The government of India is promoting nuclear energy as a solution to the country’s future energy needs and is embarking on a massive nuclear energy expansion




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7. India’s Nuclear Energy Program

Brief History


India’s nuclear program was initiated just a few months after independence, with the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1948. Ignoring the claims of a galaxy of brilliant scientists like Meghnad Saha, Prime Minister Nehru handed over the reins of India’s nuclear energy program to Dr. Homi Bhabha. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was created in 1948 as the apex body in charge of nuclear policy in India. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was set up in 1954 as the overall body responsible for research, technology development and commercial reactor operation. The Atomic Energy Establishment (AEE) was established as India's primary centre for nuclear research (later renamed Bhabha Atomic Research Centre or BARC after Bhabha's death in 1966). Bhabha was put in charge of all three establishments; he was thus virtually the dictator of India’s nuclear program.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1948 allowed for a thick layer of secrecy over India’s entire nuclear program. In 1962, the government passed the even more draconian Atomic Energy Act of 1962, which granted yet more powers to the AEC. No democratic country has given such authoritarian powers to its atomic energy establishment. The Act of 1962 grants absolute powers to the AEC over exploration and manufacture of atomic material and its related hardware. The AEC also has complete control over all nuclear research in the country. Additionally, the Act empowers the AEC to restrict disclosure of any information related to nuclear issues. Despite having such immense powers, the AEC does not report to the Cabinet, but directly to the Prime Minister.106

Bhabha initiated plans to develop the entire nuclear fuel cycle in India, including mining uranium, fabricating fuel, manufacturing heavy water, and also reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium. For executing these plans, the DAE set up a number of subsidiary organisations: the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL)—for designing, constructing, and operating nuclear power plants; the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL)—for mining and milling of uranium; the Heavy Water Board—to look after the plants that produce heavy water; and the Nuclear Fuel Complex—to manufacture fuel for the nuclear reactors.

Bhabha initiated discussions with a number of countries for assistance for setting up atomic power plants in the country. The AEC selected the Canadian CANDU type heavy water reactors for India’s atomic power program. While all of India’s initial reactors were to be of this type, Bhabha negotiated an agreement with the United States for setting up two Boiling Water Reactors at Tarapur; the US also agreed to supply the enriched uranium fuel for them.
Three Stage Program

Simultaneously, Bhabha announced a grand three stage program for the development of nuclear energy in the country. The logic behind this was that while India has very little uranium, it has plenty of the element thorium, about 32 percent of the world’s deposits. Thorium is not fissile, but it can be converted to the fissile uranium-233 from which electricity can be generated. To make use of India’s thorium reserves, Bhabha announced a three phase strategy for the development of this technology.

The first stage involved PHWRs, which use unenriched uranium as fuel. The spent fuel is reprocessed to extract plutonium. In the second stage, this Pu-239 is used in the core of FBRs, with the core surrounded by a “blanket” of U-238; the U-238 captures neutrons released during fission of Pu-239 to produce more plutonium, thus “breeding” its own fuel. Subsequently, the blanket would be of thorium, which would produce fissile U-233. Finally, in the third stage, the core of the FBR is replaced with U-233, to generate electricity. This reactor would also have a thorium blanket to breed more U-233.

Targets and Achievements


In 1954, Bhabha announced that there would be 8000 MW of nuclear power in the country by 1980; in 1962, he predicted 20-25,000 MW of nuclear power by 1987; and in 1969, the AEC predicted 43,500 MW of nuclear generating capacity by 2000.107 The achievements have been mediocre. Even by 2011, the total nuclear generating capacity in the country was only 4780 MW, less than 11% of the target set for 2000.

India's Present Nuclear Facilities

Uranium Mining and Milling


Mining and processing of uranium in India is carried out by the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL). Presently, it operates six underground mines and an open cast mine, as well as two processing plants, in the Jharkhand region. In April 2012, it commissioned its first mine outside Jharkhand, an underground mine at Tummalapalle in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh. Mining projects are also planned in the Lambapur-Peddagattu area in Nalgonda district (Andhra Pradesh) and at Gogi in Gulbarga area of Karnataka.

Meghalaya also has large reserves of uranium. Despite having the necessary clearances to begin mining in the West Khasi Hills district of the state, UCIL has been unable to begin mining in the area, due to strong people’s opposition.

