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV). Now AERB says that there are two welds on the beltline of the RPV installed at Koodankulam exposing it to high failure risk that could lead to offsite radiological contamination. If the reactor is hot commissioned, it will be virtually impossible to subject the vessel to a detailed inspection and remediation. From a safety perspective, the IAEA-mandated study of pressurized thermal shock has to be done before commissioning the reactors at Koodankulam.

Pure fresh water is a critical input for Koodankulam during operation as well as safety of the spent fuel. While approval for the plant was given in 1989, AERB mandated accessing of fresh water -from two reservoirs through pipelines with an on campus reserve of 60,000 cubic meters, sufficient to maintain the spent fuel pool and the reactor cores (under shutdown mode) for 30 days. These sources are not available and have been replaced by four imported seawater desalination plants with a reserve of 12,000 cubic meters of water i.e. just 20% of what was stipula-ted by AERB and that too from artificial source. This is serious breach of safety, because fresh water is the only remedy in the event of a nuclear emergency. 

All these takes us to an essential prerequisite before the plant is commissioned -mock evacuation drills in the 30 km or at least the 16 km radius of the project. This has not been done. On June 9, 2012, the Tirunelveli district administration and the NPCL officials went through some motions in the remote hamlet of Nakkaneri of hardly 300 people and claimed that the 'mock drill' was a great suc-cess. According to a fact-finding team that went to the village subsequently, on that day revenue officials accompanied by a large posse of policemen came to the village, got some papers signed and announced it as 'mock-evacuation drill'. The district administration as well as NPCL has been extremely secretive in the matter!

No EIA, no public hearing, no sharing of Site Evaluation and Safety Analysis, no natural fresh-water, no evacuation drill and to cap it all breach of contract and installation of low quality Pressure Vessel. By all accounts it is 'no-go' for the project. The least the nuclear establishment should do is to defer the commissioning process and undertake a com-prehensive review and analysis of all the fears expressed. While doing so the two cataclysmic events -2004 Tsunami and 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster- that rocked this part of the world since the Koodankulam nuclear power plant was given 'environmental clearance' should be factored in.

Heavens are not going to fall if a few hundred megawatts of nuclear power are not added to the grid in a mad hurry. Much more important is the safety of the plant in the perception of the people affected. 

Source: M.G.Devasahayam, Convener of PMANE Expert Team, 20 June 2012
Contact: Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), Idinthakarai & P. O. 627 104, Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu, India

Accident kills three workers in uranium mine: India's nuclear dream, adivasis' nightmare

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Prerna Gupta and Kumar Sundaram

On May 28, Sonaram Kisku, a young Adivasi worker aged 24 died unceremoniously in Turamdih Uranium Mine, 6 kms from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. Sonaram, following his daily schedule entered the deepest level of the 260 meters deep mine at 7 am in the morning. At 11am he got buried with 10 other co-workers under the wet radioactive slurry that they were clearing manually. He died with two other mine workers, S K Singh and Milan Karmakar.

But Sonaram was not supposed to be there. Firstly, because the slurry that he was removing with his co-workers is not supposed to be removed manually. The slurry inside the mine – the stones and waste left after the uranium ore is extracted– still contains radioactive material and is supposed to be removed by automated machines and flushed to the tailing dam outside the mines through huge pipes with the water flowing at high speed. Dr. Surendra Gadekar, a renowned nuclear physicist, explained the process while adding that the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) might have resorted to manual clearing of slurry due to shortage of water.

Secondly, because he was a contractual worker and not a permanent employee of the UCIL. Contractual and unskilled labour is generally kept away from the high sensitive zones of the inherently dangerous uranium mining. But UCIL has resorted to the practice of employing contractors which further have subcontractors to get cheap labour on temporary basis.

Xavier Dias, a veteran activist working on adivasi rights in Jharkhand for more than two decades, finds it particularly noteworthy that "one of the employees was the 'Safety Inspector' and the other was a foreman which means that there was some kind of crisis management going on before the accident took place."

Employing contractual workers also helps the UCIL in shifting the responsibility to the contractor. Let alone the wages, even the protective uniform given to the contractual workers by the contractors is qualitatively worse than the one given to the UCIL employees. What is even more shocking are the findings of an RTI report which shows that these contractors do not even have a license.

