Monthly Archives: July 2007

Risk Perception in Arsenic Contamination in West Bengal

Researcher: Pradip Swarnakar

This study employs qualitative and quantitative methods to elicit the risk perception of the people who are situated in and around arsenic-contaminated areas in West Bengal. Within this context, the research will also examine how the “subjective” perceptions of lay persons differ from the “objective” views of scientists and decision makers.

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Research under the Visiting Fellowship Programme

Emmanuel Theophilus is working on an analysis of the rapidly changing legal and administrative environment with regard to Village Forests and Van Panchayats, in the larger context of the effects of such changes on democratic decentralization and on land use.

Rinki Sarkar contemplates transition and change in forests in the Indian Himalayas, through an examination of the ecology of the Middle Himalaya and mapping the transformation thereof. Based on village case studies over a wide geographical expanse of the Indian middle-Himalayas, the objective of this research is to unearth the process of transformation and change that is occurring in this region. The impact of specific dimensions of change on forest-use by local inhabitants is particularly assessed, and the resilience of village-level resource use arrangements to withstand forces of change, critically evaluated.

Suhas Paranjape’s study explores the tensions inherent in the relationship between the ‘red’ and the ‘green’. Over the years, and especially in the last two decades, there has been an increasing awareness on the part of radical movements of the need to accept social justice and environmental soundness as common goals and include them within a common framework of thought and action within radical theory and practice.


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Economics of Electricity from Fast Breeder Reactors

Researcher:  M. V. Ramana, in collaboration with J. Y. Suchitra

The aim of this project has been to use CISED’s estimates of the cost of reprocessing spent fuel to calculate the costs of producing electricity at the 500 Megawatt Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), which is under construction at Kalpakkam and which is to be the first of hundreds of breeder reactors that are projected for the next few decades in India.

These breeder reactors will use plutonium as a fuel; their attractiveness stems from their ability to produce more plutonium than they consume while operating. Our preliminary results suggest that breeder reactors will be more uneconomical than the Department of Atomic Energy’s heavy water reactors, (earlier work done at CISED had shown that even the heavy water reactors were uneconomical), and that this will continue to be the case till uranium prices increase several fold. Two important reasons for the increased costs are the range of safety measures required in breeder reactors to avoid catastrophic accidents, driving up their construction costs, and the expensive security features required to fabricate plutonium, which is far more radioactive than uranium, into fuel.  


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Suchitra, J.Y. and M.V. Ramana, 2007, “Fast breeder of expenditure?”, Hindustan Times ePaper, October 23, also available at

Nuclear Reactor Safety

Research Team: M. V. Ramana with Ashwin Kumar

Among all electricity generating technologies, nuclear power is unique in its potential for catastrophic accidents. This study looked at both some organizational aspects of nuclear safety at the Department of Atomic Energy’s facilities and at the technical aspects of the safety of breeder reactors.

There is now an extensive literature on the various contributors to the safety of nuclear facilities that look at both the structural contributors to accidents and to the organizational characteristics that make for relatively, though by no means completely, safe operations. We studied the record of operations and accidents in Indiaís nuclear facilities to ask whether the DAE’s actions are consistent with what is known about operations that contribute to reliability. Our results suggest that the DAE meets very few of the demanding requirements for safe operations of a complex, high hazard technology. Some of the indicators of poor safety culture include repeated occurrences of avoidable accidents in its facilities, poor organizational learning from previous failures, questionable construction and manufacturing quality, and system elites not being sufficiently interested in safety and not listening to lower level staff. 

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Safety concerns have been important in the suspension of many fast reactors worldwide. A challenge specific to safety in fast reactors is the so-called core disruptive accident (CDA), in which large energies can be produced. We looked at the energetics of a severe CDA in the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor being constructed, from what is known in the openly published literature, and the capabilities of the physical barriers present in the design. Our preliminary results suggest that assumptions only slightly different from those the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) makes could lead to far worse consequences than acknowledged by the DAE. Additionally, many uncertainties are omitted in the DAEís published studies. These limitations of the severe accident studies are reason to question the safety of the PFBR design.


Kumar, Ashwin, 2007, "Nuclear Safety: A poor record", India Together, April 2, also available at

Kumar, Ashwin, 2007, "What Ails Nuclear Safety?î India Together, April 17, also available at

Kumar, Ashwin, 2007, "A poor record of safety in Indiaís nuclear facilities", Peace Now, 5 (2), May 2007.