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Why the Jaitapur nuclear plant must be opposed

December 29, 2010 16:37 IST

Citizens are demanding answers to questions regarding approval, rehabilitation and land acquisition, costs, radioactive byproducts, reprocessing of spent fuel and disposal of radioactive wastes and civil nuclear liability limits of the Jaitapur nuclear plant that remains unaddressed. It must be answered by the Indian government, says activist Gopal Krishna.

Madban, a small village in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra is opposed to the nuclear plant in Jaitapur proposed by the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India. The project got environmental clearance on November 28 hurriedly to please French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who visted India from December 4-7. The nuclear reactors would be designed and developed by AREVA, a French company.

Prior to this on October 29, more than 3,000 villagers courted arrest after an agitation. The villagers have refused compensation. Former high court judge B G Kolse-Patil, who was served orders preventing him from entering Ratnagiri district, flouted the ban and attended the villagers rally. Former Indian Navy chief Admiral L Ramdas (retired) and former Supreme Court Judge P B Samant too supported the villagers but were stopped by the police from joining the agitation.

The proposed nuclear power park at Madban is situated near the port of Jaitapur in the southern part of Ratnagiri district. It would be the largest single location nuclear power project in the world. It is based on the import of six nuclear power plants from AREVA. In the first phase, two plants are to be built between 2012 and 2017.

It has come to light that in the matter of the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project a rigorous and scientific environment impact assessment and cost benefit analysis has not been performed.

Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, in the presence of the chief minister and deputy chief minister of Maharashtra officially announced 'conditional' environmental clearance to the JNPP. The citizens of Maharashtra and India are demanding answers to questions regarding approval, rehabilitation and land acquisition, costs, radioactive byproducts, reprocessing of spent fuel and disposal of radioactive wastes and civil nuclear liability limits that remains unaddressed. It must be answered by the Indian government. It is widely felt that it is a Vedanta and Posco kind of clearance given in haste to be repented in leisure.

It appears that the preparations for Sarkozy occupied the Union Cabinet so much that it failed to consult the secretaries of ministries/departments of the government of India on the ramifications in terms of liability from the proposed nuclear plant.

Several organisations and a large number of individuals are campaigning against the plant. The Konkan Bachao Samiti and the Janhit Seva Samiti have been spearheading a campaign against this nuclear power project. There is reliable information that the European regulatory authorities from three countries, Finland, France and UK have jointly written to AREVA, raising certain serious objections to the current design of control and instrumentation for vital safety aspects of Evolutionary Pressurized Reactors plant. It has also been learnt that the US regulator has written to AREVA expressing similar concerns.

Local residents are opposed to the JNPP and have refused to accept any compensation, nor have they demanded a raise in compensation. The project will attract Rs 25,000 crore to Rs 35,000 crore investment in the first two phases. The government is offering Rs 350 crore as compensation to the villagers. It is claimed that there are 2,033 families who would be directly affected by the project on 968 hectares of land. The nuclear project promises power generation of 9,900 MW in phases. 

In a backdrop that presented a fait accompli, the biodiversity report prepared by the Bombay Natural History Society formed the basis for the 35 environmental conditions set by the environment ministry while giving the green signal for the nuclear plant. The report recorded the presence of plant and animal life on land and marine both at and around the plant site. The BNHS has also mapped 407 hectares of mangrove vegetation around a 10 km radius of the nuclear plant as well as in some of the affected villages.

The BNHS report contradicted the official 1,200 page environment impact assessment report prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and made public in April, 2010.

The NEERI report had described the land surrounding the nuclear plant as "rocky and barren land with no habitation and vegetation" and hence ruled out any adverse ecological impact in the area. The same area was surveyed during the monsoon by BNHS, which found 134 species of plants on the plateau.

In July, 2010 the BNHS conducted a rapid impact assessment of the biodiversity of the region and found the Madban plateau to be rich in plant and animal diversity with very good marine diversity in adjacent sites of Ambolgad and Kasheli.

The BNHS found 1,000 plant species, NEERI couldn't find even 500 species. Indeed if the project proponents are assigned to conduct EIA, the report cannot be objective. Therefore, once again the NEERI report is flawed. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, the project proponent, is an undertaking of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE had commissioned NEERI to prepare the EIA report for the Jaitapur plant in 2005).

Earlier, in a letter to the President of India dated September 1, ToxicsWatch Alliance pointed out that "the cost of a single nuclear reactor can be as high as Rs 30,000 crore as in the case of the reactor planned at Jaitapur by AREVA, a French public multinational industrial conglomerate headquartered in Tour Areva near Paris. Consequently, the cost of a reactor can be 20 times the maximum amount of liability. It means that it might be cheaper for the operator to take the risk of paying the maximum liability than to spend, say, 10 per cent extra in adding safety features to the plant."

It has been found that NEERI's EIA report is unscientific. This EIA report was made available only a month prior to the public hearing on May 16. It has been alleged on factual grounds that the EIA report reads as if it was authored by the public relations department of NPCIL or Areva.

It may be noted, "The accident at Chernobyl released into the atmosphere an amount of radioactivity equivalent to 400 bombs of the Hiroshima variety. The nuclear project at Jaitapur is about 10 times the size of the Chernobyl Power Plant. The huge radioactive accumulations at the plant site are the principal causes of concern which must be addressed."

NEERI did not have the competence to assess the project. It entails issues of radioactive radiation. NEERI contends that the project meets Atomic Energy Regulatory Board norms and standards without conducting any independent assessment, relying completely on the AERB. But AERB reports are not part of the EIA.

Unmindful of its admitted incompetence to assess radioactive risk, NEERI certifies the safety of the plant saying, "Through individual event sequence analysis for different initiating events, it is estimated that the plant is provided adequate safety features and measures to mitigate or minimise any unsafe consequences".

