Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thinking About Safety in India and Nigeria

lagos_nigeria Like the United States, India wants to take a look at the relative safety of its nuclear plants.

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has set up a 10-member committee to examine if our 20 nuclear plants can withstand earthquakes and other external events such as tsunamis, cyclones, floods, etc. That includes checking if the arrangements are adequate to ensure safety in case of such events, both within and beyond the design.

The panel is chaired by AERB’s former chairman, S K Sharma. Its first meeting is on the coming Thursday.

Naturally, the focus will be on earthquakes and tsunamis:

He [an unidentified board member] said during the 2004 tsunami, nuclear plants in south India were able to withstand the effects. “Our plants are almost 2,000 km away from the tectonic boundary of Sumatra. The earthquake following the tsunami in Japan was quite unprecedented and, therefore, the committee will revisit the safety applications installed in our plants.”

This is a worthwhile effort. It sounds as though the board members are well informed and serious about their jobs – it helps that they come from a range of disciplines.

Committee members include representatives of AERB, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Nuclear Power Corporation, IIT-Madras, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, and Central Water & Power Research Station, Pune.

It’ll be interesting to see what they turn up – the article doesn’t say, but I assume they will make a report to the AERB.

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And Nigeria, which is thinking of buidling of nuclear energy plant, is concerned about safety too. The Daily Independent offers an opinion.

We cannot but narrow the scenario to Nigeria, which has for some time now tinkered with the idea of nuclear power to generate electricity. According to the National Space Research and Development Agency (NARSDA), Nigeria should be prepared for the earthquake experience. Having experienced earth tremors in 1933,1939,1984,1990,1994,1997,2000 and 2006 with the surface wave magnitude of between 3.7 and 3.9, the probability cannot be ruled out. 

After noting the haphazard efforts of the National Emergency Management Agency in other recent emergency, the editorial makes a few suggestions:

While urging government to take pro-active measures against natural disasters, NEMA’s facilities and training of personnel should be upgraded. Ecological funds should be judiciously utilized by state governments for the purpose meant.  

The writer also notes all the international help offered to Japan and guesses that Nigeria would receive the same (which seems a safe assumption. I also assume Nigeria will have a regulator.

Not a bad overview of concerns, though I think the paper underestimates how much of an safety infrastructure will be put in place should Nigeria pursue nuclear energy.

A fish-eyed view of Lagos, Nigeria.

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