Friday, March 25, 2011

Japan nuclear mishap: No radioactivity found in Indian cities including Hyderabad

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 25: Hyderabadis need not worry about the radioactivity levels in the city's air, water and fresh vegetables. The radioactive contamination levels in the city are about 1000 times less than the maximum permissible limits fixed by the Department of Atomic Energy.

The DAE has been conducting sample studies on almost daily basis on environmental safety levels of iodine-131 and caesium-137, both radioactive isotopes, in Hyderabad and other places following the nuclear mishap in Japan.

The ESL studies have been conducted in Tarapur, Kalpakkam, Kakrapar, Kaiga, Kudankulam, Jaduguda, Chhattrapur, Alwaye and Mumbai, besides Hyderabad. The Nuclear Fuel Complex in the city processes uranium ore and makes it into nuclear fuel for the nuclear power plants in the country. There have been fears that the location of NFC in the heart of the city poses danger to the safety of the people.

The uranium handled at NFC is not radioactive and its radioactivity increases once the fission reaction is triggered in a nuclear reactor. Since NFC does not handle heavy water, the issue of radiation leakage due to fission reaction does not arise, according to a senior NFC official.

The DAE teams analysed water, air and fresh vegetable samples at random to check the presence or otherwise of iodine-131 and caesium-137. Both the radio-isotopes of iodine and caesium are released into atmosphere during nuclear fission. The virtual absence of these radio-isotopes reveals that the nuclear mishap in Japan had no effect on Indian cities, including in places where nuclear plants or mining projects are located.

According to the latest data released by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board on Friday, there's no radio iodine in the atmosphere of Hyderabad. "No detectable activity was observed in any of the locations. The levels are 1000 times lower than the regulatory limits for restriction on consumption of food items and restriction to move out in the open air," the AERB update said.

Presence of radioactivity is measured in Becquerel or Bq.
Radio-isotope of caesium 137 was present in 0.002 Bq.m2), which is about 1000 times less than the maximum permissible levels. In case of water, radio iodine and caesium 137 were present in   0.1 Bq.l-1).

When fresh vegetables were analysed in Hyderabad, both radio iodine and caesium 137 were present in 0.3 Similar results were obtained from other places in the country, confirming that the nuclear mishap in Japan had thus far no impact on India.

Kotilingala Buddhist site: Archaeological treasure unearthed on the banks of the Godavari in Karimnagar district

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 25: Extensive excavations at Kotilingala in Karimnagar district have established the Buddhist link to this important Telangana village. The villagers had contact with Gautam Buddha and the area flourished between 4th century BC to 2nd century CE.

According to Prof P Chenna Reddy, director of archaeology and museums, the excavations revealed several remains of Buddhapadas, sculptures and chaitya, attesting for the first time that the site was associated with Buddhism.

The archaeological site abutting the river Godavari yielded brick structures, storage jars, pottery, beads made of crystal, semi-precious stones, glass and terracotta, seals made of bone and terracotta, iron implements including knives, revettes, barber knives and nails, and coins issued by Satavahanas kings cast in lead and copper. The site spreads over 100 acres.

"We have unearthed hitherto unknown facets of Telangana history at Kotilingala," Prof Chenna Reddy said.

Kotilingala was an early historic capital city and Buddhist site datable to the period between 4th century BC to 2nd century CE. It was the capital of Asoka Janapada. The people in the village and its neighbourhood had contacts with Magedha during the lifetime of Lord Buddha.

According to historical record, an elderly person by name Bavani, residing at Badanakasthi, a very close village to Kotilingala, sent his disciples to meet Lord Buddha and thus, the Dhamma reached this area.

The entire historic site is located inside a fort with house structures, secular buildings and public utility structures built of bricks of 60x30x8 cms.

"The site bears historical significance as it yielded coins issued by the pre-Satavahana kings, Veni, Samagopa, Gobhada, Narava and Kamavega, dating back to 4th-3rd centuries BC. It also yielded the coins of Chimukha, the founder of the Satavahana dynasty. The early fort at Kotilingala was identified as one of the 30 walled cities possessed  by the Andhras as mentioned by the Greek ambassador Megathanese in his Indica.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Koyna dam-triggered earthquakes: NGRI-CSIR to dig a 7 km bore into the earth

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 21: Indian geophysicists will make a deep bore hole, seven km into the earth, for a first hand understanding of the mechanism that triggers earthquakes.

