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Climate change & energy crisis: Is it time to reconsider nuclear energy?

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nuclear energy

nuclear energy

In the 21st century, human kind is struggling to escape a self-created double edged blade, which is getting sharper with each day. It’s the blade of catastrophe, the duo of energy crisis and climate change. The world needs energy and it’s getting it but at a great cost. Burning fossil fuels supplied the major part. While the present emission levels strictly prohibit anymore burning to avoid irreversible damages of ‘climate change’, the energy requirement of the world is rising simultaneously, asking to burn every bit of it or anything that could produce energy. Because, now the world can’t do without it.

Renewable energy resources look the greenest option, but presently, available technologies can’t make best of it to supply energy good enough to replace fossil fuels. The present technologies used in the development of photovoltaic, wind turbines, hydro-turbines, bio-fuels, fuel cell etc. are still developing and aren’t efficient enough to fill the gap. On the other hand, the battery technologies are struggling for larger storage capacities. In a way, both the production and storage of the energy produced through renewable sources of energy aren’t in position to put the world completely off the traditional grid. It’ll take years, but it might be too late at that point of time. What we need is an immediate replacement with zero-emission. Presently, there is only one solution, which is most promising, but comes with great hazards and criticism. It’s the irony of present civilization that nuclear power is the best option, but isn’t completely safe. Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters have already demonstrated the horrors of nuclear radiations.

But, as a matter of fact, nuclear power is the world’s largest source of emission-free energy. Nuclear power plants produce no air pollutants, such as sulfur and particulates, or greenhouse gases. The use of nuclear power in place of other energy sources helps to keep the air clean, preserve the Earth’s climate, avoid ground-level ozone formation and prevent acid rain. Nuclear power has important implications for our national security. Inexpensive nuclear power, in combination with fuel cell technology, could significantly reduce our dependency on foreign oil.

Recently, in November 2013, an open letter from renowned climate and energy scientists again flared the debate on the use of nuclear power to tackle both energy crisis and climate change. These four climate experts included James Hansen, former NASA scientist-turned-activist, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, climatologist Tom Wigley, and Kerry Emanuel of MIT. The letter proposed development and deployment of “safer nuclear energy systems.” They laid emphasis on reconsidering the use of nuclear power in light of the newer, safer technologies like ‘Fast Reactor’. The four of the best experts admit that presently it’s not possible to save the world through any single source. The world need a mix of energy and nuclear power is the best candidate in their view. So, now, it’s time to ask the same old question about testing of nuclear power. Is right or wrong to start testing nuclear energy with newer technologies or not? Should governments refrain from using nuclear energy in a time when countries like France, China, an Korea have managed to squeeze the same source efficiently along with reducing a great lot of emissions?

Much controversy has already emanated regarding the issue of nuclear power. As time draws on, many people are concerned that at some point the world oil supply will vanish and we will have to compensate for its loss by using an alternative power source. Some people predict that this event will occur early in the twenty first century and for this reason, the question has been raised about what alternative power source we will use. Nuclear power seems to be a popular choice with many people, and many people believe that nuclear power is inexpensive and creates no air pollution.

However, while this may be true, it is also evident that the radioactivity released during accidents at nuclear power plants has caused many deaths and environmental damage. Thus, a number of people are opposed to nuclear power; execrate the use of nuclear power, its use in our society and at the Western Nuclear Power Industry in particular. In my opinion, nuclear power should be banned and there are many risks taken when nuclear power is used. For one thing, there is always the risk that a meltdown or reactor leakage could occur.

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Furthermore, there are also problems in storing waste from nuclear reactors, the issue of thermal pollution and concerns about worker safety and security. There is the possibility that nuclear reactors will experience a ‘melt down’ where the cooling systems fail and nuclear fuel reaches such a temperature, that it melts away through the reactor or causes damage to reactor walls. This allows the spread of radioactivity, a lethal thing, which can not only pollute the environment but cause cancers and sickness to occur within humans.

