Pachauri challenged over India-US nuclear deal

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS

London : A leading environmental group Sunday challenged Indian climate change scientist R.K. Pachauri’s assertion that the India-US nuclear deal would widen India’s fuel choice, saying the risks associated with going nuclear should be considered by policymakers.

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Pachauri, who heads the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize Oct 12, said this week that “India has to expand its fuel choices”, adding: “I would like to see the (Indian) government not buckle under pressure of some of its supporters, like the Leftists.”

Claiming “India will face a severe fuel crunch”, Pachauri told the Financial Times newspaper Friday that blocking the agreement “certainly does limit India’s progress in the energy field” and that “if people don’t see the benefit of this opportunity… I would say they are halting the country’s progress.”

But Roger Higman, a climate change expert at Friends of the Earth, told IANS that although India’s energy and development strategy is entirely up to India, “nuclear power is not the ideal option” – it was unsafe for the environment and health, could lead to weapons proliferation, and, most importantly, was not the only option in tackling climate change.

“Each country has to have its own strategy but there are many other options, including wind, solar and hydel power, which is particularly important in the Indian context” because of the country’s abundant Himalayan water sources.

“Nuclear power is intimately associated with nuclear weapons, and if India, the US and UK all opt for nuclear power, it will be very difficult to persuade countries like Iran not to do the same.”

“Our preference is renewable sources of energy,” said Higman, who is campaigner coordinator at Friends of the Earth.

His comments come as Britain itself is in the throes of a heated debate on its nuclear future.

Britain relies on nuclear power for 20 percent of its energy requirements but no new reactor has been commissioned since 1980 – it is unpopular among the public, who are concerned over accidents, spiralling decommissioning costs and the problem of nuclear waste.

Radioactive waste produced by nuclear reactors can last up to tens of thousands of years, and environmental campaigners are worried for future generations.

Waste produced in Britain is currently stored in specially designed underwater containers at Sellafield, along the coast of the Irish Sea. But the government is considering designing a facility deep underground to bury the waste in it.

The move has been challenged by environmentalists as “immoral” as they are of the view that these containers will only keep waste for 500 years.

“The government is relying on rocks above the repository to prevent the waste from surfacing. We doubt it. And the risk falls on future generations,” Higman said.

Former prime minister Tony Blair said in May that nuclear power was important for Britain’s future energy needs and to meet international climate change obligations. He also called for an “open-minded debate”, feeding speculation that new nuclear plants could be built for the first time since 1980.

Britain has 16 reactors, but the Nuclear Industry Association said Tuesday that seven of them are shut down for repairs or maintenance, prompting former environment minister Michael Meacher – a long-time opponent of nuclear power – to say: “One needs certainty and the nuclear industry doesn’t provide it.”