The book was reviewed in The Statesman on 16 March 2013:

http://thestatesman.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=447892&catid=44


Matters Nuclear -http://thestatesman.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=447892&catid=44
The book makes a compelling argument why the nuclear energy programme has failed in the past and why its future is not as promising as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made out... A review by sam rajappa
 
Public opinion turned against nuclear power generation as a result of Fukushima and Chernobyl disasters.  Had the disasters taken place in Europe or the USA, its effect on public opinion would have been still greater.  Nevertheless, because of the energy  crisis, the ruling class in India argues that nuclear power generation is as safe and even safer than other means of power generation.  MV Ramana, working with the Nuclear Futures Laboratory and the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, USA, in his recently published book, The Power of Promise, makes a compelling argument why the nuclear energy programme has failed in the past and why its future is not as promising as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made out.
With solid research and meticulous argument, Ramana demonstrates that there is no case for promoting nuclear power generation in India on ethical, economic and environmental grounds. The Power of Promise is the first independent assessment of six decades of India’s nuclear programme from the heady days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Homi Bhabha to the currently entrenched nuclear bureaucracy with unlimited political patronage, based entirely on official and other published documents.

Despite all the rhetoric about self-reliance and indigenous development, the Atomic Energy Commission, head of the family of nuclear organisations in the country, has sought and received ample help on acquiring technologies related to the entire gamut of nuclear fuel chain from other countries until the first nuclear weapon test at Pokharan in 1974.  The detailed engineering drawings, technical data, and enriched uranium fuel rods for India’s first nuclear reactor, Apsara, set up in 1956, were supplied by Sir John Cockroft, an important figure in the British programme and a colleague of Bhabha during his Cambridge days. 
While speaking in the Lok Sabha, Nehru asserted, “the putting up of the swimming pool reactor was done entirely by Indian scientists and  Indian engineers.”  The Pokharan test ended the period of extensive foreign support to India’s nuclear programme.

Bhabha had envisaged a three-stage nuclear programme way back in 1954.  The first of the strategy involved the use of uranium to fuel heavy water reactors, followed by reprocessing the irradiated spent fuel to extract plutonium.  In the second stage, the accumulated plutonium is used in the nuclear cores of fast breeder reactors.  The third stage involved breeder reactors using Uranium-233 in the cores and thorium in their blankets.  The primary goal was to base the growth of nuclear power on thorium, which India had plentiful, rather than uranium, which was relatively scare in the country.
Though the USA and the USSR had mastered the technology to base their growth of nuclear power on thorium, they put it on the backburner in their eagerness to produce weapon-grade plutonium to build a stockpile of nuclear bombs.  Unfortunately for India, before Bhabha could put through his three-stage nuclear programme, he met with untimely death in a plane crash, widely believed to be a case of sabotage.  His death forced India also to put its fast breeder programme also on the backburner.

Inaugurating an International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in New Delhi in September 2009, Manmohan Singh said that India would raise its nuclear power capacity to 470 GW by 2050.  More than 65 years after the atomic energy programme was launched, and without facing much opposition from the public due to lack of awareness of its inherent dangers, India could so far achieve only 4.78 GW out of its total electricity generation capacity of 205 GW.  The projected capacity of 470 GW would not only represent a hundredfold increase but also would exceed today’s global nuclear power capacity, Ramana points out.

The book brings out nuggets of little known facets of the Koodankulam nuclear power project.  The Soviet Union was never able to sell its nuclear reactors to countries outside the Soviet Bloc.  Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin offered to supply a reactor to India when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Moscow in 1982.  Successive AEC chairmen Homi Sethna and Raja Ramma were opposed to the idea.

Taking advantage of Rajiv Gandhi’s inexperience, President Mikhail Gorbachov concluded an agreement in 1988, hardly two years after Chernobyl, for two 1,000 MW VVER reactors to be installed in Koodankulam.  At that time, VVER-1,000 reactors were still very new and there was little operational experience with them.  During operation, VVER-1,000 reactors were found to develop sticking control rod problem.  The control rods which absorb neutrons and are used to shut down the reactor, became deformed and could not be inserted into the core within the specified time.  The Soviet safety standards did not reflect any lessons learnt from the Chernobyl accident.

In the Czech Republic, the Temelin-1 VVER-1,000 reactor supplied by Russia started operating in 2000 and by June 2006, there were 51 control rods that could not be inserted properly.  Similarly, at the Kozludoy-V reactor in Bulgaria, there was a serious problem on 1 March 2006.  Twenty-two out of 61  control rods could not be moved.  Control rod insertion failures are considered very serious and increase the likelihood of initiating events leading to a severe accident.  While the Nuclear Power Corporation of India remains silent on the problems engineers are facing in commissioning the first reactor of the Koodankulam plant, the fact that it has not been able to generate any power even after four months of loading fuel rods indicates that all is not well.

The case for and against nuclear power rests on three counts ~ safety, sentiments and economics.  The Three Mile Island accident in the USA, the Chernobyl meltdown in the Soviet Union in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan two years ago have proved decisively that there is no such thing as foolproof safety system anywhere in the world.  A 2009 book on Chernobyl published by the New York Academy of Sciences claims 985,000 people have died from radioactivity it released.  Dr. Alexey Yablokov, lead author of the book, projects the Fukushima toll will be greater. 
The USA has not commissioned a single nuclear power plant since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.  After spending $ 2.5 billion on the half-finished Marble Hill nuclear plant at Madison, the Public Service Company of Indiana abandoned the project.  The Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company converted its 97 per cent completed Zimmer nuclear power plant into a coal-fired one.  The most notable fiasco in the USA was the closing down of the fully completed $ 5 billion Shorehan nuclear power plant near New York City without producing a single unit of electricity.  The US experience has a valuable lesson for India because it is the only country where the nuclear power industry is evaluated purely on a commercial basis.

Sentiments are clearly against nuclear power though the people realise energy is crucial to propel economic growth.  The people are aware of the burden it passes on to posterity and the risks to which it exposes vast populations who have no say in the matter.  Long before any of the major nuclear power accidents, C Rajagopalachari had the prescience to argue that nuclear power was comparable to “a hypothetical case of using the thunderbolt to cook our breakfast” because of the terrible risks attached to this industry.   He also foresaw the nuclear production process totally disregarding the rights of those who do not in any way benefit from it. 

While it is not easy to calculate the net cost of nuclear power because of the hidden costs involved, the experience of the USA and the UK shows that it is prohibitively high.  The surest test of cost is the market.  It is in the free market the nuclear power industry has met its Waterloo. 

The reviewer is a veteran journalist and former director, Statesman Print Journalism School