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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.

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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

After 15 Years of Passing of Forest Rights Act, Implementation in Himachal Still in Doldrums, Jeopardizing Ecological Conservation

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Forest rights fight in himachal pradesh

Shimla-‘Planting a tree to celebrate World Environment Day has been reduced to a symbolic tradition. But is this enough for the conservation of our ecology? The efficacy and use of plantation drives are being questioned all across the world today. These drives, especially when conducted by the government tend to be a wastage of resources due to poor survival rates, said environmental and community groups in Himachal Pradesh in a joint statement released recently on World Environment Day.

Further, trees are just one part of our ecosystem which comprises soil, grasslands, scrubs, wetlands, wildlife and even human beings, the statement said.  

In India, especially in the Himalayas communities have co-existed with nature since times immemorial – dependent on it for day-to-day life and livelihoods, the groups said. Because of this connection between forests and local livelihoods and culture-communities across the landscape fought to protect the ecosystems they inhabit from destruction – be it the Chipko movement in Uttarakhand 50 years ago or the recent struggles in the tribal district of Kinnaur to highlight the ill-effects of dams and hydropower projects – indigenous and forest-dependent people have protected forest resources, they said.

“It is unfortunate then that these historical custodians of forests were labelled ‘encroachers’ and ‘thieves’ as their livelihoods were displaced from forests sometimes to build dams, highways and cities and at other times in the name of conservation were restricted from using the forests citing forest laws,” the statement said.

The groups said this has happened in Himachal too, where communities like pastoralists and farmers are slowly getting alienated from the forests. This jeopardizes their capacity to protect the forests too – whether from natural calamities like fires or indiscriminate felling. 

Forest revival and afforestation programs, it is understood the world over, are only successful when local communities are made in charge and are given full access to use the forest and make decisions about its management.

“We have examples of community forest management like Gramya Jungles of Orissa and Van Panchayats of Uttarakhand. This became part of the Forest Policy in 1988 which is why programs like Joint Forest Management were planned for participatory governance of forests. However, in these too the forest department retained their control and communities were used as labour to plant trees,” the groups highlighted.

Based on these experiences and the repeated evictions of forest-dependent people from their rightful use it became apparent that there was a need for a law that recognised the community’s right to both use and protect/ govern the forest, they said.

It was after years of struggle that the Forest Rights Act 2006 was passed by the parliament of India. The Act recognises individual and community rights over any kind of forest lands for those dependent on these for their bonafide livelihood needs before 13th December 2005. The act also recognises development rights and community management rights. Himachal, where 2/3rd of the landscape is legally classified as ‘forest’ – there is a tremendous need and potential to implement this law to secure the land and livelihood rights of people on forest lands be they for fuelwood, fodder, pastures as well as farming and shelter. 

The statement said today it has been 15 years since the passing of FRA but in Himachal, its implementation is in the doldrums.

“While 20 lakh forest rights claims have been accepted all across the country in Himachal only 164 claims have been recognised whereas 2700 are pending with the administration at various levels. The key reasons for the poor implementation include – lack of political will, misinformation about the act amongst the line officials, distrust of the people leading to non-filing of claims and inadequate awareness amongst common people,” the statement said.

It further said that, ironically, the state government has shown great enthusiasm in using this act to grant forest land for village development activities, the rest of the rights namely individual and community forest use and management rights are languishing due to state negligence and actively blocking the granting of these rights. 

The groups further highlighted that in the last 5 years, community voices from Kangra, Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Sirmaur and Mandi have been raising the demand for the implementation of this law in the state.  It was after this that the state government was forced to announce that it would implement the Forest Rights Act in a mission mode in the state in 2018. The tribal department also worked on training and making educational material on the act. However, these are yet to be properly distributed at the village level.

The joint statement further added that in March 2020 post the pandemic led lockdown the FRA implementation process received a setback. Even as gram sabha meetings and FRC processes came to a grinding halt the economy too got hit. During this time, it became evident more than ever that it is the land and forest-based livelihoods that are available to rural communities to fall back on for survival. 

“Whereas the Government should be focused on strengthening land and nature-based livelihoods for the local communities. However, the focus of the state remains on pushing destructive commercial ventures in ecologically fragile areas and valuable farmlands of the state,” the groups said.  

The coronavirus has taught the world what the climate crisis had already indicated – that we will continue to be victims of such crisis as long as the ecological destruction continues unabated, the statement said.

“This calls for a change in the model of ‘development’ which prioritises the basic needs and services rather than run blindly after economic growth which is meant to profit companies and contractors”, the groups said.

The statement also said that it is the communities who will now have to believe in their own capacity to manage lives and resources and also call the government to account if our natural resources have to be protected for future generations. 

Signatories

  • Ajay Kumar, Sanjay Kumar, Advocate Dinesh, Bhoomiheen Bhoomi Adhikar Manch, Himachal
  • Birbal Chaurhan, Shamlat Sangharsh Samiti, Sirmaur
  • Gulab Singh and Dhaniram Shamra, Sirmaur Van Adhikar Manch
  • Joginder Walia Balh Ghaati Kisaan Sangharsh Samiti, Mandi
  • Jiya Negi, Van Adhikar Samiti, Kinnaur
  • Kulbhushan Upmanyu, Himalaya Bachao Samiti, Chamba
  • Lal Hussain, Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha, Chamba
  • Meera Devi, Nekram,Shyam Singh Chauhan, Paryavaran evam Gram Vikas Samiti, Karsog, Mandi
  • Himshi Singh and Prakash Bhandari, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective
  • Prem Katoch and Kesang Thakur, Save Lahaul Spiti, Lahaul
  • Tenzin Takpa and Sonam Targey, Spiti Civil Society, Spiti  

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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