The deep bore hole, first of its kind facility any where in the world, will provide clues to earth and earthquake scientists about physical, geological and chemical processes and properties of the earthquake volume in real time. The experiment will also throw light on what causes the earth to quake in regions, which are otherwise "stable" or quake-free.

The city-based National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI-CSIR) has selected Koyna in Maharashtra for the study as the region has been witnessing "artificial water reservoir triggered earthquakes" for almost 40 years. The department of earth sciences will spend 60 million US dollars on the project.

"In Koyna region, earthquakes occur in a very small area of 20 km x 30 km. This provides an opportunity to investigate the physics of earthquakes in a very accessible area. There's, however, no other known source of earthquakes within 50 km of the Koyna dam," NGRI-CSIR distinguished scientist Dr Harsh Gupta told this correspondent.

According to NGRI-CSIR director Dr YJ Bhaskar Rao, the experiment is expected to significantly extend the understanding of the origin of earthquakes in the region. "Our scientists have seen that earthquakes of about 4 magnitude are preceded by nucleation (vapour bubbles) lasting 200 to 300 hours. Identification of the nucleation in real time has led to short time forecast of earthquakes of about 4 magnitude," he said.

Koyna is a classical site of reservoir triggered seismicity. Earthquakes have been occurring in Koyna since the impoundment in 1962, including the largest reservoir-triggered one of 6.3 magnitude on December 10, 1967. The region has thus far witnessed 20 earthquakes of magnitude greater than 5 and several thousand smaller ones.

Dr Harsh Gupta said a deep bore hole would provide direct observational data on several vital issues relating to earthquakes, and contribute to earthquake hazard reduction. The experiment will help answer questions related to the genesis of reservoir triggered seismicity.

At present geophysicists do not have much knowledge about the physical properties of rocks and fluids in the fault (earthquake) zones and how they affect the build-up stress for extended period. This because they do not have data from the near field region.

The deep bore hole will allow direct characterisation of the underground fault geometry, physical properties of rocks, hydraulics, fluid composition and heat flow, as well as throwing new light on the upper crustal rocks and Deccan Volcanic Province.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Japan nuclear disaster: NPCIL chief Dr SK Jain says nuclear reactors to be imported are safe

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 19: Nuclear Power Corporation of India chairman Dr SK Jain on Saturday said the nuclear reactors being imported are designed site-specific, meeting all local geological and environmental safety requirements.

"Though we are importing the reactors, they are built to the specifications given by us. They will suit the local conditions where they will be installed," Dr Jain said clarifying that NPCIL will reject them if they do not meet the specifications fixed by it.

India plans to import as many as 40 nuclear reactors from France and USA in the next 10 years. Doubts are being expressed that some of these reactors are being made for the first time and thus, their technology not tested anywhere in the world.

Dr Jain was in the city to take possession of equipment for prototype fast breeder reactor from ECIL chairman YS Mayya. He later told this correspondent that all the existing nuclear plants in the country had been designed to withstand terror attacks even by aeroplanes and missiles.

"We have an inbuilt and back-up mechanism to face any terror threat. Our nuclear plants are not only safe but also as clean as hospital. We have worked on computer simulations and have made enough safeguards to protect our reactors from terror attacks," he added.

According to Dr Jain, in case all power supplies are lost at a nuclear plant in the country, there's a clear gap of 49 hours time to restore the heat sink and cool the reactor. "Our plants are so designed as to trip within three seconds in case of earthquake or other natural calamity," he clarified.

At present NPCIL operates 20 nuclear power reactors with an installed capacity of 4780 mw. Of these reactors, two are boiled water reactors at
Tarapur, and others pressurised heavy water reactors. The safety of the BWR plants was reanalysed a few years ago. They have been renovated, upgraded and additional safety features back fitted to latest state-of-art safety standards.

Addressing mediapersons later in the afternoon, Dr Jain said the PHWRs, on the other hand, are of a different design than that of BWRs and have multiple, redundant and diverse shutdown systems as well as cooling water systems.

"Our plants have testified their safety towards the severe earthquakes of Gujarat in Bhuj on January 26, 2001 when the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station continued to operate safely, supplying much needed power to the region," Dr Jain pointed out.