Besides from a ‘melt down’ causing the spread of radioactivity, there is also the fear that radioactive wastes from reactors will escape into the environment and contaminate it with radioactivity. Radioactivity is definitely not an issue to be taken lightly. Radiation also had a disastrous effect on many children, with deformations such as “club feet”, “hair lips”, oversized skulls and missing body parts occurring, and there are such cases in India near the nuclear power stations.

deformation due to radiation]
Apart from the serious health problems, the environment also suffered with fish being poisoned and other animals dying. Perhaps the worst thing about radiation is that it doesn’t disappear within a short time. In fact, it is known that radiation can remain within the soil for up to a million years, and still have an effect upon animals and humans.

New Zealand Leggy Lamb

Imagine the risks radiation could pose if it happened to leak out and spread over our community. It would be such a disaster; simply unimaginable to some people. We can’t put ourselves, and yet alone our children at risk to this hideous substance.

In the future, the world might succeed in developing advance and safer nuclear power plants, and may be, we will gain access to the abundant pool of nuclear energy, but till then, what we need to worry about is the energy wastage and emissions. Presently, the solution lies in using combination of all available alternative sources, and somehow cut the consumption of fossil fuels. After all, the energy crisis and climate change are nearer than they appear.

Article contribution by:Amisha Singh Thakur

Environment

Over 500 Forest Fire Cases Reported in Himachal, Forest And Fire Deptts Remain Irresponsive, Allege Locals

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Forest Fires in Himachal Pradesh in 2019

Shimla-Over 500 forest fire cases have been reported from Himachal Pradesh affecting an area of over 2600 hectare of forests in the state. These forest fire incidents in the state have caused huge financial loss, which is expected to rise in days to come as forest fire incidents are increasing each day.

The forest fire incidents in and around Shimla town are also increasing each day. The local residents in Totu, Chakkar, Tara Devi, Shogi, Bhatakufer and Mehli areas say they are facing troubles due to the forest fire.

Locals allege that neither forest department nor any fire department responds to their information of fire in the region.

“We called the fire services yet no fire brigade or firemen came to our rescue. The administration also did not help us nor take any information regarding the forest fire.Ultimately we had to douse the fire with whatever water we had collected on our own,”

Praveen, a local of Chakkar area of Shimla told ANI.

 

Locals in Chakkar and Totu on Monday and Tuesday had to collectively save the forests from fire and also had narrow escape by saving their houses from the forest fire.

They alleged that the forest and fire departments spend a huge amount of money to constitute fire fighting teams but they all have failed to control the incidents of the forest fire. They also said that the forest department’s claims of helicopters being deputed to control the forest fire are just fake claims.

“We left everything and started dousing the fire as soon as we got to know that the forest fire is reaching our homes. The government claims to have to spend a lot on controlling the forest fires but nobody in the administration responded to our calls for help. Either the information has not reached the officials or they are not doing anything about it,”

Anay Kant, another resident told ANI.

Locals say they hired labourers to control the forest fire. Dev Raj, one of the local labourers told the agency:

“We reach the spot and try to douse the fire as soon as possible. We don’t know about the help from the administration as we were busy in our work.”

The forest minister of the state, Govind Singh said that despite all efforts to sensitize the people about the forest they could not stop these incidents.

He said that the department has announced money rewards for those informing about those responsible for fire in the forests.-ANI

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Hydropower Projects in Himachal Not ‘Eco-Friendly, Govt Keeps People in Dark Through Biased Environment Impact Assessment Reports

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Himachal's Hydropower Projects Are not eco-friendly

Shimla- The Himachal Pradesh Government, as witnessed on several occasions, favours hydropower companies over the environmental impacts and affected people. It believes that these projects would boost the economic growth of the state and that there are hardly any environmental hazards linked to the construction of excess hydropower projects. There is a long list of pending projects that the government wants to get constructed.

In its environmental assessment reports,  the government preach that hydropower is eco-friendly. However, as a bitter reality, it does not appear to be true. There are severe environmental hazards linked to the construction of these projects, which the government is not ready to admit. As a result of this deliberate neglection, the villagers, rivers, local water sources, farming lands, local wildlife etc. are suffering. Houses of people were destroyed due to seepage of water from tunnels of hydropower projects and they are forced to evacuate. Let’s take a look at a new report compiled by an environmental group explaining why hydropower projects in the Himalayas are not eco-friendly.  

