Home I Index

PUCL Bulletin, April 2006

The search for eco-friendly sources of energy


-- By M A Rane

With the international price of crude oil and consequently of gasoline like petrol and diesel sky-rocketing , there is a search by humanity for alternative sources of clean, safe eco-friendly and cost- effective sources of energy. On the one hand the demand for fossil fuel is enormously increasing in the developed countries like America, Europe, Japan, and developing countries like China, India, and Brazil ( America is one of the gasoline guzzling countries).The supply position of crude oil is the monopoly of the OPEC countries and the sources thereof are not inexhaustible. The demand for crude oil is rising. In India 70% of our imports consist of crude oil. We are also required to import coal as the quality of our coal is not good, India is therefore required to spend enormous, amounts for such imports at the cost of development of the large masses of our poor people.

Fossil-fuels threaten the environment
Besides the use of fossil- fuel like crude and coal are a grave danger to ecology and environment. Their burning whether in industries or in increasing number of automobiles pollutes the atmosphere by generating hydro-carbons on a large scale. With the depletion of green forests due to cutting of trees for comforts and luxurious life, the burning of hydro-carbons leads to global warming and green house effect. According to knowledgeable Scientists they are the causes of drastic changes in climate, such as heavy rains, hurricanes and melting of the ice in the North and South poles as well as the snows of mountains like the Himalayas, the Alps and even the sole snow capped African mountain of Kilimanjaro made famous by Papa Earnest Hemingway. That will cause floods and rise in water levels of seas and oceans that would submerge the continents or their coasts.
Increase of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere gives rise to various diseases such as influenza and asthma affecting breathing. It also leads to enlarging the hole in the ozone layer, thus endangering human life and nature. Thus the humanity, the Vasundhara or Mother Earth are heading towards annihilation. It is for preventing such a catastrophe; the international community put forward the Kyoto Protocol. But the powerful countries like America and Europe are refusing to sign the protocol.
Alternative of Nuclear Energy: One alternative put forward particularly by developing countries like India is the installation of more Atomic Power Projects (APPs). But the privileged club of nuclear Scientists and their political supporters do not point out the grave inherent dangers to humanity from APPs. It has been found by Scientists and NGOs that the people residing in the immediate neighborhood of operating APPs receive regular doses of nuclear radiation causing diseases like cancer and deformities in birth. There is also a grave danger of accidents in the APPs like the Three Miles Island of USA or Chernobyl in the erstwhile Soviet Russia. Our APPs in India are involved in several minor accidents which are suppressed. The protective dome of the Kaiga Atomic Power Plant in the Karwar District at the foot of Sahyadri Ranges collapsed after it was completed. What a tragedy it would have been, if the Kaiga Power Plants had gone critical.
Lack of transparency and accountability
Still the provision of The Atomic Energy Act 1962 confers powers of official secrecy in the working of APPs whether civil or those run for defense purpose. There is absolutely no transparency or accountability on the part of those running the plants or the Government, though the defects in the plants can cause grave danger to the public. The Peoples Union for Civil Liberties and the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal had challenged the provisions of secrecy on the ground they are violative of the Right to Information of the people recognized by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right emanating from Art l9(l) as well as Art 2l, equating the same to right to life. The then Chairman of the watch dog body over APPs Dr Gopalkrishnan pointed out a number of defects not attended to by the APPs thus endangering the life of the people. Unfortunately the PILs were dismissed by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the same on merits. Now that the Right to Information has been recognized by the Parliament by passing a statute, I hope the Supreme Court will be pleased to reconsider the decision.
New Agreement between USA and India It is surprising that in spite of the grave dangers from APPs our Prime Minister entered into an agreement with President Bush that the ban on supply of nuclear reactors and other technical know- how in that respect imposed on India due to secret explosions of nuclear devices by India in l974 and l994, will be lifted and supply of such reactors and technical know how will be supplied to India, as the US President was satisfied that India is a responsible nuclear power and will not proliferate the same, provided India separates the APPs for civil purposes from the APPs for defense purposes and submit the civil plants to periodical inspection by the UN Atomic Energy Regulatory Agency (AERA) though India is not a signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).This agreement is to the benefit of USA ,because APPs in US are owned and managed by its private sector, who get a ready market in India for selling their nuclear reactors and allied technology. In fact since l978 not a single new APP has been founded in USA, because they are not profitable or economically viable and there is no state where the nuclear waste could be buried .When an attempt was made to install a huge APP in Long Island, the citizens of Long island and the whole of New York City put up strong protests against it. Therefore the partly constructed APP was required to be demolished.
The real danger from the APPs is that they generate while operating, radioactive nuclear waste, which is stored in closed tanks. The normal life of an APP is 30 years. Still our Nuclear Scientists take the risk of running the APPs beyond 30 years. When such plant is dismantled, it gives rise to huge nuclear waste that remains radioactive for over l0000 years. The nuclear waste is required to be stored in huge stainless steel canisters and buried deep into the earth irrespective of the possibility of future generation suffering from the radioactive waste. The only countries that depend upon Nuclear Power are France and Japan. France used to dispose of the nuclear waste in the Atlantic islands under their control as an imperialist power. Japan, which was the first sufferer from explosion of nuclear bombs, may be disposing of the waste in some un-habitated islands in the Pacific.
High cost of nuclear power
We have been spending heavily for installing APPs for the last over 50 years since the days of our first PM Jawaharlal Nehru and the nuclear Scientists Homi Bhaba and his successors like Vikram Sarabhai and several others. In a well written edit page article in The Economic Times of November 8, 2005 Brahma Chellany points out "the price controversy plagued LNG fueled Dabhol Plant at l0% less than the average price of power from indigenous reactors. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd, is unable to supply power at the same rates as the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). The price differential will become appreciably higher when electricity is produced from imported reactors" as per the Manmohan Singh Bush agreement. For all these 50 years the nuclear plants share to the total electricity stands at just 2.9% only. For whose benefit the white elephant is being maintained at heavy cost except for the benefit of the Free Mason club of nuclear Scientists and their political supporters?
Coal Gas and LNG Use of Coal Gas and LNG may not be much pollutive but plants for converting gas from coal are much pollutive. Both Coal and LNG are not inexhaustible and LNG is required to be imported.
Hydel Power as an alternative
Hydel power obtained from huge dams built across the rivers to collect water in large reservoirs and letting the water into tunnels to turn turbines that produce electricity. They may not pollute the air. But they cause large scale damage to environment by destruction of forests and cause great hardship to the people mostly the poor and the tribal people, residing by the side of the banks of the rivers, without; adequate alternate residence and land to them. That is the reason for the affected people and NGO taking up their cause raising agitations on a large scale. The recent illustration of such damage is the Sardar Sarovar Dam at the mouth of the river Narmada and at Tehri across the Bhagirathi, a tributary of the Ganga in the Himalaya. Water is being accumulated in the Tehri reservoir a large artificial lake without rehabilitating the affected people and without adequate notice to them. There is also accumulation of silt in the reservoirs which is required to be removed at a cost.