He said even during the tsunami on December 26, 2004, Madras Atomic Power Station was safely shutdown without any radiological consequences.

"The event in Japan will be reviewed in detail in due course as the detailed information becomes available. Resulting out of such a review, any reinforcement as needed in Indian reactors will be implemented," Dr Jain said.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japan nuclear incident: Common man in India does not have direct access to radiation counters or dosimters

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 18: The common man in the country has no direct access to radiation counters or dosimeters for independent evaluation of radiation exposure if any, from the nuclear power plants.
People living in the vicinity of uranium and thorium mining projects are exposed to varying levels of radiation dosages, but they cannot know the exact quantum of exposure in the absence of public access to radiation counters and dosimeters. Only government agencies particularly of the Department of Atomic Energy are permitted to possess equipment that measure the exposure of radiation to the general public.
"For some strange reason the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has not taken note of it. There's no shortage of radiation counters and dosimeters. A tender publication in a newspaper will flood you with the equipment. But since there's restriction on their use by the general public, one has to believe what the DAE or the Barc says. If they say there's no radiation exposure, that's it," a senior nuclear physicist associated with AERB told this correspondent.
Radiation counters help one know the quantum of radiation a person is exposed to. Radiation dosimeters also perform a similar function. Only top hospitals with nuclear medicine departments registered with the DAE get licence to use these equipment.
"The government has always kept a veil of secrecy on the civil nuclear power programme. Barc and DAE have constantly been denying that there's no radiation exposure to their employees, leave alone the general public. Their argument is that the radiation exposure is far below the natural background radiation that hits the earth. But the truth will come out if at least NGOs are permitted to take up independent evaluation of people exposed to radiation risk," said Dr K Babu Rao, adviser to National Alliance of People's Movements.
The demand for access to general public of radiation counters and dosimeters gains significance as India plans to import as many as 21 nuclear reactors as part of its ambitious "energy parks" programme. Each energy park will have a cluster of reactors posing even greater threat to the people living around.
The proposed nuclear plant at Kovvada in Srikakulam district will singularly have a capacity of 6000 MWe. This is against the overall nuclear energy generation of about 4500 MWe in the country at present. This speaks of the gigantic size of the nuclear energy park at Kovvada, a densely populated area.
"One can image the danger the nuclear energy parks will pose because of the location of a number of reactors at one small place. Radiation counters will help people know whether they are safe from or at risk of nuclear radiation. People have a right to health and they should not be denied of the facility," said anti-nuke activist V Satyanarayana.

The story of the super moon: earth's natural satellite at its perigee

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 18: The full moon on Saturday will be 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter, but those living in urban areas may miss this spectacular celestial sight thanks to light and smoke pollution.

The moon will be at its closest point to the earth on March 19 and astrophysics refer to this phenomenon as "perigee" (in Greek peri means around, and gee means earth). Because of its nearness to the earth by about 50,000 km, the full or super moon will shine 30 per cent brighter. It will be larger than the ordinary full moon by 14 per cent.

While people living in villages will get an opportunity to enjoy the rare beauty of the full moon, unfortunately urbanites may miss the opportunity. "There's the problem of light and other pollution in cities. One can't really make out the difference here. But if one goes away from the city to a rural area, one can really enjoy the beauty of the super moon," Birla Planetarium director Dr BG Siddharth said.

Since the orbit of the moon is elliptical or egg like, the distance between the earth and the moon keeps changing, with the farthest distance (apogee) being 4.06 lakh km and the nearest at 3.56 lakh km. The super moon thus will be about 50,000 km closer to the earth, though in astronomical terms this distance is quite insignificant.

This Saturday's moon will be the biggest in about two decades, the last such super moon happening in March, 1993. The moon was "almost closer" to the earth two years ago, in December, 2008. Super moons occur regularly but a perfect perigee full moon occurring less than one hour away from perigee, happens once in 18 years.

"Astronomically it is not significant. It is not rare either, but if there's no light pollution it will be a beautiful sight worth watching," Dr Siddharth said, adding that though the sea tides may be stronger, they will not cause any damage.

