THE motive behind the UPA government’s determination to go ahead with the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project, despite severe opposition from the locals and warnings from a section of the scientific community is questionable to say the least. Why is the government so determined? Especially after the tragedy at Fukushima in Japan, when most nuclear power projects are being reviewed world over. Germany has decided to close down its seven Nuclear Power Plants. The Prime Minister’s obstinacy to push the Jaitapur project has aroused suspicion in the minds of people.
There are several arguments against the Jaitapur Project, issues that need to be settled and answers that need to be given. The cost and size of the project are mind boggling.
To be spread over 968 hectares of land, the estimated cost of the project is `100,000 crore. This is the first reactor using the as yet untried technology of third generation European Pressurised Reactors (or Evolutionary Power Reactors). The country that sold this technology to us – France – does not have one, nor do any of the other Western nations where nuclear power potential has been tapped for years. This would be the biggest ever nuclear power plant in the world!
The location of the project is the ecologically sensitive Sahyadri mountain range in the Western Ghats. Jaitapur is on the Arabian Sea coast in Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra. It is to be noted that India applied to the UNESCO for Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme status for the Western Ghats in 2006. Now it is out to destroy it. The site is archeologically sensitive as Jaitapur was one of the important ports in ancient and early medieval times.
Unlike in Japan or even Russia, where the population evacuated by such projects, during construction and during disaster was in hundreds, it would be in millions in India. This part of the country is densely populated. According to a report of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) the Government of India has not been fully transparent with its own citizens. It is hiding facts about huge negative impact on the social and environmental development of the Konkan region and also manipulating notification of the area from high severity earthquake zone to moderate seismic severity zone.
The United States has suspended and abandoned several nuclear power projects after timelines were extended and costs went up, sometimes beyond 1000 times. The industry involved in nuclear technology in the US gets lucrative subsidies and tax holidays. And yet, the investors do not trust these companies. “Nuclear power is expanding only in places where taxpayers and ratepayers can be compelled to foot the bill” said a report in Time magazine (March 28, 2011), discussing the nuclear power projects in the US. The projects there have stagnated, stumbling over steep escalation in cost of construction and production.
The story is the same here. The cost of electricity will be (as on date) rupees four per kilowatt per hour. It is any body’s guess what the rates will be when the project is (if) completed, thirty years later. India is not in such dire need of nuclear power. It has not exploited to the full the alternative sources of energy available here like wind, solar, hydro and tidal energy. Smaller run-off-the-river projects, with minimal displacement and little deforestation can meet the local needs. By the time these massive nuclear projects come up, the demand would have gone up manifold, making nuclear as power source marginal.
The Environment Minister who shows the red card for any minor violation in environmental rules is all for the Jaitapur project. How can he clear a proposal in a biosphere like Western Ghats along such a long coastline without proper assessment, ask activists.
People have stopped seeking answers from the Prime Minister, of course. For one, he does not know the details of the files that go through him. For another, he has narrowed down his office’s purpose to improving relationship with Pakistan. He said the other day that he would consider his job well done if he can normalise ties with our western neighbour. While it could be a case of trying to straighten the tail of the dog, what is disappointing about the Prime Minister’s statement is that he did not choose to say that he would consider his job well done if he was able to lift at least some percentage of Indians above poverty line, or ease the economic scenario and push the nation towards growth. His priorities lie elsewhere; after all, America wants India to have a more ‘stable’ neighbour in Pakistan. “It is in India’s interest” US President Obama had said. So for Dr Singh that is the primary or only goal.
So, where does one turn to, if the citizens of Jaitapur want to be heard? They are taking to streets and the government is acting tough with them, with the death bodies already piling up. We have to call a halt to the Jaitapur project, reassess it and go ahead with it only when it is absolutely safe, sound and sensible.