Nuclear liability bill will get you a compensation of Rs. 1000 Monday, Jun 21 2010 

Koodankulam town

The Kudankulam town, with a sizable population and economic activity, is within one km from outer walls of the nuclear complex in Kanyakumari district

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Claims Bill will put you in a worse situation than the victims of Bhopal in case of a nuclear accident. The consequence of a nuclear accident would be much worse and long-lasting than the Bhopal tragedy. We are not going into the long-term effects of radiation here and the deaths that it can cause, but just attempting to calculate the compensation that the victims would get.

Let us take the example of the Kudankulam (Koodankulam) nuclear power plant, coming up at Kudankulam in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. Of course, it is in the public sector and we are taking it only as a reference. It uses Russian reactors imported under Indo-Russian agreement. Its safety features are claimed to be better than that of the ill-fated reactor at Chernobyl.

The accident at Chernobyl led to the declaration of an area, 30 km in radius (area of 2827 sq. km) as no entry zone owing to radiation. So, in the event of an accident of similar dimensions, much of the Kanyakumari district (1672 sq. km) would have to be abandoned. (Part of the area falling within 30 km radius is sea.). However, in the event of a major catastrophe, the area affected could extend up to  70000 sq. km. (about 150 km in radius)

This will mean that besides Kanyakumari district, much of the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala would be affected. These districts have a population totaling 80 lakhs. Let us assume that about 50 lakh people are affected. Then, the compensation payable by the company concerned under the Act will be just Rs. 1000 per head, on an average, since the maximum liability of the company is fixed as Rs. 500 crores. This is what you will get after abandoning your homes and land.

The compensation will vary depending on the population affected and the severity of the accident.  However, it can be seen that the population at risk would be similar for most parts of India in the case of worst possible nuclear accident. The population density is high around Koodankulam. However, much of the area where radiation fall-out could occur is covered by sea. In areas where population density is lower (off the coast), this advantage will not be there.  So, most Indians under the law would be eligible for a compensation of a few thousands rupees.  Under Indian conditions, the bribe that you have to pay officials to claim this damage would exceed the amount.  So, Indians cannot have any hope of getting any compensation under the proposed Bill.

Provision for damage under the U. S. law is more than 100 times that provided in the Indian Bill. However, even that is a paltry sum. So, it is time that we think whether we should have the Bill and the nuclear plants.

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KSEB: To be or not to be Monday, Sep 22 2008 

Power lines

Power lines

Kerala State Electricity Board becomes an illegal entity on September 24 for not complying with the Central Electricity Act.

Agreements signed between the Board and supplies and consumers may not be valid before the law, unless the Centre extends time to the Board for its restructuring as per the provisions of the Act.

There is little doubt that the Act is meant to facilitate privatization of the utility. The Left Democratic Front ruled government is unwilling to privatize the Board. Hence, its refusal to obey the law.

However, the prime concern should be whether privatization would benefit the public at large. Several countries keep their electric utilities in the public sector. This facilitates control over generation and pricing of electricity, which can be considered a primary commodity. The stakes are high in generation that it may be justified to keep generation in the public sector. However, the same cannot be said about distribution.

The Board has for long failed to provide the consumers quality power and satisfactory service. Disruption of supply and low voltages are common, especially in the rural areas. The Board has hardly ever provided supply as per quality norms stipulated by the law. Though storage in its reservoirs have improved, it unable to relax the power cut and load shedding as several of its generators are in disrepair. Many sectors in the State are suffering huge losses because of increased expenditure on power. The marine export sector alone is said to have suffered a loss of around Rs. 200 crores.

Corruption is rampant that consumers have to pay bribes to get connections, urgent repairs and even to get disrupted power supply restored.

So, with privatization and strict regulation, it would be possible to ensure accountability in the distribution sector. We have the example of the Telecommunications Department, which was converted into a public sector company and made to compete with the private sector. The efficiencies improved though may not be to the satisfaction of all. (But they have a choice.) The linemen no more ask for a bribe to service a telephone connection.

So, things could improve if private players are allowed into the distribution sector. In the generation sector, private players already operate small hydel projects and wind power stations. The generation sector could be opened up further, though not entirely. Transmission could remain with a public sector entity.

However, it is to be remembered that restructuring is not a big success in States such as Orissa. So, restructuring of Kerala Electricity Board would have to be undertaken under strict regulations and governmental supervision.

Update: The Government has taken over the assets and liabilities of the Board with effect from Sept. 25 as a prelude to its restructuring.

Power Minister’s magical moments Friday, May 2 2008 

Electricity Minister A. K. BalanKerala’s Power Minister A. K Balan flagged off a blindfolded motor ride by magicians by staging his own magic in Trivandrum early this week. The message was “Save Power, Save Kerala.” He pulled out theme banners and did a few other tricks.

But, the real magic by Mr. Balan was in reducing consumption during peak hours this summer. The Kerala State Electricity Board had been running campaigns calling upon people to switch of bulbs during peak hours. The Minister claimed the campaign, which used celebrities, was a big success. The peak hour consumption in summer did not rise, but dropped compared to the previous year. The saving was of the order of 200 MW.

What was the trick behind this magic? Well, repairs were delayed. Some interior areas did not get power for more than 48 hours at a stretch. Even in Trivandrum city, power went off regularly in some areas. The Board compelled some major consumers to shed load during peak hours. Then, the summer rains helped— fewer fans were on. May be a few switched off lights heeding the calls of super stars.

However, Mr. Balan and his predecessors have done magic if they had intensely promoted energy efficiency including use of CFL lamps. The power savings would have been tremendous. The Board would have gained even if it subsidized CFL lamps. It could also have set up non-conventional energy generating stations when Centre was offering 100 per cent subsidy.

What the Board could not do in 16 years, a private company did in 100 days at Ramackalmedu by erecting wind turbines. Now, should be oppose corporatisation or even privatization of KSEB? In the telecommunication sector, the private companies have done wonders. They will do the same in the power sector also. However, it is imperative to keep them under tight regulations to prevent exploitation.

For further reading:
Electricity Boards can save millions by subsidising energy efficiency

Mismangement of power generation Friday, Jan 4 2008 

electric powerLoad sheddingThe load shedding, declared by Kerala State Electricity Board from January 1-15, is the result of gross mismanagement of power generation.

Kerala had copious rains this year and its reservoirs had record inflows this year. Yet, the Board ended up with a shortage.

There are a few things that led to this situation. The Board resorted to excess generation during the monsoons, overestimating the inflows and sold some power to neighouring States. It failed to maintain full reservoir levels by the end of the North East monsoon. It is understandable that the Board was cautious with Idukki reservoir because of the risk posed by the spillage from the Mullapperiyar reservoir. However, there is little justification to its failure with respect to other major reservoirs such as those of Sabarigiri Project.

Maintenance of generating stations by the Board has been poor for years. This is taking its toll in terms of outage. The accident at Panniyar and the resultant loss of generation could be blamed on poor maintenance and poor supervision.

The load shedding would hit the small information technology and other industrial units, as they have to spend more on uninterrupted power supplies. The beneficiaries were those who brought bulk power from Kerala. An enquiry is perhaps in order to see that the load shedding became necessary by default or design.