'India ignores nuclear safety'

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The Independent Online
THE nuclear industry in India, one of the largest in the developing world, is shrouded in such secrecy that glaring inefficiency and safety lapses are unchecked, according to a documentary to be shown on British television tonight.

The lack of public information or safety precautions has led to high levels of birth defects and radiation-related ailments among people working in and living near the country's nuclear plants, the programme says.

At a mine and processing complex in Bihar state, workers sit on raw uranium and radioactive dust blows about from a dried-up waste pond. In Kerala state, thorium is mined from the beaches for nuclear fuel, but local people are unaware of the dangers of radiation. Despite the prevalence of congenital deformities among children, a local health worker says that the government 'does not even recognise the existence of abnormalities'.

Contamination around the plant, which produces fuel rods for India's eight commercial reactors, has rendered all the wells unusable and water has to be piped in. An Indian journalist who visited Tarapur, the country's oldest nuclear power plant, said he had seen workers 'running in and running out' of contaminated rooms to do maintenance work - radiation levels were so high that they could not stay longer than 30 seconds. Similar problems were reported at reactors in Rajasthan state and at Kalpakkam, near Madras.

Despite huge investment in nuclear energy over 40 years, the documentary says it provides only 2 per cent of electricity used in India. Professor Dhirendra Sharma, a nuclear expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, believes the main purpose of the programme is to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

The West assisted in the birth of India's nuclear programme in the 1950s, but withdrew after the country exploded a nuclear device in 1974. India has not signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and does not allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even possession of a geiger counter is illegal.

Nuclear India: A dream gone sour, ITV 10.40pm.