A few days after President Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the Paris agreement on climate change, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a state visit to France where he emphasized India’s continued commitment to the 2015 accord by saying “we will work and walk together with others to leave a gift for future generations.”1
The article continues to describe India’s desire to make its “Made in India” campaign realized partially through its development of nuclear power. The nation is behind in its ability to produce nuclear power as it is still recovering from the 32-year ban the world placed on India prohibiting it from buying nuclear fuel and technology for civilian purposes. The ban was initiated as a result of its testing a nuclear weapon in 1974.
Putting all of the political reasons and climate change theories aside, there should be one monumental question overriding everything in this issue: Why is a densely populated country like India willing to gamble with a potentially cataclysmic accident? Or has the world forgotten Chernobyl?
The Distressing Data from Chernobyl
April 26, 1986 Chernobyl: The nuclear power disaster killed 30 workers at the time of the explosion or those who died within months due to radiation exposure. The World Health Organization projects 9,000 total deaths as a result of this calamity if it parallels the results of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945. Greenpeace suggests it could go as high as 90,000. Three hundred fifty thousand people were impacted by the initial evacuation and resettlement.2 About 1,000 square miles continue to be restricted areas.3 High levels of radiation are expected to make the area uninhabitable anywhere from 180 to 320 years. Birth defects in Belarus and Ukraine near Chernobyl have been significantly higher.4 Cleanup of the site is scheduled for 2065.5
If This Happened in India
The nuclear power plant in Hazira is running at about 20% capacity.1 It is not India’s biggest plant, but let’s supposed a ramped up Hazira has a Chernobyl misfortune.
The city of Hazira is only 65 square miles, so we need to look at its Surat district within the state of Gujarat to compare for population density. This district is 4,418 square kilometers in size or roughly 1,700 square miles (or close enough to use for similarity). Its population density is 1,376 per square kilometer6 or about 3,564 people per square mile.
If this plant were to contaminate a Chernobyl-sized area of 1,000 square miles, at least 3-1/2 million people (approx. the combined populations of Chicago and San Francisco)7 would be displaced in addition to the thousands of deaths and life-changing impacts on many more in surrounding areas. Is nuclear power really the best option for India’s in its attempt to show its resolve in addressing climate change?
1 – “India’s Nuclear Industry Needs a Jolt,” edited by Cristina Lindblad, Bloomberg Businessweek, 6/12-18/2017.
2 – “Chernobyl: 30 Years Later, By The Numbers,” by the Associated Press, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2016-04-25/a-look-at-the-1986-chernobyl-nuclear-disaster-in-numbers, 4/25/2016.
4 – “Area around Chernobyl remains uninhabitable 25 years later,” by Doug Saunders, The Globe and Mail,” https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/area-around-chernobyl-remains-uninhabitable-25-years-later/article4266317/, published 3/15/2011, last updated 8/23/2012.
7 – July 1, 2014 estimated populations. https://www.infoplease.com/us/us-cities/top-50-cities-us-population-and-rank