On July 28, 199, Shri Karan Thapar, the then Executive Producer H T V Limited interviewed me for his EYE WITNESS Video Magazine programme . Thapar allowed me to record in my tape recorder the audio part of the programme. The interview took place in the office of the Branch Secretariat, Department of Atomic Energy ,South Block, Delhi.
The interview was consequent upon a request made to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Public Grievances Shrimathi Margarat Alva by the producers of the programme.
The following is the full unedited text of the interview. After a few days, the EYE WITNESS released video cassettes which contained an edited version of the interview. The journalist may clarify that the editing was done for the sake of brevity. It is partly true. If you read the edited text and the original you may also feel that the shortening was to bias the viewer to a certain point of view.
The TV Channel also published a news release which contained incorrect information. The issue led to a controversy which spilled over the pages of leading news papers. Shri George Fernandes raised the issue in Parliament. He quoted that according to the film fallout from the pollution has resulted in a number of children being born with genetic defects and physical deformities.
Though I based my assertions on scientific facts, state –of- the- art measurements etc, I could not change his perception. Successful communication demands mutual trust, opportunity for dialogue devoid of jargon and prejudice. We need such an ambiance for the success of any programme where perceived risk is much more than the real risk. Nuclear community and regulators must transparently communicate with all stakeholders to break the barrier. If there are other agendas even humongous efforts will fail.
I cannot claim that I was altruistic and had no agenda. My agenda was to assert that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board constantly monitors the releases from all nuclear installations to ensure that they comply with the prescribed limits. Thapar wanted there should be an investigation. His enthusiasm to overwhelm me by a fusillade of questions and editing the script suitably were pointers to facilitating his agenda. Edited portions included my statements on the existence of comprehensive environmental radiation monitoring at the nuclear power plants.
A specialist with many decades of experience in communication cautioned me about the possible approach of Thapar. However, I do not envy anyone answering 40 questions in 10 minutes! It is “stressful” to put it mildly!
Rarely one gets an opportunity to record an entire review and to compare the unedited script with the final product. More often, the reporters come with their own view of a matter and then the interview is like a typical fishing expedition. I leave it to the readers to arrive at their own conclusion after calm contemplation.
The full interview with edited portions marked
Mr. Karan: Are you ready?
Mr.Karan: Dr. Parthasarathy, Is it true that Rajasthan Plant was shut down 250 times in its first decade?
Dr. KSP: In a way, there is an element of truth in this. But the word “shutdown” is used by the media as if there is a safety concern in every shutdown. In all these shut down none of them caused any radiation leak to public.
Mr. Karan: But it was shutdown 250 times?
Dr.KSP: It was shutdown- Yes
Mr. Karan: It is true that Candu reactors have been shut longer than they were in operation?
Dr.KSP: This is not true
Mr. Karan: How long has it been shut down?
For instance in the case of Rajasthan Atomic Power Station I, the first Candu type of reactor. There was a problem; a hairline crack appeared on the end shield.
Mr. Karan: Which the film talks about.
Dr.KSP: Which the film talks about. They had no shutdown for about 3 years. That is the longest. Now…….
Mr. Karan: (Interrupting) Were there any leak of heavy water involved in it.
Dr.KSP: No, No. It is light water. Let me make it clear. The end shield will get hot when the reactor operates. Now this has to be cooled because it is a structural part. That cooling is done by ordinary water.
But if there is a leakage that ordinary water goes and the cooling is not effective and that will have safety concern. Such a reactor could not be operated at full power and so on and so.
Mr. Karan: You talk about ordinary water. Is it true that the water that is used to cool the plant is frequently returned to the same river from where it is drawn?
Dr.KSP: Yes, it is true. Quit true. Why frequently. For instance, I would have loved to have a nuclear reactor which does not require cooling water. But physics does not allow that.
You have to cool the reactor.
But does the water which is returned to the water go back with irradiation.
No, it does not go back with irradiation. What actually happens is that reactor contains radioactivity. Traces of radioactivity may come out; it is permitted to come out. This water which may carry that goes through the outfall and into the lake. It is monitored regularly. For instance hundreds of samples are taken regularly.
