The deadly boiler blast at NTPC’s 1,500MW Unchahar thermal power plant on November 1st has so far claimed 43 lives and injured over one hundred personnel. Independent analyses suggest the tragedy was avoidable, that the new Unit VI was connected to the grid hastily without having met all safety requirements, and that its ash handling system were also not fully constructed when the unit was given its Commercial Operation Declaration (COD) in September.
V.K. Singh, a coal handling plant manager at Kanti (Bihar) has even admitted that NTPC is under pressure to produce power, and that flouting of safety norms has become “normal”. An expert level committee will table its report on the cause of the incident within 30 days, and India’s industry safety protocols are already being questioned.
‘Human cost’ of coal power
In August 2017 the Centre’s chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian, had claimed that “coal should remain” a major part of India’s energy mix, and that renewables would be three times more expensive if their social cost was accounted for. While his view was publicly derided, the boiler blast incident again brings his claims into question.
Thermal power is linked to toxic air pollution, particulate matter emissions and respiratory diseases, and boiler blasts add a more horrific dimension to the debate, especially compared to safer and cheaper renewable energy installations.