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India driven into mad rush for N-power
SEEMA MUSTAFA  10th Apr 2011

Trenches being dug to erect a wall at the Jaitapur nuclear power plant site.

he 2004 Nuclear Plan, revised and rewritten by the Department of Atomic Energy recently, envisages the generation of 655,000 MWe nuclear power by 2050, for which at least 655 nuclear power reactors of 1,000 MWe capacity and 109 six-reactor nuclear parks will be strung along India's 6,000 km coastline. This will ensure a nuclear installation at every 55 km along the ecologically sensitive and environmentally rich coastline.

Calculations finessed by nuclear scientists point to what the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board A. Gopalakrishnan describes as a "mad programme". He says that even without Fukushima, "should we be subjecting our future generations to such a crazy, high density nuclear programme in 2050 so that this Prime Minister can justify importing 40,000 MWe foreign nuclear plants?"

Activists and nuclear scientists are again ranged against the government for pushing ahead with a nuclear programme that is being rejected by most parts of the world. The Coalition of Nuclear Disarmament and Peace has pointed out in a report, "Nuclear power is in decline worldwide. A major reason for this is that nuclear power is unpopular and nuclear reactors are seen as bad neighbours."

The confrontation between the villagers and political parties opposing the Jaitapur nuclear plant and the governments both at the Centre and the State has sharpened. Fukushima has silenced the support, but as sources in the state government pointed out, "There is no question of backing off." Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had pushed the nuclear expansion plans as Minister of State for Atomic Energy under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Singh himself made it clear that there was going to be no shift in the government position when he told Parliament just before the recess, "Today, India has fully demonstrated its capabilities in all the scientific and technological aspects associated with the design, development, construction, operation and maintenance of nuclear reactors and associated fuel cycle facilities."

In the fast spreading campaign nuclear experts point out that in terms of cost the government has "no justification" for importing light water reactors from France. Dr Gopalakrishnan has calculated that a 700 MWe PHWR can be built within a capital cost of Rs 8 cr, whereas a 1,650 MWe French Evolutionary Pressurised Reactor (EPR) at Jaitapur will cost the taxpayer more than Rs 21 cr.

Nuclear experts insist that safety will also be seriously compromised with the EPRs that the government is determined to import and install. French Areva's 1,650 MWe EPRs are based on the French N4 and German Konvoi type reactors, but experts point out that nowhere in the world has an EPR been fully built or commissioned. Of the four EPRs in different stages of construction, two have been facing serious safety and financial problems. Areva itself is facing a serious financial crisis and just two years ago, in 2009, sought a $4 billion bailout from the French taxpayers. Areva sold its first EPR to Finland that is facing safety, design and construction problems, although it should have been commissioned in 2009. The second EPR was set up at Flamanville, with the French nuclear safety agency noting several problems in the reactor design. The commissioning has been delayed to 2014. Over 3,000 safety and quality problems have been detected in these French produced EPRs by the nuclear safety authorities of Finland, France and the UK.

Nuclear experts have been warning the government against these imports. It has been pointed out that India's nuclear establishment is experienced and comfortable with PHWRs and has little to no knowledge of these complicated, and as yet untested EPRs. CNDP, in its report has pointed out that the DAE here "has a long history of poor or nonexistent regulation, persistent below-par performance, and accidents. Moreover it has no experience of running huge reactors like EPRs," all adding to the risk factors.

Ecologically, the nuclear expansion programme signed on by the DAE and the government will spell ruin for the rich coastal belt. Jaitapur, where the French were able to influence the Indian government to expand the initial two-reactor project into a six-reactor nuclear park, will damage the ecosystem "irreparably", according to leading environmentalists. The well known environmentalist Madhav Gadgil-led ecology panel has, in a study, criticised the government for serious violations of the environmental laws in the Konkan region. He has argued for micro and mini hydel projects, pointing to the 5,000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species and 508 birds species that are under threat now.

he Jaitapur villagers have held firm so far, with 95% refusing to accept the compensation that is repeatedly being offered by the Maharashtra state government. Efforts by the Congress party to break the deadlock have failed. Local activists and villagers are being harassed, with several being arrested or served externment notices. Political leaders and eminent citizens who wanted to visit Jaitapur were prohibited from doing so. The list includes CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan, former Press Council chairman Justice P.B. Sawant, former Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral L. Ramdas, ecologist Madhav Gadgil and others. Former Mumbai high court judge B.G. Kolse-Patil was arrested, not even produced before a magistrate within the stipulated 24 hours, and was detained for five days.

The leadership of the Jaitapur resistance is in the hands of locals, who have formed different organisations to oppose the nuclear park. Fukushima has now put the government on the defensive, with the villagers and others boycotting a public "hearing" organised by Chavan on the nuclear issue. The protests have been political with "Sarkozy, go back" slogans when the French President visited India last December. Protests are now being planned for all areas where the government intends to put up nuclear reactors, Haripur (West Bengal), Kovvada and Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh), Koodankulam (Tamil Nadu), Mithi Virdi (Gujarat), Chutka (Madhya Pradesh) and Fatehabad (Haryana).

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