There is no health hazard involved?
Not at all. Not only that the limits of the radioactivity that can be given out they are strictly prescribed as per international guidelines by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board which is the statutory body which has all the authority to do whatever they want as far as the operation of the reactors is concerned.
Mr. Karan: Do you deny that the link made in the film that because the water is used to cool the plant is returned to the river it is a source of contamination and hazard.
Dr.KSP: Totally, because this is the water we drink, we mean I don’t belong to the Dept. of Atomic Energy. But the people who work there and in the township drink.
The activity that is let out contains such a tiny amount and is monitored. If the level is high we will shut down the reactor. We will not allow it to be operated.
Mr. Karan: You said that one of the reactors has been shut down for 3 years. It was an unusually long time
Dr.KSP: It is an unusually long time. Yes. There was a safety issue at that time AERB was not there. But later there was an equivalent of AERB then. There were consultation and we did not want the reactor to be run.
Mr. Karan: Has there been any leak that caused danger of any type from the Rajasthan Plant?
Dr.KSP: The word “leak” generally people survive on “leaks” and “nuclear leak”. “Nuclear leak” is a media perception. You know there were incidents; after all, a lot of fluid is used in the reactor. A flange may have leaked. There were incidents of leakage.
Mr. Karan: Which caused hazards?
Dr.KSP: No. None at all, None to the public.
Leaks are contained.
But how can you be confident that if there is a leak that did not cause any hazards to the public?
The reason is obviously that as I said. Let me ask you, How many samples will be taken from the power stations each year. There is a regular organization which is outside the periphery of the power station, where they are sampling. How many samples do you think they will be taking?
Let me put back to you the question rather than to answer a question.
You have admitted there were leaks?
Mr. Karan: And you have also admitted that one of the reactor were shutdown close to 3 years
Dr.KSP: I also said that this was ordinary water which does not contain any radioactivity. It is used to cool the end shield.
Mr. Karan: And you also admit that the water used to cool the plant is often returned to same lake.
Dr.KSP: Yes, it is true. But let me explain. (interrupting) DR. Parthasarathy, Let me finish my question.
Mr. Karan: The film says that there is possibly a link between the defective births reported in that area around the plant and the existence of radiation? Can you deny that?
Dr.KSP: I can totally deny that. But at the same time I wanted to put the issue in perspective. Karan, we are talking about an association. Let me just ask you, say, you are young, very smart, you want to remain continuously young. Now look at your hair. Your hair is receding, look at Pannoy Roy, Kushwant Singh may be an exception. But suppose I say that this hair receding started when you started looking at VDU’s (Video display units) and I may be able to produce a paper perhaps that Geriatric Research Centre shows………….
Mr. Karan: Are you saying that it is just a coincidence.
Dr.KSP: It is not. The fact is that it is not supported by medical evidence and also the point is
Mr. Karan: (Interrupting) Is that not the point the film makes that you may not have evidence that suggest that the connection between radiation and defective birth is scientific. Given the fact as the film these defects have doubled during the past few yeas. It is not considered it should be investigated?
Dr.KSP: No, But first of all this I want to ask you. This film is meant to create, to plant a seed of suspicion.
Now let me ask you when the reactor is operated, If there is a radioactive leak coming out, it is measured regularly. 1800 samples are collected. Every data from 1973 we have. In no case it has exceeded a fraction of the permissible limit which is imposed by us and also, if you take the total radiation dose, after all it is the dose that is important. The radiation dose which is monitored by us and the data is inspected by us hardly gave one unit (one millirem) of dose to the villagers where the natural dose itself is about 60 units……….
Mr. Karan: (Interrupting) Dr. Parthasarathy, you deny evidence of defective births? They doubled in the last few years. What causes them?
I want to argue that you are just suggesting. Is there any medical evidence? It is a suggestion. It is just a suggestion. I suggested that the receding hairline in your hair is due to your watching video display units. I may also get a certificate from your wife that at the age of 25 you had better hair, I can keep all the middle aged husbands away from the drawing room. Just because there is a link between……….
Mr. Karan: (interrupting) I wish the matter was a simple as that.