The same EIA report reveals the following, "All the above scenarios explained, namely Design Basis Accidents and Beyond Design Basis Accidents are thoroughly studied and detailed reports are generated as Preliminary Safety Analysis Reports and these reports will be submitted to Atomic Energy Regulatory Board for review and approval for construction of nuclear power project at Jaitapur." Clearly implying that the safety approval by the AERB is yet to be obtained and despite this it certified the adequacy of the safety of the plant against "any unsafe consequences".

The threat of a terrorist attack on nuclear plants in India is also considered credible is clear from the specific exclusion in clause 5 (ii) in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill (2010) which has been passed by the Indian Parliament and awaits the President's assent. It reads: "An operator shall not be liable for any nuclear damage where such damage is caused by a nuclear incident directly due to -- an act of armed conflict, hostility, civil war, insurrection or terrorism".

After the 9/11 terrorist attack in the US, the possibility of terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants is considered quite credible and substantial by US authorities. The DAE has ignored the complete text of a 2009 report presented to the US Congress: on "Nuclear Power Plant Security and Vulnerabilities". Consequently, amendments were made in US law to require nuclear plant design to address this risk but the Indian legislation on nuclear liability does the contrary.

In his testimony to the parliamentary committee, Union Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar categorically had stated, "under different layers of protection, nuclear assets including nuclear installations are being protected through defence." However, he admitted that "absolute and foolproof protection cannot be guaranteed for any nuclear or other assets in the country during peace or war."

Exceptions for acts of terrorism can easily be used by the supplier and the operator to wash their hands off any nuclear disaster. Testimony after testimony before the parliamentary committee had asked for deletion of the word terrorism from the nuclear liability bill but the same is not reflected in the bill which was passed by Parliament.

Misplaced expression of satisfaction by NEERI with NPCIL's claim of safe storage for 100 years is shocking. This constitutes less than one per cent of the lethality lifetime of the spent fuel. There is no explanation as what will happen to the radioactive waste after 100 years. It is a known fact that India does not have a geological repository for nuclear waste and there are no sites in India suitable for building one.

The EIA report is flawed because of the absence of a specific plan for decommissioning as well. No new nuclear plant can be built in Europe or the US without such a plan. The EIA report is untenable.

The cost of electricity generated from JNPP would be in excess of Rs 9 per unit. This does not include the costs of managing radioactive waste and decommissioning. The current cost of electricity is about Rs 4 per unit. It has been noted in the Rajya Sabha that as far as the cost difference between hydro, thermal and all the available options vis-à-vis nuclear electricity is concerned, the cost difference is 1:3.

If the overall objective of wanting to generate 40,000 MW of nuclear power in the next two decades is considered, the cost difference between conventional and nuclear electricity would be more than Rs 300,000 crore. This amount can build 20,000 hundred-bedded modern hospitals all over the country and 2.5 lakhs of Navodaya Vidyalayas with boarding facilities for 100 students all over the country.

The total installed generating capacity in India as on June 30 was 162,367 MW, comprising 64 percent from fossil fuel, 23 percent from hydro, 3 percent from nuclear and balance 10 percent from renewable energy sources. Evidently, share of nuclear power is quite low. It is possible to generate similar power from alternate sources of energy.

In its last report in 2010, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science, Technology, Environment & Forests, had recommended that "the government should consult all such ministries/departments which are even remotely concerned with the provisions of a proposed legislation", the same has not been done. This recommendation has been ignored in the case of Jaitapur nuclear plant as well.

The standing committee referred to how secretaries of ministries of health & family welfare, agriculture, labour & employment, food & public distribution were ignored in the drafting of the Nuclear Liability Bill was a very serious lapse of the Union Cabinet.

It may be noted that secretary, Union ministry of health said, "Since the response system to deal with any kind of emergency of such type, the hospitals are not well-equipped, it is natural that mortality and morbidity due to multiple burn, blasts, radiation injuries and psycho-social impact could be on very high scale and medical tackling of such a large emergency could have enough repercussions in the nearby areas of radioactive fallout."

She also mentioned that in the entire bill, there is not a single clause which speaks about taking healthcare during radiological emergencies. It reflects only about payment of compensation due to health impacts of such radiation. She suggested while setting up nuclear plants, consideration may also be given to the fact that there should be a hospital having trained doctors near such establishments and arrangements should also be made for free treatment of people who are affected by serious nuclear fallout.

She confessed that "her ministry is nowhere to meet an eventuality that may arise out of nuclear and radiological emergencies." Similar testimonies from secretaries of other ministries provide a chilling and prophetic forewarning.

In compliance of the suggestion of chairperson of the parliamentary committee during my testimony on August 3 and pursuant to a written submission dated July 7, TWA had specifically drawn the attention of the committee with regard to the narrow definition of the word 'installation' and conflict of interest ridden existence of the AERB. In a letter to the committee dated August 12, TWA has questioned the merit of centralised power stations given 35-40 percent transmission and distribution loss from power grids.

The secretary, financial services, ministry of finance, submitted before the committee that "any increase in premium of insurance will lead to increase in the cost of production of electricity for nuclear power. It is argued that higher the liability limit higher will be the insurance premium and subsequently higher will be the cost of electricity production."

Keeping these concerns in mind, opposition against the nuclear plants are emerging in a huge way.

Will the sane voice of Madban village be able to compel the might of a determined state to bulldoze its nuclear project at any cost, to rethink? The issue what is supreme AREVA's interest or the interest of villagers. Once again the insincerity and dishonesty of paying lip-service to Mahatma Gandhi's village republic and autocratically refusing to accord a sovereign status to the village at the same time stands exposed.

Gopal Krishna is a member of Toxicswatch Alliance.

Gopal Krishna