In the month of the ‘World Environment Day’, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” to highlight the risks associated with hydropower construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh.  Over the last few years, increasing evidence has emerged that hydropower production may not be so ‘clean and green’ after all. This document compiles primary and secondary pieces of evidence of the impacts triggered by underground construction for the run of the river (ROR) hydropower projects highlighting the issues of environmental hazards and risks involved.

Echoing the fragility of the Himalayan region due to geological instability and climate change-related disasters like flash floods and cloud bursts, the report highlights the role of construction activities that accentuate this fragility.

 “A report of the state’s own disaster management cell says that around 10 Mega hydropower stations are located in the medium and high-risk landslide area,”

states the document.

  The report explains that the magnitude of the underground component of the civil work in hydropower projects involving blasting and dynamiting exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. These impacts are yet to be adequately studied and understood.

Visuals and testimonies of affected people from project sites in Kinnaur, Kullu and Chamba falling in the Satluj, Beas and Ravi basin collected over the years have been used to show the impacts. Case studies like that of the Parbati II, Karccham Wangtoo, Kashang and Bajoli Holi projects illustrate how landslides, drying up of springs, damages to houses, farms and forests have made difficult the lives and livelihoods of the people in the project area.

Landslide in Jhakri village of shimla due to hydropower project

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The report finds that the existing studies available on these impacts are inadequate or biased in favour of the hydropower producers, with economics as the main concern. Environment Impact Assessment reports of hydro-power projects gloss over the geological & seismic vulnerability of the project sites, with an explanation that the ‘hurdles’, ‘surprises’ and ‘incompetencies’ of the mountain geology would be handled at a later stage, if and when they occur. ‘Scientific’ linkages become difficult to establish later, and during EIAs, the concentration is to only rush through the studies to get ‘clearances’.

“They say there is no scientific evidence that the landslides are because of project activities and so we cannot claim compensation in case of cracks in the houses or damage to fields”,

according to Ramanand Negi of Urni Village located in the affected area of the Karchham Wangtoo project and now sitting on a huge landslide. 

The report also refers to the Audit reports of the Comptroller Auditor General to show how the costs of these ‘surprises’ are borne by the affected people or transferred to the public exchequer. The costs that producers have been forced to bear have led to financial losses, bad loans, and cumulatively a slump in the hydropower sector over the last few years. 

According to the report,

“The contribution of hydropower sector today to the country’s total electricity production has halved from 25% to 13% in the last decade. Where this state of hydropower industries was an opportunity to review hydropower policy and the sector’s viability, the report of Parliamentary standing committee on energy that reviewed the performance of hydro projects in 2018 turned a blind eye to environmental impacts and safety norms”.

 

Based on the committee’s recommendations the Ministry of Power issued an order in March 2019 recognizing hydropower projects with a capacity of more than 25 MW as ‘renewable’ source of energy, thus eligible for further subsidies. Himdhara’s report, however, brings out that hydro projects do not deserve the ‘green’ tag and the government should stop further subsiding the sector, especially large projects.

Water Sources drying due to hydropower projects

Water sources drying in himachal due to hydro projects

 

The report also identifies the institutional failures of the Central Water Commission, the Central Electricity Authority that are supposed to assess the Detailed Project Reports and give techno-economic clearances, monitor the progress, and reasons for the delay in projects.

This list also includes the Ministry of Environment that has blindly granted environment and forest clearances overlooking the above impacts and non-compliance; the State Directorate of Energy and State Disaster Management Authority, who have failed to fulfil their regulatory roles and ensure that there is no negligence.

The environmental group demanded that an independent scientific review of the immediate or long-term implications of construction work for hydropower development in the Himalayas should be commissioned. Citizens’ engagement, public consent mechanisms need to be strengthened, and a grievance redressal process needs to be put in place.

 

Loos of wildlife in himachal due to hydropower projects

 

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India to Face Water and Food Security Risks by 2030, 21 Major Cities to Run Out of Groundwater by 2020: Report

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Water crisis in India by 20310

India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat. Currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. The crisis is only going to get worse. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country’s GDP.