The yellow cake from UCIL’s milling plants in Jharkhand is sent to DAE’s Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad for refining and conversion into nuclear fuel.

India also operates seven heavy water plants to supply heavy water for India’s PHWRs.

Nuclear Reactors


Presently (as on January 1, 2012), India has 18 small and two mid-sized nuclear power reactors in commercial operation. These are mostly PHWRs, except for two units of BWRs in Tarapur. Another 6 reactors are under construction. Apart from these, a 500 MW prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) is under construction at Kalpakkam.

Reprocessing


Unlike most other countries, the DAE pursues reprocessing as a way of dealing with spent fuel—to extract plutonium for use in Fast Breeder Reactors and for nuclear weapons. India has three full-scale reprocessing plants, at Trombay, Tarapur and Kalpakkam.

Nuclear Waste Management


The DAE classifies the waste from its reprocessing plants into low-level waste (LLW), intermediate-level waste (ILW) and high-level waste (HLW).

Gaseous wastes produced during routine operations at nuclear reactors and reprocessing plants are released through stacks (75-100 metres tall) into the environment after filtration, while low-level liquid wastes are released into nearby water bodies, such as the sea in the case of coastal reactors. Data on such releases are scarce, but suggest that releases at Indian reactors are much higher as compared to similar reactors elsewhere. Intermediate-level liquid wastes generated in reprocessing plants are concentrated and fixed in cement.108

DAE temporarily deals with high-level waste by immobilising or vitrifying it—the waste is mixed with glass at a high temperature and allowed to cool, which slows down the diffusion of radionuclides from HLW. These blocks are presently stored at the Solid Storage & Surveillance Facility at Tarapur.

Table 7.1: India’s Nuclear Reactors in Operation

Power station

State

Type

Units

Total capacity

Kaiga

Karnataka

PHWR

220 x 4

880

Kakrapar

Gujarat

PHWR

220 x 2

440

Kalpakkam

Tamil Nadu

PHWR

220 x 2

440

Narora

Uttar Pradesh

PHWR

220 x 2

440

Rawatbhata

Rajasthan

PHWR

100 x 1, 200 x 1, 220 x 4

1180

Tarapur

Maharashtra

BWR,

PHWR

160 x 2,

540 x 2

1400

Total

20

4780

Indo-US Nuclear Deal and New Projects


Following India’s nuclear tests in 1974, the developed western capitalist countries terminated all cooperation in the field of nuclear technology with India.

However, by the turn of the 21st century, momentous changes had taken place in the world. In this changed scenario, India decided to open up its economy to unrestricted inflow of western goods and capital. It also abandoned its non-aligned foreign policy and independent defence policy, and aligned with the United States. As a reward, the US offered India an agreement on nuclear cooperation, which was greedily accepted by India’s rulers.

The first steps towards this deal were taken in 2005, but it took more than three years to come to fruition as it had to go through several complex stages. The IAEA approved the Indo-US agreement in August 2008; the Nuclear Suppliers Group (a group of 46 nuclear supplier countries who coordinate their nuclear related exports) granted approval to India to access nuclear technology and equipment from other countries in September 2008; and US President Bush signed the agreement into law on October 8, 2008.

With India now able to import uranium as well as reactors from other countries, the Indian government has signed agreements with a number of countries for uranium supplies and also announced plans to import big-size nuclear reactors and set up a string of ‘Nuclear Parks’ across the country, each of 6000-10,000 MW capacity. So far, the government has given in principle approval to the following ‘Nuclear Parks’:

  • Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu: The initial agreement for setting up two Russian VVER-1000 reactors was signed much before the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, and construction began in 2001. Following the Nuclear Deal, plans have been drafted for building two more pairs of VVER-1000 units here, for a total of 6 reactors of total capacity of 6000 MW.

  • Jaitapur in Maharashtra: A total of six EPR reactors from Areva of 1650 MW each, for a total capacity of 9900 MW.

  • Mithivirdi in Gujarat and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh: Six LWR reactors at each location, each of 1000 MW, to be set up by US-based corporations, either GE-Hitachi or Westinghouse.

  • Haripur in West Bengal: Six Russian VVER-1000 reactors to be set up here too.

