Nuclear Legacy Trap: Myths and Reality

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Nuclear Legacy Trap: myths and reality
K S Parthasarathy | April 22, 2018 1:10 am

Nuclear power plant.


General Vinod Saighal’s eminently readable, lucid opinion piece (The Statesman April 2) reflects the concerns of vast sections of the public. He argues persuasively against setting up nuclear power plants because he feels that these plants will form a very expensive nuclear legacy trap for future generations because of decommissioning and nuclear waste disposal issues.
His article highlights the seemingly unbridgeable communication gap between public and the nuclear community. Mired in controversy, the myths about decommissioning and nuclear waste management survive; the realities may remain unknown if nuclear community does not come out of their comfort zones and convey information to all sections of the public. Trust deficit of decision makers at higher levels of Government is not a welcome sign.
A book (The Trap) by Sir James Goldsmith reinforced Saighal’s apprehensions. The 1990 vintage book does not contain information on the latest advances on decommissioning of nuclear power plants and management of nuclear wastes.
Indian scientists have adequate experience in decommissioning of research reactors, reprocessing plants and nuclear facilities.
According to an authentic review (World Nuclear Association-WNA-,March 2018), “over 115 commercial power reactors, 48 experimental or prototype reactors, over 250 research reactors and several fuel cycle facilities have been retired from operation. Some of these have been fully dismantled”.
“Most parts of a nuclear power plant do not become radioactive, or are contaminated at only very low levels. Most of the metal can be recycled. Proven techniques and equipment are available to dismantle nuclear facilities safely and these have now been well demonstrated in several parts of the world.,” the WNA report added.
Scientists have developed technology to incorporate high-level nuclear wastes into glass (vitrification) to make them non-dispersible. Glass is least soluble even in hot, salt water. The vitrified waste after suitable capsulation (for instance in copper canisters) can remain safely in deep underground repositories for thousands of years. By 2025, Sweden and France will move high-level waste (HLW) to their permanent underground sites. Finland will move its HLW in 2020.
Other countries can follow these steps or even outsource waste management to France, Finland or Sweden, the real masters of the technology.
India has been operating vitrification plants for many years. The October 2013 issue of Sadhana, a journal published by the Indian Academy of Sciences vividly describes India’s nuclear waste management programme.
General Saighal rightly talks about the huge funding requirements. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) collects two paisa per unit of electricity produced towards decommissioning funds. In 2016-17, NPCIL collected Rs 753 million. Evidently, vast sums will be available for decommissioning the reactors one by one after 40-50 years of operation.
Decommissioning nuclear power plants and nuclear waste management are no more insurmountable; we have the technology and the funds. The current generation need not feel guilty about any “Nuclear Legacy Trap” as feared by General Saighal.
Many NGOs and others published grossly exaggerated reports on Chernobyl and Fukushima In 2005, The Chernobyl forum made up of eight specialized agencies such as the WHO, the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA), ILO etc of the UN published Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts” a landmark report. It is available online and offers the factual position.
Specialists found that “childhood thyroid cancer caused by radioactive iodine fallout is one of the main health impact of the accident. By 2002, more than 4000 thyroid cancer cases had been diagnosed in this group, and it is most likely that a large fraction of these thyroid cancers is attributable to radioiodine.”
Apart from this, “there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of solid cancers or leukaemia due to radiation in the most affected populations. There was, however, an increase in psychological problems among the affected population” the report added.
After a comprehensive assessment, “experts on the health risks associated with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (NPP) disaster in Japan has concluded that, for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.” ( WHO Press Release,28 February 2013)
“The estimated risk for specific cancers in certain subsets of the population in Fukushima Prefecture has increased and, as such, it calls for long term continued monitoring and health screening for those people”, the experts cautioned. NGOs spread conspiracy theories (such as WHO is under the thumb of IAEA, the promoter of nuclear energy!). It enhances the trust deficit between public and the UN agencies. Radiation specialists know the truth.
Regrettably, General Saighal copied five paragraphs (373 out of 955 words in his article) from Robert Hunziker, who regularly writes in COUNTERPUNCH (claims to do fearless muckracking!) and Professor Bernard Lowen, one of the founders of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) without any attribution. Hunziker’s article is Saighal’s major resource. (Note: General Saighal did attribute the words in question to Hunziker; the attribution was accidentally omitted during editing. – Ed.S.)
The paragraphs quoted by Saighal deal mainly with Chernoyl and Fukushima. Robert Hunziker extensively quotes from Professor Adam Broinoski, another prolific writer whose claims on the plight of “liquidators” at Chernobyl are unfounded. Chernobyl accident was devastating; the site is slowly recovering.
Fukushima site continues to be a challenge. Realizing that this need not be a disincentive against nuclear power, the Japanese started seven nuclear power reactors. They know that Fukushima was preventable. Survival of Onagawa nuclear power plant which faced the same earthquake and 14.3-metre tsunami as against 13.1 meters at Fukushima, because of “safety culture” gives them confidence.
If General Saighal and others for whom anti nuclear sentiment seems to be an article of faith read about Onagawa (The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,10 March 2014) and appreciate the technological developments in decommissioning of nuclear power plants and waste management, they may change their views or may at least look at nuclear power more benignly.
The writer is a former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