No Water in India by 2030

As per the report of National Commission for Integrated Water Resource Development of MoWR, the water requirement by 2050 in high use scenario is likely to be a milder 1,180 BCM, whereas the present-day availability is 695 BCM. The total availability of water possible in the country is still lower than this projected demand, at 1,137 BCM. Thus, there is an imminent need to deepen our understanding of our water resources and usage and put in place interventions that make our water use efficient and sustainable.

Water crisis in India by 2030

Classification according to Composite Water Index Scores (FY 16-17)

India is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history. Already, more than 600 million people are facing acute water shortages. Critical groundwater resources – which account for 40% of our water supply – are being depleted at unsustainable rates.

Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems for India’s rain-dependent farmers (53% of agriculture in India is rainfed). When water is available, it is likely to be contaminated (up to 70% of our water supply), resulting in nearly 200,000 deaths each year. Interstate disagreements are on the rise, with seven major disputes currently raging, pointing to the fact that limited frameworks and institutions are in place for national water governance.

Indeed, if nothing changes, and fast, things will get much worse: best estimates indicate that India’s water demand will exceed supply by a factor of two by 2030, with severe water scarcity on the horizon for hundreds of millions.

Water Index scores vary widely across states, but most states have achieved a score below 50% and could significantly improve their water resource management practices. The Water Index scores for FY 16-17 vary from 76 (Gujarat) to 26 (Meghalaya), with the median score being 49 for Non-Himalayan states and 31 for North-Eastern and Himalayan states. Gujarat is the highest performer, closely followed by other High performers such as Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Seven states have scores between 50-65 (including two North-Eastern and Himalayan states) and have been classified as Medium performers.

Water crisis in India by 2030 2

Ranking of states according to Composite Water Index Scores (FY 16-17)

Alarmingly, 60% of states (14 out of 24) have achieved scores below 50 and have been classified as Low performers. Low performers are concentrated across the populous agricultural belts of North and East India and among the North-Eastern and Himalayan states.

Most states have achieved less than 50% of the total score in the augmentation of groundwater resources, highlighting the growing national crisis—54% of India’s groundwater wells are declining, and 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting 100 million people. Further, 70% of states have also achieved scores of less than 50% on managing on-farm water effectively. Given the fact that agriculture accounts for 80% of all water use, this underperformance, as discussed in the analysis of low performers above, poses significant water and food security risks for the country.

Finally, states have also performed averagely on providing safe drinking water to rural areas. With 800 million people or 70% of the country’s population, living in rural areas, and about two lakh people in the country dying each year due to a lack of access to safe water, this is one of the most critical service delivery challenges in the world.

Encouragingly, several water-scarce states are the leaders in Index performance. Several of the high and medium performers—Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana— are states that have suffered from severe droughts in recent years.

Overall, there is large inter-state variation in Water Index scores, but most states have achieved a score below 50 (out of 100) and need to significantly improve their water resource management practices. The Water Index scores for FY 16-17 vary from ~76 (Gujarat) to ~26 (Meghalaya), with the median score being ~49 for Non-Himalayan states and ~31 for North-Eastern and Himalayan states. Gujarat is the highest performer, closely followed by other high performers such as Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Most other states are clustered around the 40-60 band. Seven states have scores between 50- 65 (including two North-Eastern and Himalayan states) and have been classified as Medium performers.

This data was compiled and collected from 24 states. The data was collected for two years—the base year of FY 15-16, and FY 16-17—thereby enabling not only a benchmarking of the current water performance of states but also the study of the evolution of this performance across the last two years.

However, 60% of states (14 out of 24) have achieved scores below 50 and have been classified as Low performers. Most North-Eastern and Himalayan states are the lowest performers on the Index, but a few have scores that are comparable to or better than most of the larger states. Assam, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, and Meghalaya have the lowest Index scores (in FY 16-17) out of all states, ranging from 26 to 31. This low performance involves low scores across almost all indicator themes, with several states scoring zeroes or not submitting data for as many as seven indicators (out of 28).

On the other hand, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh have high scores, with both performing well in supply-side management (irrigation and watershed development) and water-supply provision (rural and urban).

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