When asked about employing daily wage workers, Mr. C.S. Sharma, the HR head of the UCIL, said they are employed by a contractor, Mr. Triveni Singh, and not by the UCIL. When asked if it is normal for the UCIL to send contractual workers inside the mine, Mr. Singh retorted – "which goverment department doesn't employ contract workers these days."

After the accident, Jamshedpur-based Occupational Safety and Health Association of Jharkhand (OSHAJ) has demanded a thorough probe, questioning the malpractices by labour contractors and the UCIL management. Mr. Samit Kar of OSHAJ said the UCIL's obsessive focus on cost-cutting has led to a criminal neglect of basic safety practices.

However, the adivasis of Jadugoda have no resort but to work in these dangerous mines. Sonaram belonged to the second generation of Turamdih adivasi community who were promised permanent jobs in UCIL on displacement. However, like Sonaram, many remain in temporary jobs or have no job at all.

The Turamdih mine has witnessed a series of workers' disputes since it came into operation. As recently as 2013, there was a police crackdown on adivasis working inside the mine when they demanded permanent jobs, access to health facilities and other amenities like school for their children.

Perpetual job insecurity and poverty after losing their land and livelihood are, however, not the only threat to the local community here. The link between radiation exposure and cancer has been established indisputably by the vast experiences from Hiroshima to Chernobyl and uranium mining sites across the world.1 A health survey conducted by Dr. Surendra Gadekar's team around the area of Jadugoda mines shows the harmful consequences of radiation ranging from skin diseases to infertility and cancer. There have been a number of studies establishing the radiation impact of uranium mines Jadugoda on the surrounding population and the environment, including one by the Indian Doctors for Peace and Democracy (IDPD).2

A recent study by Adriane Levy of US-based Centre for Public Integrity revealed that dangerous levels of radiation were found in West Bengal, 245 miles downstream of the Subarnarekha river in which the UCIL routinely dumps its waste.3 But the nuclear establishment remains in denial, terming it a work of foreign hands. However, as recently as last week, the Ministry of Environment & Forests instructed the UCIL to look into the violations of the Forest Conservation Act and the Mining Lease in the uranium extraction in Jharkhand. In 2014, the Ranchi High Court responded to media reports about deformities around Jadugoda by instructing the UCIL to initiate an enquiry.

Ghanshyam Biruli, local activist and founder of Jharkhandi Organisation Against Radiation (JOAR), believes that the newly opened mines of Turamdih, Bandhohurang and Mohuldih are even more dangerous than Jadugoda. Ghanshyam, a native of Jadugoda, has been raising the issue of radiation for more than a decade. He told us "the company employs all methods to keep us away from any public hearing". When in January his son Ashish Biruli tried entering a public hearing, the local UCIL employees deployed at the gate begged him to return for the sake of their jobs.

Sagar Besra confirms the firing of employees from jobs is not an empty threat. He himself was fired from Turamdih mines for raising concerns over negligence of safety norms. He is still fighting in the High Court what he claims to be a fabricated case put against him by the company. Besra is not alone, there are many permanent and temporary workers dismissed by the company using various pretexts and fictitious police charges often leveled by using other hapless adivasis.

Arjun Samad, a fiery young activist respected by the whole community, has been fighting an unequal battle against the company since he was 14 and put in jail on the charge of murder in 2005. Arjun has only recently been acquitted and told us that he has also been offered a bribe and a job to stop voicing his opinion, and called anti-national and even threatened. Dumka Murmu of JOAR says that they are often called traitors, anti-nationals and even Pakistani agents for opposing uranium mining.

In its desperation to obtain uranium for weapons, the government actually reopened the mines in Turamdih, Badhuhurang and Mohuldih, which were dismissed initially for having low-quality ore in early 1980s. The ruling BJP seeks to expand India's nuclear arsenal which would only mean more death and destruction in Jadugoda. Caught in a meaningless choice of joblessness and working in hazardous uranium mines, the adivasis of Jadugoda have to bear the burden of martyrdom in a nation which has consistently undermined their voices. The accident that we saw in Jadugoda was not an aberration. Soon after we came back to Delhi, while PM Narendra Modi was in the U.S. signing the nuclear deal, there was another accident.4 The four pipes carrying radioactive waste from the Jadugoda mill to the tailing pond leaked and reached a nearby pond where two kids were bathing.