Panel 5: India: The F(r)iction of Nuclear as a Climate Solution: Tales from India’s Nuclear Renaissance
Making the Invisible Visible: Documenting Nuclear Radiation with a Camera
Since the nuclear era has begun, like many other countries India also started exploring uranium deposits for the purpose of making nuclear weapons and generating nuclear energy. However, the uranium comes at a colossal human cost. In this case, those paying the price are India’s Indigenous population. Unfortunately uranium deposits are mostly found in Indigenous belts and this has become a curse for them. Displacement and health issues have become major problems. The land is turning into another Chernobyl and Hiroshima of sorts. The government refutes the allegations and refuses to acknowledge the problems. In other words the government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of native people. Thus, some serious questions arise, such as “Why is the nuclear waste is being dumped in Indigenous lands, and why can’t it be dumped in the capital city or in non-tribal areas?” Most countries are truly going green after the Fukushima tragedy but still the Indian government is not concerned. The government’s false pride in pursuing nuclear power is actually a push more towards destruction. While many in the public have educated themselves, it is actually the government that needs to be educated on this issue.
In my presentation, I will try to bring attention to the social problems and environmental damages from the perspective of Indigenous peoples. I will focus on Indigenous peoples’ connections with the environment, discuss my activist work through photography, and describe why I see this profession as critical to revealing the invisible world of radiation.
Ashish Birulee is an Adivasi photojournalist and an activist with the Jharkhandi Organization Against Radiation who has disclosed the effects of radiation caused by uranium poisoning in Jadugoda, India. He has been documenting impacts of radiation on local people to bring awareness. One of his photo essays is “Jadugoda: Drowning in Nuclear Greed.” Birulee is the first Indigenous photographer from his community whose photos have been exhibited in International platforms. He is associated with an independent organization (Jharkhandi Organization Against Radiation) which was founded by his father Ghanshyam Birulee. This organization was awarded the Nuclear Free Future Award in 2004 and the Yours Green Brigade award in 1999.
The Perils of India’s Nuclear Renaissance and the Challenge of Energy Justice
While the world greeted Trump’s plans to withdraw from the Paris Accords in horror, in India Modi seized the opportunity to tout nuclear energy as a climate solution and announced construction plans for ten new nuclear reactors. Since Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster many post-industrial nations have opted to eliminate nuclear energy from their energy profiles, primarily Europe, North America, and Taiwan. Facing what observers have dubbed its terminal crisis, the nuclear industry has now pivoted to emerging markets, such as India. This June Japan’s Diet ratified the Indo-Japan Nuclear Agreement, facilitating India’s import of Japanese nuclear components to construct twelve new reactors with French and American partners. Even while India is in the midst of a “Nuclear Renaissance,” with ambitious plans to scale up its nuclear capacity from 6870MW to 14,500MW by 2024, and roughly double its reactor count, the Indian people are not convinced.
Across the nation, grassroots communities and pan-India peoples’ movements continue to speak out against this “nuclear insanity” and demand a shift to decentralized forms of renewable energy. Starting with the massive peoples’ movement at Koodankulam in 2011 and citing environmental concerns, economic feasibility, livelihood issues for nuclear host sites, the toxic burden of uranium mining and waste, human and indigenous rights concerns, and the problem of liability, people across India have consistently rejected nuclear energy projects. In this presentation, I will explore grassroots responses to local nuclear projects and introduce their alternative visions that incorporate energy justice and people-centered models of development.
ann-elise lewallen’s research and activism focuses on critical indigenous studies, gender studies, multiculturalism, and environmental justice in the context of contemporary Japan and in Japan’s transnational relations. In lewallen’s current project, she investigates how discourses of science and politics shape development policy and impact indigenous sovereignty in transnational relationships between India and Japan. She is the author of The Fabric of Indigeneity: Ainu Identity and Gender in Settler Colonial Japan (School for Advanced Research Press and University of New Mexico Press, 2016) and co-editor of Beyond Ainu Studies: Changing Academic and Public Perspectives (Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 2014).
Climate Change and Nuclear Power: Official Narrative and Citizens’ Perspectives
Not only does the Indian state claim to take climate change seriously, but at international forums it also adopts a mantle as a government that cares for its huge population as a developing nation. This gesture allows the government to position itself with the same climate change and emission obligations as other developing countries. Pointing toward already achieved higher levels of industrialisation and living standards in the West, the Indian government wrestles for concessions that it claims would allow a better life for its people. Holding nuclear power as essential to rapid growth of the power sector and overall economic development of the country is a key part of this posture. However, this growth-centric scheme in reality has only meant more concessions for domestic industrial lobbies. Industrial growth of the neoliberal kind in the past 25 years has not actually led to the betterment of common people’s life. On the contrary, it has been a story of large-scale disenfranchisement of the poor, particularly for Adivasi and other underprivileged classes. Nuclear Power also does not fit in a people-centric development model. Nuclear energy fails as a carbon-free technology and as a solution to climate change, and it also leads to a centralised pattern of growth and consumption while a decentralised economy would provide more opportunities to the poor and would sustain livelihoods in rural India.
Kumar Sundaram is a researcher and activist based in India. He is the Chief Editor and Webmaster of DiaNuke.org, which is an important online hub for resources and dialogues on nuclear, peace and environmental issues. He has been writing for journals, newspapers and websites on these issues for the past decade and has received several prestigious fellowships including the Asia Leadership Fellow Program by Japan Foundation last year.
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