The triple catastrophe in Japan has not only rocked the Asian world, shocked people beyond belief and jump started already inflated consumer prices, it has also evoked a sense of fear of radiation contamination amongst the people closest to it. While China and India have both responded with aid, search and rescue teams and items desperately in need such as blankets and water, both energy hungry nations are refusing to shut down nuclear plants on their own soil, in the face of rising prices of fossil fuels and depleting oil stocks even as the crisis in the Middle East rages on. Nonetheless having learnt from the catastrophe, both countries have stepped up security and monitoring measures at all existing nuclear plants and plan to bring in additional sophistication at planned plants.
“Ours is a very power-hungry country,“ Srikumar Banerjee, the chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, said during a news conference in Mumbai. Nearly 40 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people do not have regular access to electricity, Mr. Banerjee said. “It is essential for us to have further electricity generation.” India, with 20 nuclear reactors already in operation, plans to spend an estimated $175 billion by 2030 by adding dozens of new ones around the country. Its forecast calls for nuclear power to supply about a quarter of the country’s electricity needs by 2050, a tenfold increase from now.
And in China, which has the world’s most ambitious nuclear expansion plans, a vice minister of environment, Zhang Lijun, said on Saturday that Japan’s difficulties would not deter his nation’s nuclear rollout. China’s nuclear power industry has 11 reactors operating and plans to start construction on as many as 27 reactors in five years, 10 new ones a year during the next decade. China’s electricity consumption continues to climb 12 percent a year, even as usage stagnates in the West.
While the governments of China and India have reacted swiftly to the Japanese catastrophe sending in teams and heartfelt condolences, the people of the two nations have reacted differently. While Indian’s have been grieving, glued to every bit of news emanating from Japan, owning to the deep ambivalence toward Japan felt at all levels of Chinese society, the world’s largest population of Internet users reflecting the larger fabric of Chinese society has expressed a dark sense of celebration for Japan. In a nation that has grown up learning about the death and destruction that Japan caused during the WWII, there is little sympathy for the Japanese. While moods are changing and people do compare Japan’s loss during 2008’s devastating Wenchuan earthquake many urban young Chinese do feel for the Japanese people, there is an underlying sense of the need to reach out and help a neighbor in need.