Dr.KSP: No, it is not.
Mr. Karan: But the problem here is that we are talking about human life,
that is it not some thing that we should be investigating. Dr.KSP: Now the question is Mr. Karan: (Interrupting) Will you investigate it? Dr.KSP: No, Let me explain to you what has happened. In 1972 the reactor started to operate. At that time there was not such an investigation or anything. Now currently in this country why isolating only radiation. We have chemical industries, so many other. Mr. Karan: (interrupting) you are moving away again from the subject. Can I ask, you conceded that is something to be investigated. Dr.KSP: No, What I am telling at the same time is that if the doses are very low and if doses which are 13,000 times more as in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not create a problem. You know, the…………
Mr. Karan: (interrupting)
Now let me ask you very bluntly. Do you think, this film raises an issue that you should want to investigate further?
Dr.KSP: The film does not raise an issue. It creates a seed of suspicion by deliberate propaganda.
Now you must give me time. What exactly happened? What is the effect? 2. If the dose is going to be there it is going to be measured. We have the record. Now this has never shown anything more than one unit which is equal to, say, suppose somebody sits for the entire year in the village (which ever village) you are talking about, gets one unit. That is something, you may get in some other place 60 units more just because of natural radiation! Mr. Karan: Your position is that the film is rubbish, it can be dismissed. Dr.KSP: I don’t want to say that because the question is if you wanted to do a survey we can do that just for public relations. Mr. Karan: I don’t want to do a survey, nor do I want to do a survey for public relation. I want to say whether you think that the evidence that the defective birth have increased in this area around the atomic power station, is evidence, which requires investigation. Dr.KSP: They way it is presented in the film, by looking at children and suggesting a link is totally unscientific. Mr. Karan: But that is just the presentation. Let us look at the facts. Dou you think the fact needs further investigation? Or can be dismissed.
Dr.KSP: It can be dismissed in the light of current radiation information available.
Mr. Karan: Don’ you think you have been careless?
Dr.KSP: No, not at all- careless.
Mr. Karan: What about callous?
Dr.KSP: Pardon me.
Mr. Karan: What about callous?
Dr.KSP: No, No.
I think what is being callous is to use such a very impossible thing to create a scare in the innocent population around the plant. I have been to Tamlao, I have been to Jharjhani. No this is like any other typical village and we have measurements of dose data for so many years. Karan, you can come and look at the data.
Mr. Karan: Tell me, what are these deformed, defective births due to?
Dr.KSP: It could be due to anything, say for instance, suppose you have access to a maternity home any where. You go on counting the babies-one hundred babies, day by day you have to be there for few days. Say something
like 10 percent will have some defects or the other. Now all that I am suggesting is that because the radiation levels are certainly low, certainly we know, we measured…………
Mr. Karan: But since you can be certain what these defective births are due to, why you are ruling out this as a possible cause. Why don’t you
want to investigate it?
Dr.KSP: No, that is what I was telling. Once you just create a suspicion, say for instance that all the birth defects in Hyderabad and any other place where the radiation dose is 60 units more rather than one unit more, it should be due to……………
Mr. Karan: (interrupting)This is within a range of 25Kms
Dr.KSP: (interrupting) We have all the data.
Mr. Karan: You have already admitted there were leaks.
Dr.KSP: (interrupting) No, you are putting words into my mouth. All that I suggested was that the leak is always contained.
Let me tell you that the leak may occur- heavy water for instance is Rs. 10,000/ litre. Every drops of it is collected. Still a few drops may escape. It is washed out . It goes into liquid discharge and we have data for all the measurements done for various years……….
Mr. Karan: (interrupting) Let me just ask a quick question
Dr.KSP: (interrupting) Also you seem to believe.
Mr. Karan: (interrupting)Your position DR.
Parthasarathy is that this film raises no issues that worries you.
Dr.KSP: Scientifically yes, Scientifically yes, yes, you are right. It is a media perception.
Mr. Karan: Dr. Parthasarathy, Thank you very much indeed.
Thank you for taking interest in this programme. Karan I hope you will put it across, sincerely.