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Researchers find undiscovered genetic contributors to stroke; study could lead to better treatment of this fatal disease

In the largest-ever genetic study of stroke, an international research group which included scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, studied about 520,000 people from around the world and identified 22 new genetic risk factors for stroke, tripling the number of gene regions known to affect stroke risk.

The study reveals that stroke shares genetic influences with other vascular conditions, such as blood pressure, but also coronary artery disease and others. The new clues on stroke mechanisms could help scientists identify drug targets for treatment.

Wikipedia describes stroke thus: “Stroke is a medical condition in which poor blood flow to the brain results in cell death. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic, due to lack of blood flow, and hemorrhagic, due to bleeding. They result in part of the brain not functioning properly”
Stroke is a very complex and debilitating condition. We do not know the cause of stroke though it is the second most common cause of death.

Researchers based the present study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, on DNA samples of 520,000 people from Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia; of this group, 67,000 had a stroke. The study compiled data from 29 other large genetic studies.

Researchers from Germany, France, the UK, Japan, USA, Iceland, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Poland, Singapore, Australia, and Canada who are the members of MEGASTROKE, a large international collaboration launched by the International Stroke Genetics Consortium have been working together for the past 10 years to carry out the study.

Dr Steven Kittner, professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) and the Baltimore VA Medical Center and a co-author of the study asserted that this study really advances what we know about the genetics of stroke. “With this new information we can help researchers work to develop new treatments and new therapies.”, he added

After analyzing millions of genetic variants, the scientists found 22 never before discovered genomic regions that were associated with stroke. By mining this enormous trove of data, the researchers obtained important new insights into the specific genes, molecular pathways, and cell and tissue types through which the new genetic risk factors cause stroke.

This study provides extensive new insight on the molecular biology and pathways leading to the disease. It is unique as it includes people of many different ethnic and genetic backgrounds. As a result, researchers can be more confident that the results apply widely.

Stroke can originate from changes in various parts of the vasculature, including large arteries, small arteries, the heart, and the venous system. The researchers found genetic risk factors implicated in each of these mechanisms. While some genetic risk factors contribute to specific mechanisms, others contributed to stroke susceptibility at large.

Researchers further found shared genetic influences between stroke caused by blood vessel blockage, the most common cause of stroke, and stroke caused by blood vessel rupture , a less common cause, but more catastrophic.

On a closer look on the genomic areas uncovered by the study, the scientists noticed that several of them overlap with genomic areas that have been implicated in related vascular conditions such as atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, venous thrombosis, or vascular risk factors, especially elevated blood pressure, and, to a lesser extent, high cholesterol.

The implicated genes have potential as new drug targets to treat and prevent stroke. This study raises the possibility of to develop personalized, evidence-based treatments for this complex disease.

“This work provides evidence for several novel biological pathways involved in stroke that may lead to the discovery of novel drug targets,” said John Cole, MD, an associate professor of neurology at UMSOM and the Baltimore VA Medical Center and another co-author of the study,

“These findings, which link stroke with multiple other diseases, and with dysregulation of genes, proteins, and molecular pathways in specific cell types and organs, were generated using novel bioinformatics approaches that use information from many international biological databases. This work underscores the vital importance of data sharing,” Dr Braxton Mitchell, a professor of medicine at UMSOM and a co-author of the paper highlighted the uniqueness of the study.

In a paper titled “Incidence & prevalence of stroke in India: A systematic review” published in Indian Journal of Med Research (August 2017), researchers from the International Centre for Evidence in Disability, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London and South Asia Centre for Disability, Inclusive development and Research, Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad showed that the cumulative incidence of stroke ranged from 105 to 152/100,000 persons per year, in different parts of India during the past decade. These values were higher than those of high-income countries were.