Planetary Society of India general secretary N Sri Raghunandan Kumar says since the moon revolves around the earth in 29.5 days, every month witnesses a perigee and an apogee. But the full moon occurring within an hour of perfect perigee takes place once in many years. The Saturday's moon is one such instance. From India's point of view, ISRO would have sent man into the lunar world by the time the next super moon occurs. ISRO plans to put man on the moon in the next 10 years.

"There's nothing super about this so-called super moon. Actually, astrologer Richard Nile coined the term super moon, giving it astrological connotations. But the super moon has nothing to do with the geological events back on the earth. The best time to watch the celestial spectacle is when the moon is near the horizon," he said.

According to NASA, in most places, lunar gravity at perigee pulls tide waters only a few centimetres (an inch or so) higher than usual. Local geography can amplify the effect to about 15 centimetres (six inches) - not exactly a great flood.

AERB finally wakes up to Japan nuclear disaster to say Indian cities are safe

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 18: The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, which is supposedly a regulating body of nuclear energy in the country, wakes up a week after the Fukushima nuclear mishap to say there's no radiological impact in India from the Japan incident.

Faced with strong criticism for not doing its best to serve as a nuclear watchdog, the AERB on Friday conducted radiation studies at 28 places across the country, including Hyderabad, where the Nuclear Fuel Complex is located. The NFC purifies natural uranium ore and makes it nuclear grade for use in power plants.

The Indian Environmental Radiation Monitoring Network set up by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre studied the radiation levels in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Manavalakurichi, Mumbai, Nagpur, New Delhi, Shillong and Visakhapatnam among others. The measurements were taken on Friday afternoon.

The data obtained on Friday was compared with the one observed during February 2011, before the Fukushima incident. The AERB claims that "there's no adverse impact to India from the radiation leak at Fukushima".

Considering the geographical location of India with respect to Fukushima, current status of releases and the prevailing wind direction towards the east (Pacific Ocean), no radiological impact from the radioactivity released in Japan is expected in India.

The average natural background radiation in Hyderabad during February 2011 was 147 nGy/hr (nanoGray per hour) as against 147 nGy/hr recorded on March 18. For Bengaluru the figure is 88 for both the months. In case of Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, the figures are 114 and 107 respectively.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Japan nuclear disaster: Radiation compensation quite low in India

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 17: People hit by radiation in case of nuclear mishap in India may not get more than Rs 2.5 lakh each as monetary compensation, fear anti-nuke activists.

Given the high density of population in the country a mishap in any of the nuclear power plants will affect at least one lakh people. Since the monetary cap is fixed at Rs 1500 crore under civil nuclear damage liability, those hit by radiation will not get hefty compensation.

If the compensation of Rs 1500 crore is to be shared by one lakh people, an affected individual can expect just Rs 1.5 lakh. Even if the Central government hikes the compensation, say by another Rs 1000 crore, people hit by radiation will have to be content with Rs 2.5 lakh each. The compensation an individual gets will go down if the nuclear disaster is of a large magnitude affecting more than a lakh people, argues anti-nuke activist and senior scientist Dr K Babu Rao.

"If the nuclear mishap in Japan is any indication, people living within a radius of 20 km may be affected. A radius of 20 km translates to about 600 sq km. Given the high density of population in India, at least 12 lakh people live within the potential dangerous zone. The dangers nuclear power plants pose are relatively more in India than in any other country. The damage liability should be unlimited and if it is limited affected individuals will get peanuts, as in the case of Bhopal tragedy," he warned.

Even in a thinly populated nation like the US, a mishap in a nuclear power plant will trigger one lakh "early fatalities" (death from radiation within nine years of exposure) and 40,000 cancer deaths over a period of time. The maximum cost of accident for a nuclear plant in the US is fixed at 656.9 billion US dollars (Rs 3,00,000 crore). But the Indian government has fixed an overall monetary liability of just Rs 1500 crore, which is about 200 times less, Dr Babu Rao said.

Gopal Krishna, convener of Toxic Watch Alliance, New Delhi, said many countries including the USA have unlimited liability in case of nuclear mishap. But in India the liability is fixed and this will badly affect the over all compensation to be paid to the affected individuals and their families.