In addition, the NPCIL has got in-principle approval to build 4 indigenous PHWR reactors of 700 MW each at Gorakhpur village in Fatehabad district of Haryana, and another 2 similar reactors at Chutka in Madhya Pradesh.

8. Radiation Releases at India's Nuclear Installations


The nuclear industry is notorious all over the world for suppressing information. Even then, in the US and West European countries, at least some information is officially available on the release of radioactivity into the atmosphere from uranium mines and nuclear power plants. In India, however, no such information is available. That is because of the undemocratic Atomic Energy Act of 1962. The Act allows the nuclear establishment to deny all information about the state of India’s nuclear installations and their safety situation to the public and even to the Parliament!

Taking refuge behind this draconian law, India’s nuclear establishment has become a dictatorial entity lording over the people of the country. The DAE and its subsidiaries which run India's nuclear installations try to suppress all information about accidents and radiation releases occurring at these installations, and the impact of these radiation releases on people as well as on their own workers. Therefore, not much information is available about the state of India's nuclear facilities. The discussion below is based on the little information that has come out through unofficial and occasionally official sources.

Part I: Situation at India's Uranium Mines


The website of UCIL claims that “UCIL has a track record of adopting absolutely safe and environment friendly working practices in Uranium Mining and Processing activities”; it asserts that there is no radioactive contamination of the area due to uranium mining.

However, numerous surveys by independent doctors, nuclear physicists and public-spirited journalists have found the reality to be the exact opposite. UCIL's mining practices completely disregard the fact that the mine waste is radioactive. The waste is left carelessly dumped in the open; mounds of waste are also found scattered in the villages surrounding the mines. The company is so utterly callous that it has even supplied waste rock from the mines to the local people for construction of roads and houses!109

There are three tailing ponds in the Jaduguda region spread over an area of 100 acres; they are estimated to contain crores of tons of radioactive waste. More than 30,000 people live within a 5 km radius from these tailing ponds. UCIL has not taken the slightest precaution to protect the health of these people from radiation releases from the ponds. The ponds are not even fenced off properly, and people freely walk across them!

Accidents Galore


As if this was not enough, there have been numerous accidents at the mines due to UCIL’s faulty technical and management practices. Pipelines carrying uranium mill tailings from the Jaduguda uranium mill to the tailing ponds have repeatedly burst, causing spillage of the radioactive sludge into nearby homes and water bodies.

One of the worst such accidents took place on December 25, 2006—the burst pipeline continued to spew toxic waste into a creek for nine hours before it was finally shut off! Consequently, a thick layer of toxic sludge on the surface of the creek killed scores of fish, frogs and other riparian life. The waste from the leak also reached a creek that feeds into the Subarnarekha River, seriously contaminating the water resources of communities living along its banks for hundreds of kilometres.110

Terrible Health Costs


UCIL authorities refuse to acknowledge any health impact of uranium mining on mine workers. However, a survey by the well-known physicist Dr. Surendra Gadekar and medic Dr. Sanghamitra Gadekar in 2000 found extremely high levels of chronic lung diseases in the company's mine and mill workers. These were most likely to be silicosis or lung cancer. The UCIL termed these cases as tuberculosis, so as to avoid compensation payments.

The impact of radiation releases from the mines and tailing ponds on the health of the people of the nearby villages has also been colossal. One survey, in seven villages within a kilometre of the tailing dams, revealed that a shocking 47 percent of the women in the area suffered disruptions in their menstrual cycle, 18 percent said they had suffered miscarriages or given birth to stillborn babies in the last 5 years and 30 percent suffered from fertility problems. The Gadekars in their survey found a high incidence of congenital deformities and mental retardation among infants in the vicinity of Jaduguda. A more recent (2008) health survey by a team of doctors from the Indian chapter of 1985 Nobel Peace Prize recipient International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War also found clear evidence of increased incidence of sterility, birth defects and cancer deaths among people living in the nearby villages.111

Part II: Nuclear Fuel Complex, Hyderabad


UCIL processes the uranium ore in its mills in Jharkhand and sends the yellow cake to the Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) in Hyderabad. Here the uranium fuel rods are fabricated from the yellow cake, and supplied to all the nuclear plants in India.