Any effective treatment for stroke will play a crucial role in the management of stroke in India, if such treatment is inexpensive for mass scale implementation. The present analysis is only a maiden step, which could lead to the development of appropriate treatment in the coming decades.




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Dr A K Ganguly

The Indian Association for Radiation Protection (IARP) an affiliate of the International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA)  has held a special session to mark the Birth Centenary year celebration of Dr A K Ganguly . I wrote an article on him on that occasion.

Here is the link:







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Reducing antibiotics use not enough to reverse resistance

Antibiotics resistance is presently a major health issue. Its ramifications are scary. Researchers have discovered how drug resistant bacteria travel from country to country without any passport or visa. The war between the bacteria and humans is going on for the past several decades all over the world.

A new finding from Duke University, Durham is notable. Researchers have discovered that reducing the use of antibiotics will not be enough to reverse the growing prevalence of antibiotic resistance for some types of bacteria.

Many bacteria pass on their  antibiotic resistance genes directly to their offspring.  Scientists found that they can also swap genes among-st  themselves through a process called conjugation. Whether this process occurs fast enough to spread through a population that is not under attack by antibiotics was not clear.

Recently  researchers from Duke University believe they have found a definitive answer to that question. Through a series of experiments with bacteria capable of conjugation, they show that all of the bacteria tested share genes fast enough to maintain resistance. Fortunately, They could also show, however, that there are ways to disrupt the process and reverse antibiotic resistance.

This study  appears online on Nov. 22 in the journal Nature Communications.

“The results came as a surprise to me when I first saw the data,” said Lingchong You, the Paul Ruffin Scarborough Associate Professor of Engineering at Duke University and corresponding author on the paper. “For all of the bacteria we tested, their conjugation rate is sufficiently fast that, even if you don’t use antibiotics, the resistance can be maintained –even if the genes carry a high cost.”

Most resistance to antibiotics arises and spreads through natural selection. If a few lucky bacteria have genes that help them survive a round of antibiotics, they quickly parent the next generation and pass on those genes.

Many of these genes, however, come at a cost. For example, a mutation may allow a bacterium to build a thicker membrane to survive a particular antibiotic, but that mutation might also make it more difficult for the cell to reproduce. Without the selective pressure of antibiotics killing off the competition, bacteria with this mutation should disappear over time.

But when the genes responsible for resistance can also be swapped between cells, the equation gets more complicated. In favor of maintaining the resistance is the rate at which the genes are shared. Working against it is the previously mentioned biological cost of the genes, and the natural error rate in genes when they are passed on.

“There have been some studies on how critical conjugation is to maintaining resistance despite its cost, but there has been a lack of careful and well-defined experiments to come to definitive conclusions,” said You. “That’s where Allison has made a central contribution. Her incredibly thorough measurements allow us to draw our conclusions with high confidence.”

Allison Lopatkin, a doctoral student in You’s laboratory and first author of the paper,  measured the rate of conjugation and antibiotic resistance in pathogens for more than a month. The strains were obtained through a parallel project with Duke Health, in which You is trying to determine just how common conjugation is amongst pathogens.

So far, You  found that more than 30 percent of the bacterial pathogens he has tested spread resistance through conjugation. And of those, nine were further tested by Lopatkin to see how well they would maintain their resistance in the absence of antibiotics.

“Every single clinical strain we tested maintained its resistance through conjugation even without the selective pressure of antibiotics,” said Lopatkin.

The results indicate that — at least for bacteria that swap resistance genes — simply managing the amount of antibiotics being used will not turn the tide on the growing problem of resistance. To make any headway, according to You and Lopatkin, drugs will also be needed that both stop the sharing of genes and decrease the rate at which they are passed on through reproduction.

Luckily, such drugs already exist, and there may be many more out there waiting to be discovered.

“We did the same experiments with one drug that is known to inhibit conjugation and another that encourages resistance genes to be lost,” Lopatkin said. “We found that without the presence of antibiotics we could reverse the bacteria’s resistance in four of the pathogens we tested and could stop it from spreading in the rest.”

One of the drugs is a benign natural product and the second is an FDA-approved antipsychotic. While the team has filed a provisional patent for the use of the combination to reverse antibiotic resistance, they hope future work will reveal even better options.

