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28 March 2017 Editorial

 

28 MARCH 2017

Powered by a pause: delay in Indo-U.S. nuclear deal

Delays in the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal bring an opportunity to re-examine the energy basket

Ever since it was announced in 2005, the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement has faced one obstacle after another. So this week's news that its operationalisation may be further delayed owing to Westinghouse's financial difficulties and Japan's procedural issues in ratifying the deal with India should come as no surprise. This sets back "work toward finalising the contractual arrangements by June 2017" for six reactors to be built in Andhra Pradesh by Toshiba-owned Westinghouse and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL). But India has little control over both circumstances, and rather than seeing them as a setback, the government and officials should use this as an opportunity to re-examine the country's engagement with nuclear energy for future needs. Westinghouse's near-bankruptcy is part of a larger pattern of worldwide cost overruns and delivery delays across the nuclear energy industry. Nuclear manufacturer Areva (in partnership with Mitsubishi) has a similarly precarious position despite hopes of a bailout by the French government. Even Russian supplier Rosatom's Kudankulam units 1 and 2, in the only foreign collaboration now operational in India, were built in double the time budgeted, while units 3 and 4 could see delays. The cost of importing reactors, relative to those based on indigenous design, is another concern. Land acquisition issues remain, along with the need for large water reservoirs for the reactors, which will only grow if the government goes ahead with its plans for 55 reactors of 63,000 MW in total by 2032. In addition, given concerns about a possible tsunami scenario along the Andhra coast, where many of these reactors are planned, the Department of Atomic Energy and NPCIL are looking for options farther inland.

The promise of nuclear power has thus far outweighed all of these concerns, and India has reason to be proud of its technology and determination to look for non-fossil alternatives in its energy planning. However, with rapid progress in technology in other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, the collapse of oil prices and the expansion in gas projects as a viable and clean alternative, that promise has dimmed. These could also be more cost-effective for a developing country such as India, as the energy can be made available in smaller units, and then built up, unlike nuclear plants where nothing can be transmitted until the whole plant is complete and attains critical status. Above all, the risk surrounding nuclear safety is yet to be fully mapped, post-Fukushima. A Japanese court ruling holding both the state regulator and the operator responsible for the 2011 triple meltdown has sent sobering signals to the industry. This is the best time for India's energy planners and government to use the breathing space provided by the delays in the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal and take a long, hard look at the cost-benefit analysis on the nuclear power balance sheet.

 

Trust the EVMs: allegations by politicians have no real basis

Machine-manipulation charges levelled by some political parties have no real basis

The legitimacy of the election process is a key component of any democracy. When Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati and Aam Aadmi Party convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal alleged that the manipulation of electronic voting machines helped the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine in Punjab, they were casting doubts about the legitimacy of the results. While the BSP, through its leader's statements and submissions to the Election Commission, was vague in its complaints, the AAP leader was more specific, suggesting that 20-25% of his party's votes were "transferred" to the Akali Dal due to the EVMs. Complaints about the security of EVMs have been raised over a decade in courts, and the EC has repeatedly demonstrated how the security of the machines cannot be compromised. Indian EVMs, unlike online voting machines that were discontinued in some western countries, are stand- alone, independent electronic units. They record and lock votes only after being trigger-enabled by presiding officers through a control unit. The EC has sought to assure sceptics that the security of the machine is enabled through both technological and procedural means. The wiring-in of software in a one-time programmable chip disallows external manipulation, time stamping of every key pressed allows for monitoring, production testing is done for quality control, and so on. Checks of EVMs along with representatives of political parties, randomised allocation and sealing make the machines tamper-proof before and after votes are cast.

The EC has also sought to increase the use of a voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) that helps in corroborating the results from the machine, and expects its full implementation by the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The data tallied from VVPAT-enabled EVMs in U.P. in around 20 constituencies in the recent Assembly election corroborated the election results. Prima facie, there is nothing to suggest that EVMs have been subject to manipulation. In fact, the use of EVMs has enhanced electoral democracy in tangible ways. Before electronic voting became universal in State and parliamentary elections in 2004, paper ballot-based polling had seen a high incidence of inadvertent invalid voting. A statistical study published in The Hindu last year showed that in about 14% of the 35,937 Assembly seats where elections were held between 1961 and 2003, invalid votes were greater than the margin between the winner and the runner-up. In more than 300 constituencies, invalid votes were as high as the votes polled for an effective candidate. The use of EVMs has cancelled out the effect of invalid votes, making the process robust besides keeping it simple and effective. EVMs are here to stay and there is no need to be distracted by politicians who criticise them to explain away their defeat.

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