Thursday, March 17, 2011

A lesson from Japan's tragedy...

Japan, amidst the huge tragedy that its people have suffered, also holds an important lesson to us. The 2004 tsunami that struck us and some other nations in East Asia came as a reminder to a generation that had heard of the word for the first time. But then, one does remember a dialogue in the Tamil film Anbey Sivam, where the tsunami is talked about. The fact is that many in India heard of that natural calamity for the first time in 2004. But then, Japan had suffered such nature’s fury even earlier and children there grow up learning lessons on this aspect of natural calamity as well.

We have learnt, from our own school books that Japan is a land prone to earth quakes and hence the Japanese houses and buildings are done in a manner that they are resistant to wuakes. But then, I d not think that we have the technology to build houses that can resist the tsunami waves. We do have the technology, though, to know that a tsunami is going to strike a coast with the early warning system in place. The Japanese could predict this tsunami and it may be said that they could reduce the loss of lives this time.

But then, there is no way that one can ignore the collateral damage that the tsunami of last week end caused to the Island nation. And in a sense one may argue that the damage was more because the Japanese had ``progressed’’ a lot more than in the past. A larger number of cars, small planes and gas stations and office buildings in the coast meant that the killer waves washed away a lot of hard metal as they entered into the land and the speed at which such hard metal traversed across the streets along with the water meant that it must have killed men and women who stood in their way and also demolished buildings in the process.

The gas stations, operating on automatic systems and the various other systems that make life easier in ordinary times and the fact that they are run on electricity simply meant short-circuiting and fire accidents even while there was sea water all around. Recall that we in India, when the tsunami struck in December 2004, did not suffer from fire accidents. Well. Our coastal community was less dependent on automatic gadgets and lived a lot more simpler than those in Japan. It may be noted that in case of the December 2004 tsunami the loss of life was maximum in Nagapattinam and that was because human settlements had come up in low lying areas where it must not have. Similarly, Thailand, where the coasts were turned into tourism zones suffered more damage than India.

Let me now come to the point. The tsunami that struck Japan caused huge damage to lives because it also meant destruction of a lot of facilities that man had constructed to make life better! And among them is the preference for nuclear power. In other words, as the need for automation increased, the Japanese needed lot more electricity and since they could not generate as much as they wanted from hydel and thermal sources they bought nuclear power stations from the US and others and generated several thousand megawatts using fusion and fission technology. It was believed that Japan is a developed nation and that the Japanese lived happier lives than many others in the world.

The tragic developments after last Friday has revealed the problem with that development. Three blasts, one after another, from the nuclear power stations have made the tsunami rehabilitation work a lesser priority. Japan is now under a cloud and the people, who only a generation back, had suffered a nuclear catastrophe in Nagasaki and Hiroshima are put through a similar experience. It is evident now that nuclear power generation is not a safe option and every nuclear station is a sitting bomb.

The point is that nuclear power stations will necessarily have to be located in the coast. For sea water in plenty is required to cool the generators and the system. And coasts are prone to tsunami whenever there is an earth quake under water. In other words, every nuclear station, whether it be in Japan, the US or in our own coast, is a disaster in the waiting. Do we need them? Some of them are already working and it is possible to shut them down and phase some others out. But it is easier to decide against any new power station using nuclear fuel and also to decide against commissioning the ones that are ready but not started as in Koodankulam.

The 123 civil nuclear cooperation with the US was a disaster in the making. We can rescind it at least now. And this we owe to the generations to come. I cannot resist prescribing a pamphlet for everyone to read. A pamphlet published first in 1909. Hind Swaraj by M.K.Gandhi is relevant even today. 101 years after it was published first. We must learn to limit our needs and thus restrict our dependence on technology. In any case, mankind must shed its ego and agree that we are not here to combat with and control nature. We must agree to co-habit with nature and sustain our civilization. There is enough, as Bapu said, for man’s needs but not for greed.


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