"British Petroleum, responsible for oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has deposited Rs 9,000 crore pending final settlement on compensation. Nuclear mishap is larger than oil spill. Plant genome is affected. Both  humans and animals will be subjected to untold miseries. The initial compensation fixed was just Rs 500 crore but later it was increased to Rs 1500 crore. For a densely populated nation like India there should be no limited liability in case of nuclear disasters," Gopal Krishna said.

He feared that even this paltry compensation will not reach the affected people as nuclear plants are exempt to pay compensation in case of earthquakes or terror attacks. "The Centre agrees to pay compensation in such cases. This in other words means leaving the operators scot free," he added.

SP Uday Kumar, convener, National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movement, Thrissur, said the quantum of compensation cannot be fixed as the magnitude of loss due to nuclear radiation cannot be assessed. "We do not have a mechanism to study the magnitude of the loss. Some people suffer immediately, while others report radiation-related problems a few years later. The liability should be unlimited as not just one individual but an entire locality could be wiped out in a nuclear mishap," he said.

"Since India is in no way more capable of dealing with nuclear catastrophe than the Japanese, justification of nuclear power plants is just shallow. With corrupt and poor quality practices inherent in the system, it is dangerous to meddle with such high risk projects," pointed out B Ramakrishnam Raju of National Alliance of People's Movement.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Safety of over-the-counter drugs: Be careful with headache and cold medicines

By Syed Akbar
First year BCom student P Pranita did not know that she was actually consuming a sort of poison when she took a tablet for severe headache. The 18-year-old girl was apparently influenced by a TV advertisement, pushing across an over-the-counter or OTC drug for headache and cold. The girl soon developed severe drug  complications and died a few hours later. Doctors suspect that the girl might have been suffering from some  underlying cardiac or liver problem and the chemical ingredients in the "headache tablet" had 
suddenly aggravated it.
Pranita's death has brought to the fore the debate on the safety of OTC drugs, some of  which contain active
ingredients banned in developed nations. The "headache-cum-cold" tablet the girl took is easily available even with a panwalla as it can be sold without prescription.
The medicine allegedly taken by Pranita contains 500 mg of paracetamol, 10 mg of  phenylephrine hydrochloride, and 32 mg of caffeine anhydrous, besides a harmful colouring agent. While caffeine anhydrous is  a natural pesticide in plants and a powerful psychoactive substance in human beings, paracetamol, which gives  relief from pain and fever, is derived from coal tar and is known for its adverse side effects.
Doctors believe that the combination of paracetamol, caffeine and phenylephrine  hydrochloride may have aggravated an underlying health problem in the girl. The reaction was quick as the girl was on empty  stomach.
Like many others, the girl did know that she was taking three medicines for one problem  (headache).
Phenylephrine hydrochloride is a powerful decongestant and opens up the nasal blockade in  case of cold. There have been debates in developed nations including the USA on the need to regulate it. There are also arguments that the drug does not serve its purpose, but only increases the blood pressure.
"Cold and cough prescriptions should be advised by the doctors keeping the age and  patient condition in mind," says senior physician Dr Aftab Ahmad. Discouraging use of OTC drugs, he says certain ingredients in these can have harmful effect on heart and can be fatal leading to death.
According to him, cold remedies can increase blood pressure and lead to fast and  irregular heart beat with serious consequences. In Pranita's case, headache could be because of cold and an underlying  cardiac problem could have got aggravated. "Since it is dangerous, it should not be sold as OTC drug," he points out.
The tablet must have triggered hypertension in the girl leading to headache and nausea  and as the girl was on empty stomach it caused severe weakness. "Phenylephrine hydrochloride is not advised for people  with a history of seizures (epilepsy) and those with high blood pressure. As many do not know the side-effects of 
certain drugs, it is always better to take medication under the supervision of a doctor or a qualified pharmacist," warns physician Dr M Ramachandra Murthy.
People should be extra cautious about certain "cold and cough" drugs as they may trigger  stroke or seizures and cause abdominal cramps, says pharmacist S Koteswara Rao. Some drugs like decongestants increase the heart beat, elevate blood pressure, and cause restlessness. The complications can be dangerous if  they are taken on empty stomach.
Any medicine taken on empty stomach mixes fast with the blood stream and if the drug is  known for its side-effects, the results can be quite dangerous, says Dr Aftab Ahmad. Doctors point out that the side-effects of cold and headache  medicines include dizziness, vomiting, irregular heart beat, stomach upset, and damage to liver.
How to use OTC drugs

