Bhopal survivors ask India to learn from Fukushima

By Pervez Bari (pervezbari[@]

Bhopal: Following the catastrophic tragedy that struck Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and Tsunami on March 11 last, the leaders of five NGOs working for the survivors of the December 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster have asked the Government of India to learn lessons from Japan so that Indians are saved from another holocaust like in Bhopal 26 years ago.

Lest such incidents are repeated in India following natural calamities or man-made errors, the NGOs have demanded immediate suspension of the work on the Jaitapur nuclear power plant and called for an independent review of the proposed nuclear reactors at five other locations within India.

The five NGOs which appealed to the Government included: Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Group for Information & Action and Children Against Dow Carbide.

Meanwhile, the survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster, which included many “Burqa” (veil) clad women and some children, observed a two minutes silence to pay homage to those who perished in Japan in the Tsunami and earthquake. They called for the Central Government to pull up its socks and have a relook of all the nuclear plants to see that the safety measures are in place and are upgraded in the backdrop of the Fukushima debacle.

Addressing a joint Press conference here on Tuesday the NGOs expressed condolences for the nearly 15,000 victims who perished in the tragedy and appealed to the world community for help to rehabilitate about half a million Japanese who have been displaced following the disaster. They expressed deep concerns over the ongoing nuclear disaster and apprehensions that such a tragedy could strike India if the government did not heed the warning signals and have a thorough and complete relook of the safety measures of the existing nuclear power plants in the country.

Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information & Action said the Fukushima disaster has highlighted the importance of public knowledge concerning all aspects of the nuclear industry. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, (AERB), being part of the Department of Atomic Energy of Government of India is not an independent body and the Indian people cannot rely on it for authentic information.

Any investigation carried out by AERB is not reliable as the world over a veil of secrecy exists over the working of nuclear plants, he remarked.

Sarangi pointed out the similarities of the locations of the Fukushima and the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power plant and demanded immediate suspension of work on the project. He said that Jaitapur is located along the coast line and as per the figures of Geological Survey of India it has witnessed 92 earthquakes from 1985 to 2009.

He called for an independent review of the proposed nuclear power plants at five other locations in the country namely in Chutkha (Madhya Pradesh), Haripur (West Bengal), Mithi Virdi (Gujarat), Pitti Sonapur (Orissa) and Kowada (Andhra Pradesh).

Rashida Bee of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh said that the city in which over 24,000 people have died and many are still dying, can feel the pain of relatives and friends of the thousands of Japanese people who have died due to the Tsunami and earthquake. She expressed hope that the people from all over the world will help over 4, 52,000 affected people to rebuild their lives. She said that by causing irreparable damage to the world environment, large corporations are causing and heightening the impact of natural disasters

Balkrishna Namdeo of Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha expressed grave concerns on the ongoing exposure of workers and others to nuclear radiation and the contamination of food and water. He said that the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is responsible for nuclear energy production, has managed to cover up nuclear accidents and hide the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry. On behalf of the survivors of Bhopal he demanded that the Japanese government release factual information on the levels of radiation in and around the nuclear plant in Fukushima.

Safreen Khan of Children Against Dow-Carbide called for independent scientific investigations into the operation and impact of the 19 reactors currently operating in various parts of India. She said that there has been no official study yet on the health effects including birth defects and cancer in the communities around these nuclear plants.

It may be recalled here that 40 tonnes of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas had spewed from the pesticide plant of the Union Carbide factory in the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984. The gas leak killed 3,000 people instantly and more than 25,000 over the years. It also affected 100,000 people that night and estimates are that more than 500,000 continue to suffer till date.

Meanwhile, it may be mentioned here that at the US atomic weapons plant at Rocky Flats, Colorado, there were numerous mishaps involving radioactive material which were shrouded in secrecy over four decades, from the 1950s to the 1980s. In Russia, the province of Chelyabinsk, just east of the Urals, housed a major atomic weapons complex, which was the site of three major nuclear disasters: radioactive waste dumping and the explosion of a waste containment unit in the 1950s, and a vast escape of radioactive dust in 1967. It is estimated that about half a million people in the region were irradiated in one or more of the incidents, exposing them to as much as 20 times the radiation suffered by the Chernobyl victims.

When we turn to Japan, we find an identical culture of nuclear cover-up and lies. Of particular concern has been the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Asia’s biggest utility, which just happens to be the owner and operator of the stricken reactors at Fukushima.

It is said that TEPCO has a truly rotten record in telling the truth. In 2002, its chairman and a group of senior executives had to resign after the Japanese government disclosed they had covered up a large series of cracks and other damage to reactors, and in 2006 the company admitted it had been falsifying data about coolant materials in its plants over a long period. Even Chernobyl, the world’s most publicised nuclear accident, was at first hidden from the world by what was then the Soviet Union, and might have remained hidden had its plume of escaping radioactivity not been detected by scientists in Sweden. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2011 on page no. 9

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