When diluting an acid makes it lethal

No, this is not an article on the chemistry of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. My chemistry is way too poor for me to explain that.

Note:

  1. I’ve provided links and references as footnotes wherever I deemed it to be significant.
  2. I apologise if my article hurts the sentiments of any readers, my intention is to make people realise what happens in the event of a disaster. I sincerely wish and hope that no disaster ever occurs.
  3. I am *NOT* a doomsayer.

Flashback – 1984, Bhopal

Do I even need to remind what happened? I am not diving into the specifics of what happened. I am mentioning this so that you can have some statistics as a reference for the rest of the article.

Number of people murdered : 15,000 (possibly more) [1]

Compensation                         : $ 470 million (which the government itself agreed to be inadequate) [2]

Please do remember these two numbers, we shall revisit them.

Today – 2010, Kalpakkam

For those familiar with India’s nuclear power plants, Kalpakkam should be well-known. For others, Kalpakkam houses the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR). Kalpakkam also houses two of India’s most powerful nuclear reactors. For a bit of demographics, Kalpakkam has a population of about 20,000. And it is about 60km away from the place I live. I live in a city which is the 30th most populous city in the world, with an estimated 7 million people living here.

Fast-forward – 2017, Kalpakkam

Thanks to the India-US civil nuclear agreement ( Hyde Act and the 123 Bill, 2008) and the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill (2010), Kalpakkam is now running two 1,500 MW nuclear reactors, bought at generous rates from US manufacturers [#]. They even supply the fuel at extremely low rates, considering that India does not have enough U-235, the primary fuel for civil nuclear reactors [*].

Importantly, since the Indian government gives prime importance to the safety of Indian lives, as we saw with the Bhopal tragedy, we chose to buy the reactors from the US for one main reason: safety. For a bit of stats, consider this:

There have been 99 nuclear accidents in the world till 2010, and ONLY 56 of them occurred in the US. [3] [4]

Now, how low is that? Just 2/3rds of all the nuclear accidents occurred in the US, that’s really really safe and assuring.  I mean, if you want safe reactors, you got to rely on the US, their impeccable record speaks for itself. And for a bit more, they had a total of 104 reactors running in 2010 [5].  So 1 out of every two US reactors has had an accident. So that’s only 50% chance of a nuclear accident, right?

Bhopal-II : Kalpakkam

Now, given that one out of every two reactors made by the US has suffered an accident, let us evaluate what would happen in the extremely unlikely case (just 50% chance) of an accident in one of the two US reactors in Kalpakkam.

I am assuming that the populations of neither Kalpakkam nor the nearest metropolis, Chennai, have increased since 2010. In the event of a nuclear disaster, the whole of Kalpakkam’s and at least a part of Chennai’s population would be affected by the fallout of the disaster. And if we assume that the disaster occurs during the Northeast  monsoons, the radioactive dust will be carried all-over southern India. However, a disaster during the Southwest monsoons is bound to carry the effects all-over India. Do not assume to be safe if you are residing in Delhi.

I do not want my article to be tagged with the ‘A’ certificate (or rated R if you are from the US), so I am not going to describe the disaster and the gory associated with it in detail. I assume people know what happened in Hiroshima, Nagasaki or even Chernobyl.  It would suffice to say that at least a million lives would be, either directly or indirectly, affected by a nuclear accident.

An Indian life is 110 times cheaper than an American life

The Indian government, being pro-people and sincerely working for the betterment of the aam-admi , with foresight, passed the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill in 2010, which allows for compensation to be paid to the victims of such an accident.

The bill fixes an upper-limit of around $110 million as the operator liability. And the total liability is capped at around $450 million. [6]

For a bit of perspective, let us consider the situation in the US:

Operator Liability : $11.9 billion [6]

Total Liability       :  $ Unlimited [6]

The Bhopal gas tragedy led to the deaths of more than 15,000 people. A nuclear disaster would certainly be more horrific. And considering that Kalpakkam is so near to a metro city with more than 7 million people, the effects of such a disaster are hard to even imagine.  However, for the sake of argument, let us assume that it is a ‘minor’ disaster and it results in around 20,000 fatalities.

Let’s do some simple math:

With the operator liability fixed at $109 million, the cost of each life comes to about $5,450.

If we assume the same number of fatalities in an accident in the US, with the operator liability fixed at $11.9 billion, each life costs about $6,00,000.

That is a whopping 110 times the compensation being offered for Indians [^]. Mind you, the compensation package actually includes not just the cost of life, but for cleaning up and all other stuff. The cost of life works out to a much lesser amount. Please pardon my valuation of human life in monetary terms. I feel ashamed to do such a comparison. It is the present state of affairs which forced me to do so. It is the blatant ignorance of the value of an Indian life by an Indian government which forced me to do so.

Operator Liability?

The operator liability is the amount that the operator of the nuclear facility is liable to pay as compensation in the event of an accident. The operator, in India’s case, is Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCL).