1. Never get influenced by TV advertisements on pain and cough relievers. Certain seemingly harmless drugs can be fatal for some individuals. Do not take overdose of medicines i.e two or more same tablets at a time. It will increase the drug potency, which the body may not tolerate.
2. Always consult a doctor or a qualified pharmacist even if you want to use OTC drug.  Certain drugs react severely if a person is already on other medication. Drug-drug reaction is potentially dangerous.
3. Never exceed the dose prescribed. Simple drugs like paracetamol can stay within our  body for as long as five years. The drug traces build up in the body resulting in a synergetic effect, which can be quite harmful.
4. Check for the active ingredients in a medicine. Do not go by the brand name.
5. Always use single drug medicines if you are suffering from one problem. Multi-drug tablets will only harm the body and give unnecessary resistance to medicines. When required, these drugs will not work thanks to body resistance.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Evolutionary Pressurised Reactors are novice to Indian nuclear scientists, say former official of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 15: The Evolutionary Pressurised Reactors, which India plans to build at Jaitapur in Maharashtra, are a novice to Indian nuclear scientists and engineers and the potential hazards they pose are not known.
The Central government plans to import as many as 21 nuclear reactors in a bid to boost the nuclear power generation. But in the process it seems to have compromised on the safety aspects, as these reactors are totally new to the Indian scenario.
Dr A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, told this correspondent that "the Evolutionary Pressurised Reactors to be built in Jaitapur, having not been commissioned anywhere in the world, is a non-existent reactor, whose potential problems are totally unknown even to Areva, its developer, let alone India’s Nuclear Power Corporation".
He said the government is "scattering our energies and talent in getting imported reactors like the French EPRs in Jaitapur, of which neither Indians nor the French know much about."
Stating that Indian engineers and scientists are totally familiar with the details of indigenously developed pressurised heavy water reactors to deal with any major accident, Dr Gopalakrishnan said "for Indian engineering teams to react in a similar timely and effective manner against an accident in one of the planned imported reactors will be next to impossible for at least few decades to come."
He urged the Central government to place all actions related to the import of reactors on hold and proceed gradually forward with building just the PHWRs. "India has built 18 PHWRs on own. We have mastered the design through carefully learning from the mistakes of the past, and are currently moving on to build 700 MWe units of this type. We have three generations of Indian engineers, who are familiar with the PHWR. If we need more nuclear power, the safest route is to consolidate and expand on our PHWR experience, import natural uranium and build more PHWRs," he said.
Pointing out that a reactor has to be physically built and then only it can be tested, Dr Gopalakrishnan said the EPR is a totally untested reactor, even if Areva claims it has combined various best design features on paper in conceiving the reactor.
The reliability and safety of EPR will be extremely low and unknown until, through different stages of operation and testing over years, all indicated problems are rectified.
"The promoters (NPCIL and Areva) are totally silent about the serious problems which India, and especially the local community, has to face after operations start and the spent-fuel starts accumulating at site. The especially higher burn-up spent fuel from EPRs has its own unique hazards at the storage and transportation stages, unlike in the case of current LWRs, which use lower burn-ups," he observed.
Dr Gopalakrishnan suggested that a high-level national review commission on nuclear power should be appointed to review India’s nuclear power policies at the earliest. "The members of this commission must be people of high ethical standards with expertise in matters of nuclear power, safety and economics, and preferably non-officials of the government and not connected with business houses or federations," he pointed out.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Anti-nuke activists demand scrapping of proposed nuclear power plants

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 14: Anti-nuke activists are back in action demanding scrapping of all the proposed nuclear power plants and uranium mining units in the State.

They allege that the USA wants to "test its untested technology" of pressurised water reactors at Kovvada village in Srikakulam district.

Senior scientist Dr K Babu Rao, who has been fighting against nuclear pollution in the country, argued that pressurised water reactors or light water reactors from the USA are of the same design as the reactors in Fukushima Daiichi, which faced the threat of meltdown.

"These reactors are the same design as those in Fukushima Daiichi, and are actually a newer version of Generation 4 reactors, which have not been used or tested anywhere in the world. Nobody can say either about the efficacy or the durability of these reactors. So, people of AP will be the experimental guinea pigs to “test” this “un proven” technology," he pointed out.