“As a next step, we’re interested in identifying additional chemicals that can fill these roles more effectively,” said You. “Historically, when researchers screened huge libraries for medicines, they focused on drugs that can kill the bacteria. But what our studies suggest is that there is a whole new universe where you can now screen for other functions, like the ability to block conjugation or to induce the loss of resistance genes. These chemicals, once proven safe, can serve as adjuvants of the standard antibiotic treatment, or they can be applied in an environmental setting as a way of generally managing of the spread of antibiotic resistance.”

Recently, in a new report, researchers from Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy(CDDEP)  mapped and identified the gaps in current antimicrobial resistance (AMR) research in India. The study was commissioned by the Department for Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, in partnership with Research Councils United Kingdom (RCUK).

This report found that in 2014, India was the highest consumer of antibiotics, followed by China and the United States.

The study identified the following factors for driving  antibiotic resistance in India: High consumption of broad spectrum antibiotics;  Excess Usage of  Antibiotic fixed-dose combinations ; Social Factors;  Cultural Activities; Antibiotic consumption in Animals; Pharmaceutical industry pollution;  Environmental Sanitation and  Infection Control practices in Healthcare settings.

The paper from Durham which shows that reducing antibiotics alone is not enough to reduce antibiotic resistance adds a new element.































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UD FDA Advice against Limbrel Capsules, a Medical Food, as it is Linked to Potentially Life-Threatening Health Problems

The US Food & Drug Administration (US FDA)  has issued an advisory against the consumption of Limbrel capsules as it is lined to potentially life threatening health problems. Limbrel is a medical food to manage the metabolic processes associated with osteoarthritis.

Totally, the FDA has received 194 adverse event reports regarding Limbrel; of those, 57  contained sufficient information to analyze in detail whether Limbrel was associated with an adverse event; 30 of these contained sufficient information to use the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) causality assessment method to determine the likelihood that an association between the consumption of Limbrel and the adverse events reported exists.

The link to the Advisory is:

The Advisory contains the following recommendation:


  • For Consumers: If you are taking Limbrel, immediately stop taking it and contact your health care provider.  If you have experienced any of the above-mentioned symptoms or other health problems while taking Limbrel, work with your health care provider to report your symptoms to the FDA through MedWatch.
  • For Health Professionals: Health care providers who are aware that their patients are taking Limbrel should advise them to immediately stop taking the product. If your patients have experienced any of the above-mentioned symptoms or other health problems while taking Limbrel, the FDA encourages you to work with them to provide clinical information through MedWatch.

You may read the medical details about Limbrel from the manufacturer’s note from the following link:

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Fruit flies help scientists to win Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

  • Fruit flies continue to help scientists again. This time they help Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young to win The Nobel for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. A press release from The   Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute has announced yesterday.

The Nobel committee summarized  the discovery thus:

“Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet. For many years we have known that living organisms, including humans, have an internal, biological clock that helps them anticipate and adapt to the regular rhythm of the day. But how does this clock actually work? Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings. Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.”

They used fruit flies as a model organism and  isolated a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm.  Every cell in the flies’ body is a living  biochemical factory Believe it or not,  If the scientists are correct  this gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night, and is then degraded during the day. This may very well be the case for humans.

Later, they identified additional protein components of this machinery, exposing the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell.

“We now recognize that biological clocks function by the same principles in cells of other multicellular organisms, including humans.” the release from Karolinska Institute clarified.

“With exquisite precision, our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day. The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism. Our wellbeing is affected when there is a temporary mismatch between our external environment and this internal biological clock, for example when we travel across several time zones and experience “jet lag”. There are also indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.”, the release added

You can read the background information on developments which led to the discovery, how these Nobel Laureates discovered the gene, a list of their key publications and  brief life history of the Laureates at the following link:

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Suffocation risk to children

Uninflated balloons and broken balloon pieces

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), of all children’s products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation deaths. The commission warned parents and caregivers of young children about the suffocation hazard presented by un-inflated toy balloons and pieces of broken balloons. Balloons are  favorite items in birthday parties.

The Link:

Risk from Small hard sugar balls
On September 18, 2017, the BfR Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, issued a press release on the suffocation risk from small hard sugar balls.

The Link:
Both these releases are timely. If you carry out a google search with “suffocation risk” and “balloons” as key words, we get hundreds of accident reports. Careless handling
I AGREE NO ONE WANTS TO THINK OF SUCH GRUESOME ACCIDENTS, Since they occur regularly, we must know them and take precautions.

A blog in listed ten things one must know about child safety

The link:

The list may not be complete!

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