The NFC churns out 50,000 tons of radioactively contaminated waste water every day. This is discharged into a waste storage pond located in the complex. Over the years, seepage from this pond has contaminated the underground water. As a result, the situation in and around Hyderabad is becoming grave. Mysterious and painful diseases have already visited residents in the vicinity of NFC. The DAE has prohibited residents of Ashok Nagar, a locality near NFC, from drinking water from underground wells in the area. Eleven villages near NFC also face the same problem. As the contamination spreads, it will affect the underground water supply to the entire city.112

Part III: India’s Nuclear Reactors

World's Most Unsafe Reactors


While release of small or large quantities of radioactivity from nuclear power plants (NPPs) occurs quite often at every nuclear reactor around the world, India’s nuclear plants are amongst the most contaminated in the world. Some years ago, a survey in Nuclear Engineering International listed India’s reactors in the lowest bracket in terms of efficiency and performance.113 The US-based watchdog group—the Safe Energy Communication Council—has also described India’s nuclear energy program, especially its reactors, to be the “least efficient” and the “most dangerous in the world”.114

We discuss a few examples below.
Tarapur: Decrepit Reactors

The Tarapur-1 & 2 reactors are more than 40 years old. While the risk of accidents increases with age for all nuclear reactors, the Tarapur 1 & 2 reactors are particularly vulnerable as their design is even older than the Mark-1 design of the Fukushima reactors that exploded on March 11, 2011. All other reactors of this design have been shut down long ago!

These two reactors suffer from so many problems that they have earned the infamy of being amongst the ‘dirtiest reactors in the world’. Many parts have become uninspectable, and the DAE lacks the technology to correct their problems. The radiation contamination of the reactor building and its environs is extremely high.115 Yet the DAE continues to flog these two decrepit reactors—located just 100 kms from Mumbai. It is a form of Russian roulette with millions of lives at stake.
Kakrapar: Untested ECCS

DAE/NPCIL started up Kakrapar Unit-1 in 1991. this reactor without doing the full testing of its Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS)!116 This is unheard of in the global nuclear industry. The ECCS is a vital safety system, the only backup system available in case the cooling system of the reactor fails, which can lead to a Fukushima type meltdown. Thus it is not known if it will function in case of an emergency! (Once the reactor begins operation, this testing can never be done.) All that we can do is pray that an accident does not happen to damage the cooling circuit of the reactor.
BARC: Leaking

This premier research institution in Mumbai is in an even poorer shape than India's nuclear reactors. The underground pipes carrying radioactive water as well as the storage tanks containing liquid nuclear waste are both leaking, due to aging and corrosion. The result is that caesium-137 has been found in the soil, water and vegetation at the BARC site and the Trombay coast, and that too, at high levels. Additionally, the research and reprocessing plants at BARC discharge their nuclear effluents into the Thane creek, which separates Navi Mumbai from old Mumbai.117 The people of Mumbai are going to pay the price for this callousness of BARC for centuries.
Waste Management

The DAE pursues reprocessing as a way to manage spent fuel. However, as we have seen in Chapter 3, reprocessing plants are highly polluting. The reprocessing plants in France and England are the biggest sources of radioactive pollution in Europe, with radioactive releases from them polluting the North Sea as far away as the Arctic.118 One wonders how far has the pollution from DAE's reprocessing facilities spread in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean!

The DAE does not have enough reprocessing capacity to reprocess all the waste from its reactors. So, most of the remaining waste is accumulating in spent fuel pools near the reactors, and will inevitably leak to contaminate the environment.

So far, the DAE has made no effort to even find a temporary solution to the problem of safely storing this growing volume of spent fuel. The spent fuel pools contain an enormous amount of radiation, but are not stored in containments as secure as nuclear reactors. Therefore, they are much more vulnerable to terrorist attacks or natural calamities like earthquakes. An accident at a spent fuel pool can be even more catastrophic than a nuclear reactor accident.