The anti-nuke activists are now armed with a Barc report obtained by RTI activist Chetan Kothari. The Barc report has admitted that as many as 1930 scientists and other staff of various nuclear units in the country had died mostly of cancers in the last 15 years.

These deaths include 197 cases of suicide. Barc leads the deaths with 680 cases, followed by Nuclear Power Corporation of India with 346, Nuclear Fuel Complex with 172 and Uranium Corporation of India Limited with 86. However, there's no medical evidence to link these deaths with exposure to radiation.

Saraswati Kavula, joint convener of the National Alliance of People's Movement, said even if the nuclear plants proposed in the State are of proven technology, there's no guarantee that they would withstand a tsunami or an earthquake.

"Can we guarantee that another tsunami will not hit our coast, or that another earthquake will not hit the proposed uranium mines in Nalgonda or the nuclear plants and uranium mines now in construction in Kadapa? When questions such as these are posed to the authorities, we get lame duck responses," she said.

The NAPA has urged people to take note of the nuke mishap in Japan and bring pressure on the Central and the State governments to stop their "mad schemes of mass murder in the name of development".

Social scientist Dr Chenna Basavaiah said "atoms for peace is a myth and nuclear power is neither clean nor safe". He said post Indo-US nuclear deal, authorities in the State and at the Centre had gone overboard in trying to convince people on the “need” for nuclear power plants and claiming that Indian track record with respect to nuclear industry is absolutely impeccable.

"During the Tsunami of 2004, Kalpakkam Nuclear Reactor was damaged and the sea water entered the plant and people too died of radiation impact. However, this information was suppressed as with all other incidents in the past," research fellow Dr K Satyalakshmi said.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan nuclear episode: Nuclear mining and power plants in India safe, says Barc scientist

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 13: Nuclear mining and power plants in the country are safe and the environmental radiation levels released by them are quite low and negligible.
According to Dr VD Puranik, head of the environmental assessment division of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, radiation exposures to the general public due to the operations of nuclear units like beach mineral separation, monazite processing, uranium mining and milling, and fuel fabrication "are not significant".
Dr Puranik has carried out extensive work on the radiological and environmental safety aspects of nuclear mining and power units in the country. His findings that "the environmental radiation levels are low and often close to the local background level" gain significance in the backdrop of apprehensions that nuclear power operations in the country are not safe. Radiological pollution and its impact on health has been the focus of discussion in the country after the nuclear mishap in Japan.
Analysis of data by Dr Puranik has revealed that even for those closely associated with these units, the average annual effective dose in the beach sand mining and processing of monazite and thorium are between 1 and 7 mSv (mean dose). The dose in any worker does not exceed the annual dose limit of 20 mSV prescribed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. For uranium refining and fuel fabrication plants, like the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad, the average annual effective dose are around 1 to 2 mSv.
The front end nuclear fuel cycle in India comprises mining and processing of beach mineral sands along the southern coasts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Orissa, mining and processing of uranium ore in Singhbhum-East in Jharkhand, and refining and fuel fabrication in Hyderabad.
Magnesium di-uranate from uranium mill at Jaduguda is purified in uranium processing and fuel fabrication plant of NFC in the city, where nuclear grade uranium oxide is produced for use in fuel assemblies for power reactors.
Operation of the facilities, from mining of beach mineral sands and uranium ore and processing to purification of uranium to fabrication of fuels involves exposure of workers to varying levels of external and internal radiation. As against the upper annual dose limit of 20 mSv, a dose of 5 mSv has been observed at Jaduguda, 5.5 mSv at Bhatin, 4 mSv at Narawa, 1 mSv at NFC, and 5.5 mSv at Udyogamandal.
Dr Puranik, while analysing the average values of uranium and radium in ground water at locations more than 5 km from the tailings pond of these units, observed "there seems to be no movement of radio-nuclides from the tailings pond to the ground water in the vicinity.
In Hyderabad wells and bore wells up to 5 km from NFC are monitored on regular basis for conventional pollutants and radioactivity. Ambient air quality is also measured. The levels are found to be "within the limits" and there's no environmental impact on twin cities.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Supreme Court of India legalises passive euthanasia, but doctors divided over mercy killing

