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

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nuclear energy

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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

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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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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