Accidents Aplenty


There have been hundreds of accidents, of varying degrees of severity, at DAE's nuclear reactors. Here is an extract from Molly Moore’s report in the Washington Post in 1995: “Four decades after India launched a full-scale nuclear power program … it operates some of the world’s most accident-prone and inefficient nuclear facilities. During 1992 and 1993, its most recent two-year monitoring period, the Indian government reported 271 dangerous or life-threatening incidents, including fires, radioactive leaks, major systems failures and accidents at nuclear power and research facilities. Eight workers died in that period.”119

In what may appear to be astonishing, the same opinion has been expressed by Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, a former chief of the AERB, the body responsible for overseeing safety at India's nuclear installations! In an interview to the media while remitting office in 1996, he stated that the current safety status of the nuclear installations under the DAE “is a matter of great concern.”120

But then why didn't he do anything about it? It's because he had very little powers to do anything!
India’s Nuclear Safety Watchdog: A Lapdog

In violation of all international nuclear safety norms, India's nuclear safety regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), is subservient to the bodies it is supposed to oversee! The AERB is not only subordinate to the DAE, it is also subordinate to the NPCIL and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), bodies it is supposed to regulate!121 This makes the regulatory process a complete sham. In the words of Dr. Gopalakrishnan:

(India's nuclear regulatory process is) a total farce ... The DAE wants the government and the people to believe that all is well with our nuclear installations. I have documentary evidence to prove that this is not so.122

Probably the only time the AERB has attempted to function as an independent safety regulator was during the period 1993-96, when Dr. Gopalakrishnan was its Chairman. However, all his efforts to improve the safety situation of India’s nuclear installations were stonewalled by the DAE. In 1995, the AERB undertook an overall safety assessment of DAE's facilities. Its report to the DAE mentioned about 130 safety issues with regards to Indian nuclear installations, with 95 being top priority. According to Dr. Gopalakrishnan, to date nothing is known about whether any concrete action has been taken on any of its recommendations!123

DAE Stories


That an accident of the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima has not yet taken place in India should be no cause for comfort. The DAE/NPCIL have built and operated India’s nuclear reactors so dangerously that it can only be the combined might of the 33 crore Gods in the heavens which has prevented a Chernobyl from occurring in India! We discuss below a few examples to illustrate this; they should give us all sleepless nights.
Fire, Narora, March 31, 1993

This accident has been NPCIL’s closest approach to a catastrophic accident. That morning, two blades of the turbine at Narora-1 broke off due to fatigue, destabilising the turbine and making it vibrate excessively. The vibrations caused the pipes carrying hydrogen gas that cooled the turbine to break, releasing the hydrogen which soon caught fire. Within minutes, the fire spread through the entire turbine building. The control room soon filled with smoke, forcing the staff to vacate it. The electricity cables caught fire, leading to a general blackout in the plant. The power supply to the secondary cooling system too was affected, rendering it inoperable.

It took 17 hours for power to be restored to the reactor and its safety systems. A meltdown was averted due to brilliant thinking on the part of the operators. They heroically climbed onto the top of the building and manually opened the valves to release liquid boron into the core to slow down the reaction. Then, in another clever move, they utilised the diesel generator of the fire engine to keep the cooling system running.

What is most worrisome about this accident is that it was avoidable. In 1989, General Electric informed the turbine manufacturer, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), about a design flaw which had led to cracks in similar turbines around the world and recommended design modifications. BHEL promptly informed the NPCIL, but the latter took no action till after the accident!

Secondly, even after the turbine blades had failed, the accident might have been averted if the backup safety systems had been operating, which was possible only if their power supply had been encased in separate and fire resistant ducts. Though this was established practice in the world nuclear design industry, this practice was not followed for this plant! Both the main supply cable and the backup power supply cable were laid in the same duct, with no fire resistant material enclosing or separating the cable systems. As a result, following the fire in the turbine building, along with the main supply cables, the backup power cables also caught fire and led to a complete blackout in the plant.124
Collapse of Dome, Kaiga, May 13, 1994

This accident at Kaiga is unprecedented in the annals of nuclear energy history. Just as construction of Unit-1 of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station located in Karnataka was nearing completion, on May 13, 1994, the concrete containment dome of the reactor collapsed under its own weight. Concrete slabs weighing hundreds of tons came crashing down from a height of about 40 metres. Had the dome collapsed after the reactor had commenced operations, it would in all probability have led to a reactor meltdown.125