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 7: Doctors are steeply divided on Supreme Court's order legalising passive euthanasia for terminally ill patients or those in irreversible comatose state.
While a section of doctors feels that legalising passive euthanasia will hamper research in medical sciences and tantamount to denial of the basic human right to life, others are of the view that it will reduce the suffering of the terminally ill patients and those living in permanent vegetative coma. Though they are divided on passive euthanasia, they all agree that active euthanasia should not be allowed in the country.
Still others argue that euthanasia, or "good death" as the word means in Greek, is an inappropriate medical term. They say death, forced in any form - whether active or passive euthanasia - is "not good" and doctors subscribing to medical ethics should not enforce it on their patients.
Leading surgical oncologist Dr Mohana Vamsi minces no words when he says he will never suggest that his patients choose euthanasia. "Even if the patient is terminally ill, I will not perform euthanasia, even if it is passive. As a doctor, it's my duty to continue with the treatment and it is ethically wrong to stop the efforts," he argues.
Dr Vamsi believes that if terminally ill people or those in coma are allowed to choose passive euthanasia, it will affect scientific research and development of new medicine. "Medical technology has advanced to such a stage that even cases declared as terminally ill have survived for months and years. There have been several instances of people coming out of coma," he points out.
According to senior physician Dr Aftab Ahmad, passive euthanasia can be carried out if all the relatives of the terminally ill patient arrive at a consensus. "As doctors we face a lot of dilemma in dealing with terminally ill cases. If doctors and relatives come to an opinion on passive euthanasia, then there's no harm. But in active euthanasia there's always the problem of judgmental error and no amount of regret later will bring the patient back to life," he said.
Infectious diseases expert Dr Suneetha Narreddy welcomes the Supreme Court order. She says, "if a patient has the right to take medicine, he also has the right to stop it. One cannot force a cancer patient to take chemotherapy if he does not want it. Similarly, in passive euthanasia, life support system or medication is withdrawn. But active euthanasia should not be allowed."
MNJ Institute of Oncology former director Dr T Mandapal suggests that there should be nation-wide debate on passive euthanasia before it is made law. "Passive euthanasia is welcome, but there should be enough safeguards to ensure that it is not misused. The patient should be given the choice whether to be continued on life support system and medication or withdrawn from medical aid," he said.

What is Euthanasia?
Euthanasia is a medical term which in Greek means “good death”. In other words it means assisting a terminally ill person or one in coma to die. There have been debates all over the world whether euthanasia should be legalised. India has thus far taken a rigid stand on euthanasia arguing that it’s illegal and against medical ethics and clear violation of the Hippocratic Oath.
Euthanasia is often described as active and passive.
In active euthanasia, doctors administer a lethal injection, generally sodium pentothal, to allow a terminally ill patient to slip into deep slumber. The patient dies in sleep, without pain. The lethal dose is given either by the doctor attending on the patient, or the patient himself takes the lethal injection. Active euthanasia is otherwise called mercy-killing. If the patient himself takes the lethal dose, it is also described as assisted suicide.
Supreme Court has declared that active euthanasia is illegal.
In passive euthanasia, the terminally ill patient or one in coma is hastened to die a natural death through withdrawal of life support systems, medication and food. For instance, if a patient is on ventilator, it is withdrawn to enable him to die. Passive euthanasia is basically denial of medical facilities to a terminally ill patient.
Supreme Court is in favour of passive euthanasia but has put a lot of conditions for it to be implemented, as there are chances of its misuse.

Recent euthanasia pleas in Andhra Pradesh
* 2004: K Sujatha, mother of chess player Venkatesh, knocks the doors of AP High Court seeking permission that her son be allowed to be euthanised. Venkatesh was lying on bed with muscular dystrophy and wanted to donate his organs. The High Court rejected the plea.
* 2010: K Jagannadham and K Manohar of Ramakkapet village in Medak district sought the intervention of the AP State Human Rights Commission for their mercy killing. Both the brothers are victims of muscular dystrophy and crippled. The SHRC has not responded to their plea.
* 2011: Devudamma, a old woman in Visakhapatnam, has petitioned the district collector that she be mercy-killed. The woman is healthy but has been subjected to untold harassment by her grandchildren.