There are grave dangers from huge dams, which may inundate the lower areas, if there are heavy rains and water is let out to protect the dam or if there is a breach in the dam. The Himalayas are situate in seismic area with the possibility of earthquakes at any part of the Himalayas ,just as recently it occurred in the Indo Pak area with Muzaffarabad in PoK as its epicentre. A Plea for eco-friendly and cost-effective sources of Energy

At the commencement of this essay I have clearly pointed out the large scale pollution of air resulting in global warming due to use of coal and fossil fuels in industries and automobiles. To avoid such a catastrophe the humanity should go back to nature's bounty as a source for generating power. It is open to harness solar power for generating electricity. It is inexhaustible as long as the sun continues to burn for billions of years. Such schemes are already in use. Solar power plants can generate electricity for heating water and lighting homes and streets. The initial capital costs for installing such solar plants may be a little heavy, but the operating costs are negligible. Electricity needed by each village can be adequately provided by solar power plants.

Next the wind power by installing wind mills can generate electricity. For years Netherlands had been depending upon wind mills for power. In India also, along with solar power plants, wind mills are also put up by way of experiment, particularly on our vast coast line and hills and mountains. Tidal waves can also be harnessed for turning and rotating turbines and generating electricity. The above plants can be supplemented by a network of gobar gas plants worked on cow dung leaves from trees and other agricultural wastes. The Union Government has an independent Department for Unconventional Sources for producing electricity, headed by a full fledged Minister .We come to know about such a department from paid advertisements in news papers along with the photographs of the Minister in charge of the department. Power can also be generated by utilizing urban sewage water and human and cattle excreta. Experiments in solar plants, windmills and gobar gas plants are being carried out by the Union Governments Department of Unconventional Sources of Energy. They can be established and worked by Village Panchaayats in a decentralized manner. Every new and old buildings in urban areas can be compelled to put up solar plants on the terraces, so that adequate electricity required by its residents can be generated from such solar plants for heating water, lighting and other domestic purposes. Fuel for Running Automobiles A time has come for substituting alternate eco-friendly and cost effective fuel for running automobiles, in the place of fossil- fuels like petrol and diesel that produce harmful gasses like carbon dioxide, methane’s chloro-floro carbon (harmful to the ozone layer) and nitrous oxide by carrying out minimal alterations in the internal combustible engines of automobiles. Such an experiment is being tried in Brazil on a large scale by working flex -fuel cars by using ethanol instead of petrol or diesel.

Ethanol which is a bio diesel can be produced on a large scale from sugar cane or its bagasee, rich husk that is discarded and other agricultural waste. Even today in India 5 percent ethanol is mixed in petrol or diesel for running cars. This course will reduce pollution. It is said that sugar cane is plenty in Brazil, whereas in India we cannot afford to divert from producing sugar. But ethanol can be produced from sugar cane bagasee molasses and other agricultural wastes. In an editorial by a guest editor in The Economic Times, the guest editor discusses all the sources of generating ethanol. It is mentioned that ethanol can be produced from the oil of seeds of a plant known as Jatropha that can be grown on large scale wastelands existing in our country. The TERI has certified that Jatropha plants can be grown even in arid Rajasthan soils. Such planting can generate employment for the army of unemployed in rural areas. The Government of Chhattisgarh has announced that the State has vast wastelands that can be distributed among jobless persons.

It is contended that all the electricity produced from the alternate sources would not be sufficient to satisfy the needs of over growing industries, or running automobiles. That may be true. Still it will reduce our dependence on heavy imports of crude and coal and save foreign exchange. Preservation of Loss, thefts and waste of Electricity

The other mode advocated is to prevent loss of electricity in transmission and large scale theft of electricity not merely by farmers but also by industries and the populist measures of providing free electricity to farmers and slum dwellers. There is no such thing as a free lunches. For carrying out such measures we need brave politicians and incorruptible staff in the various fields of distribution, detection of theft and the like .Is it asking for too much from the administration?

We Indians also do not posses the requisite civic sense of not wasting electricity. We do not put off air conditioners, fans or electric lights when it is not necessary.

Should our rural folk and those in towns (except the city of Mumbai) forever be doomed to live in darkness and suffer from frequent load sheddings?


People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014