The collapse of the containment in a reactor at any stage is unthinkable. It is designed to withstand not just natural calamities like earthquakes and hurricanes, but even the intense radiation from within in case of an accident in the reactor. But in India, we have a reactor containment that did not even withstand its own weight! It speaks volumes for the safety culture prevailing in our atomic energy establishment. It should have lead to a complete overhauling of the safety department overseeing the construction of the reactor. But the NPCIL/DAE did nothing, except setting up committees to whitewash the accident.
Flooding, Kakrapar, June 15, 1994

The numerous stories about the sloppiness and inefficiency of India’s atomic energy establishment would make for hilarious reading, but for the fact that many of these have very nearly led to a ‘Chernobyl-like’ disaster. The flooding of Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS) on June 15, 1994 due to heavy rains is another such story. Fortunately for South Gujarat, the plant was in a shutdown state on that day, so nothing happened.

Just behind the turbine room of the KAPS is the Moticher Lake. Outlet ducts of the turbine building connect it to this lake. The lake has gates to control the water level. Following heavy rains on June 15, 1994, the water level in the lake began to rise. The outlet ducts became inlet pipes and water began entering the turbine building on the night of June 15 itself. But such is the level of ‘emergency preparedness’ of the DAE/NPCIL, that even as the flood waters were entering the turbine building to create havoc, the KAPS authorities were soundly sleeping! The flooding was discovered only on the morning of June 16, when the morning shift arrived for work. The authorities now frantically tried to get the gates of the Moticher Lake opened. But the gates had been neglected for years, and so were jammed! It was only two days later, on June 18, that a large pump arrived from Tarapur and work began to remove water from the turbine building.126

Forget big natural disasters, the NPCIL is so incompetent that after more than three decades of experience, it cannot even prevent flooding of its reactors in case of heavy rains!

India’s Nuclear Reactors: Impact on People

From the above description, it is obvious that India’s nuclear reactors must be leaking radiation. However, we only have scanty evidence on this as the NPCIL does not divulge any data. In 1993, at a meeting of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), India's nuclear officials gave figures of radioactive discharges from India’s nuclear plants—they were higher than safe limits by about 100 times.127 That India’s reactors are emitting radiation at several times the international norm has also been admitted to by S. P. Sukhatme, then Chairman of the AERB, in 2002.128

Not much information is available about the impact of these radiation leakages on the health of people living around these reactors. The authorities simply don't do any studies. The only information we have is based on the following two surveys by independent scientists and doctors.
Rawatbhata Survey

Renowned scientist-activists Drs. Surendra and Sanghamitra Gadekar of Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya, Vedchhi, District Surat, Gujarat did a unique survey of the population living in five villages in the vicinity of the Rawatbhata nuclear power plant in 1991. The results of the study were published in the journal International Perspectives in Public Health. The survey found:129

  • A huge increase in the rate of congenital deformities.

  • A significantly higher rate of spontaneous abortions, still births and deaths of new born babies.

  • A significant increase in chronic problems like long duration fevers, long lasting and frequently recurring skin problems, continual digestive tract problems, persistent feeling of lethargy and general debility. The young were more affected by these problems.

  • Diseases of old age prevalent amongst the youth.

  • A significantly higher rate of solid tumours.
Kalpakkam’s Forgotten People

Dr. V. Pugazhenthi and a team of doctors, under the guidance of Dr. Rosalie Bertell, the world renowned environmental epidemiologist, did a study in 2007 of the incidence of goiter and autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) among the people living around the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) at Kalpakkam near Chennai. They found a very high incidence of thyroid disorders among women above the age of 14 years living within a distance of 6 km from MAPS, with the incidence of goiter being an astonishing 23% amongst women in the age group of 20-40, and of AITD being as high as 7% amongst women in the age group of 30-39 years. This was obviously due to exposure to routine releases of radionuclides, especially radioactive iodine, from MAPS. In another worrying indication, the doctors found several cases of congenital defects and mental retardation in the coastal areas in a radius of 16 km from the nuclear complex, which must have been caused by exposure of the foetus to radiation.130

The radioactive effluents have badly affected the livelihood of fishermen in the coastal areas surrounding the plant. The area was once rich in many varieties of fish, but now due to the warm water released by the plant that keeps the fish away, the catch has drastically come down. Much of the fish caught by the fishermen is dead fish. They salt and dry it, and sell it in Chennai; the local people will not touch it because they know where it comes from.131
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