The operator, irrespective of the magnitude of the disaster, will NOT be liable to pay anything greater than $109 million. However, the total liability has been fixed with the upper-limit as $450 million. So, any compensation which is above $109 million will have to be borne by the government. That is, the government is liable to pay $350 million in the event of a nuclear disaster.

Wait, didn’t I say the operator is NPCL? NPCL is a wholly owned subsidiary of the government of India. So who are they kidding? It is the Indian government which has to shell out every single dollar. Which effectively means, the taxpayer’s money, which effectively means, your money.

Supplier NOT Liable?

Clause 17 of the liability bill states that the supplier of the nuclear reactor can not be held liable unless they had the intent to cause the disaster. Let me clarify. You are walking on road, err, the foot-path, and suddenly a BMW comes and hits you ( remember Sanjeev Nanda driving through 6 sleeping people on the pavement?). Now, the bill essentially says this: You cannot have compensation from the car driver unless he had the intention of killing you. How ridiculous is that? Why should I bear the cost for no fault of mine?

Coming back to the nuclear reactors, even if the disaster was caused by a faulty part in the reactor, or a flawed-design or anything, the supplier can not be held liable unless he wantonly created the faulty part to cause a disaster.  Does that even sound rational? Wait, that’s not all that is there, there is more to it.

The power of the simple AND

We often ignore the power of simple things in life. The word ‘and’ is so common we often fail to understand its importance and the power it possesses. The original draft said that the supplier can be made liable if they are found to intentionally cause the accident. Please find a copy of the draft bill here

The wording of the draft goes like this:

17. The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where —

(a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;

(b) the nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee;

(c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.

In order to “strengthen” the bill, the government modified the bill to this:

17. The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where —

(a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;AND

(b) the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services.

(c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.

Both the versions essentially the same, isn’t it? No, no and no. The addition of the simple ‘and’ changes it all. Now, the supplier can not be held liable even if they intentionally cause the damage. They can not be held liable unless the operator  (the government) has a specific agreement WITH THE SUPPLIER that the supplier be held liable.

To further simplify the legal jargon, unless NPCL specifically states in its contract with the supplier that the supplier will held liable in case they intentionally cause an accident, nothing can be done. Even if we prove that the supplier intentionally caused the accident, they CAN NOT be held liable. You might ask, “Won’t we force the suppliers to include that statement in the contract?”. Better ask the government.  Would you be willing to bet on it? I would not.

Conclusions

When 15,000 people were murdered in 1984, the compensation was $470 million. The government itself admitted this was grossly inadequate [2].

I can only imagine how many more lives would be at stake in the event of a nuclear disaster. And the government fixes an upper-limit of $450 million? Would any sane person be ready to consider that logical?

Why fix a cap? Who is the government protecting? The people of India or their foreign friends? The US itself does not have a cap on the total liability.  In the recent BP oil-spill issue, BP is paying upwards of $34 billion. BP is a UK-based company, the US government is NOT paying for the compensation. Why the double standards?

It is time we stand up against such atrocities being committed right in front of us. This is gross murder in daylight. It is murder by the government and its corporate friends. I will not bow to such a dastardly act.

P.S

[^] 12 billion divided by 109 million would have directly given the answer. But the impact would not have been captured.

[#] The reactors currently running in Kalpakkam are indigenous and are some of the best in the world. It also houses the prototype Fast Breeder Reactor, which produces more fissile output than the input. US reactors in Kalpakkam is a figment of fiction.

[*] Though India has scant resources of U-235, we are Thorium rich. We have about 25% of the world’s Thorium resources. And we are the first country with capability to produce nuclear energy from Thorium. http://www.power-technology.com/features/feature1141/

Footnotes:

[1] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34247132/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/page/2/

[2] http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_we-let-bhopal-victims-down-admits-chidambaram_1422668

[3] http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a923050767~db=all~jumptype=rss

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_and_radiation_accidents

[5] http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/pdf/pages/sec9.pdf

[6] http://prsindia.org/index.php?name=Sections&action=bill_details&id=6&bill_id=1042&category=42&parent_category=1 ; Table -2

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. lol.. ur a PR agent’s dream come true praveen ;p
    was this ur sole effort?

    • PR agent for the common man? I’d gladly accept that post!
      Sole effort in the sense?

      • in the sense were you the only one working for this article?

  2. hope more nd more ppl reads ths!!
    well complied for “aam aadmi” to understand!

  3. Awesome compilation of facts which many of us don’t give a thought about.
    I wish many people read this post, but there cannot be any use because we are the largest “DEMOCRACY”. 😦 I pity to say this nude fact.
    Anyways, yours’ is an excellent work.
    Carry on with posts of this kind, proud of you.

  4. really good my dear friend
    learnt lot more things about HOW SAFE WE ARE IN DEMOCRATIC INDIA

  5. Does ‘diluting’ refer to the Government’s attempt to whitewash peoples brains by using excuses such as ‘safety’ and ‘security’ in favour of the bill?


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